These comments are relational in nature; a gesture towards what I imagine I might have been doing at the point of writing, rather than about what the poem itself is doing now (on the latter, your guess is as good as mine).

My process for this piece was meditative and fragmentary; it felt like an act of partial excavation. Groping for language, I drew in part on an existing vocabulary: the Book of Job, King Lear,1  Georgio Agamben’s work on homo sacer and the separation of the political being from the “bare life” of the body itself (1998). Aesthetically, I’m drawn to the formal conventions of confessional poetry, but tend towards a less straightforward relationship between signifiers and referents. The greyscale text suggested to me different levels of presence, for instance shifting volumes of spoken word, and I’ve long been interested in its potential relationship to an aesthetics of trauma. Another touchstone was the use of black and grey in Ralph Hotere’s Requiem series (1973–1975).

This poem is part of a sequence I’ve been writing for some time, provisionally mistitled ‘Adventures in the Country of Death’.2 Each piece takes as its starting point a secondary character death in a text belonging to the adventure tradition. Pew, who appears in Treasure Island (Stevenson, 1883), is a sinister blind beggar, the emissary of a deceased pirate captain. After functioning to incite the book’s quest narrative, he is abandoned and ignominiously trampled to death.

To talk about this kind of incident is not to speak about death itself, but rather about the experience of life in extremis; to focus on embodiment at the moment at which its conditionality and liminality is most apparent. I may have been interested in such characters because the (unvoiced, missing) way they experience these deaths—which are plot points but also trivial, incidental—is to some extent the antithesis of the traditional western adventure narrative’s linear construction of an agentic individual. Though, this is guesswork.

Such speculations are (for me) secondary to the unguarded nature of actually writing. I have chosen to reflect on this particular poem because it has a lot of leads; things I can point to and claim “see, you have heard of these things, this is explicable, we understand one another”. But as I finish these notes, I’m aware of their inadequacy in explaining any of it, and the superficiality of my understanding of my own processes. I have seldom written a poem without subsequently wondering what it could be about: it may be this that keeps me writing.


1. “The art of our necessities is strange/ that can make vile things precious. Come, your hovel”, is borrowed from King Lear (3.2.70–71)

2.  A previous poem in the same sequence, ‘The Death of Sylvain’, appeared in Otoliths 51, online at