"Life keeps breaking into Lorna Thorpe's poems, complete with shoplifting, therapy, gravestones, sex, and the cool silver of heavenly ideals - all of it washed down with a bottle of cheap red - quite simply, a roller-coaster of a book."
'Don't still, my beating heart' Lorna Thorpe writes in her second collection, Sweet Torture of Breathing. It's a sentiment that reverberates throughout a book that deals with her close brush with death following a cardiac arrest, and the psychic death that preceded it. Here are poems that take a wry, feisty look at therapy, meditation, drug smuggling, acupuncture, angels, sex in hotel rooms and the platitudes of self-help books.
The central section is a series of poems about people who died before their time, among them Janis Joplin, Maria Callas, Virginia Woolf and Ethel Rosenberg. But Thorpe is still here to tell her tale and she concludes with a section that shows her feeling her way back to life in poems that celebrate the sensual pleasures and chaos of love and living.
Cultural references - from Cabaret and The Corpse Bride to Six Feet Under and Atonement - layer her work and extend its autobiographical reach. Plain-speaking and engaging, Thorpe's distinctive voice is carved out of the defiance and vulnerability of a survivor who isn't afraid to laugh at herself.
"On reading that Lorna Thorpe's Sweet Torture of Breathing 'deals with her close brush with death following a cardiac arrest, and the psychic death that preceded it,' I prepared myself for a harrowing read. However, this refreshingly good-humoured collection takes a philosophical and thoughtful look at the experience and celebrates the fact that she survived."
'Mind, body and spirit'
In the literature of self-help
there are no empty whiskey bottles,
no cigarettes rolled from fag ends
salvaged from 3 a.m. ashtrays, no fools
in love. There are relaxing bubble baths
and scented candles, of course,
there are people turning cartwheels
in the sand, women in white
boosting their immune system,
drinking Celestial Seasonings Wellness Tea
but no chipped green nail polish,
no one sitting at the dining table
with their boyfriendís daughter,
three bottles of Chardonnay down,
chair-dancing to The Supremes.
There are quests by the dozen,
heart warming tales of triumph
over tragedy but no biting satires,
no comedies of error.
There are angels, spirit guides,
and mystic healers to help you navigate
the path to peace and harmony
but no Eeyore, Scarlet OíHara
or Don Draper. As for Madam Bovary,
sheís signed up for a twelve step programme
with Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous,
where sheís sharing how she gets her kicks
from romantic highs, learning that she uses
them as a way to sidestep intimacy.
For decades I lay here turning bone-like,
so dry Iíd have spat and cackled like a witch
on a fire. Then the bark and wood-boring beetles
drilled through my flaking skin, moss and lichens
sprouted, mites burrowed a labyrinth of corridors
where birds, bats and spiders set up home.
Now Iím more magnificent and grounded
than I ever was in my heyday ñ just look
at these ruffles of bracket fungus, these garlands
of ivy and beads of sulphur tuft. Oh I know
what those cocky saplings are thinking, vaunting
their bendy spines, their lime green leaves.
They see me as a crusty dowager sidelined at a ball,
crammed into the moss velvet sheís worn
to every party since Nijinsky choreographed
the Rite of Spring. But I donít miss all that jostling
for sunlight and crowing about rookeries, not one bit.
Theyíll tell you Iím past it but itís all happening in here,
my seedless loins a den, guest house and larder
and maybe, in a century or so, a nursery. See,
the older I get, the more life I have in me.
'Donít still, my beating heart'
Weíre born with a finite number of heartbeats,
according to the ancient yogis, who counselled calm,
the steering clear of things that make our heart rate
quicken, bring us closer to death. But who wants
to be prudent when it comes to the heart?
Iíd rather splurge, fritter my remaining heartbeats
on grape suede shoes and a plum crÍpe dress,
slide on stockings youíll later peel off
(there goes a few daysí worth), gamble them
drinking Rioja and Hendrickís gin by the fire,
dancing to Goran Bregovic on Spotify,
eating your perfect roasties, crumbed with lemon
and thyme (crisp as autumn outside, fluffy
as pillows inside). Talking of pillows, Iíd like
to spend more time in your bed, your hips clamped
between my thighs, or drifting into sleep, face to face,
foreheads touching, arms and legs entwined.
Lorna Thorpe has worked as tour operator, social worker and barmaid. She now earns her living from freelance copywriting. As a fiction writer, her short stories have been short-listed for awards and have appeared in magazines and anthologies. Her 2005 pamphlet Dancing to Motown was a Poetry Book Societyís Pamphlet Choice. A Ghost in my House (2008) was her first book. She lives in Cornwall.