Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week : Auberge By Peter Bennet


I hope you like your room. You overlook
the entrance to the crematorium.
Even if you oversleep you’re sure to wake
in time to catch at least one funeral.
The lingering scent of leaves in drizzle
will be consoling, like the glare and hum
in your ensuite at midnight and the thump
of water pressure maximum. The climate
is hopeful hereabouts. We cope with that
by clinging to despair. We’re private people.
If you require assistance, pray. Don’t come
to find us or your fellow guests. To peek
and pry is bad taste and a theft of knowledge.
We keep no record of the time or date.
When you desire to go please sign the book.
You’ll find the tablets in your bedside fridge.

Peter Bennet’s strange, unsettling poem observes few rules relating to conventional definitions of time and space, moving, as it does, between suggestion and inference. We are made privy neither to location nor purpose; the narrator is the only arbiter of context, even sense, as he guides the reader, in the rubric of a metaphysical instruction manual, towards a denouement that is loaded with double-meaning.

Is the place of repose a hotel or an ante-room to the end, a Dignitas clinic or an ironic auberge? The terms of reference are loaded with the weight of acceptance: the narrator’s tone is cognizant of a world of which we have no knowledge, but towards which the addressees, the clientele, are apparently resigned.

And that dull journey is described in near uniform iambic pentameters, which act to motor the complicit ‘guest’ on his sedate(d) procession, like a coffin on a conveyor. The unsure of direction are recommended to prayer in this narrative; the accoutrements of comfort – the ‘ensuite’, the consoling scent of wet leaves, the ‘hopeful’ climate – are rendered sardonic by the proximity of the numberless dark.

Bennet’s portrayal of verisimilitude, of the persuasive overlap of one form and another – the realm of the leisured living, and the odyssey of the dying – is a juxtaposition that finds resolution in his poem’s resonant final line, where darker shadows become much clearer.

‘Auberge’ is taken from : Peter Bennet : Nayler & Folly Wood (Bloodaxe Books, 2023), and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher.

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