Below: a review in the 'Ver Poets' newsletter of May 2020
Stephen Claughton was born in 1951 and grew up in Manchester. He read English at Oxford and worked for many years as a civil servant in London. Twice nominated for the Forward Best Single Poem Prize, his poetry has appeared in both print and online magazines, including Agenda, Atrium, The High Window, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Interpreter’s House, London Grip, Magma, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Poetry Shed and The Warwick Review. His first pamphlet, The War with Hannibal, was published by Poetry Salzburg in 2019.
His second pamphlet, The 3-D Clock, was published by Dempsey & Windle in March 2020.
Read an interview with Stephen Claughton by The Wombwell Rainbow:
Carole Bromley comments upon The 3D Clock:
'The poems in this pamphlet will be familiar territory for those of us who have lost a relative to dementia. Stephen Claughton traces his mother’s descent into the nightmare of forgetfulness with wit, affection and considerable skill and these are powerful, moving poems, all the more effective because of the simplicity of form and language. We glimpse the relationship as it used to be and move with the writer into a reluctant acceptance of the changes brought about by this devastating illness. It brought a tear to my eye.'
'This moving sequence of poems documents the painful everyday life of a woman with dementia, as seen through the eyes of her son. Claughton shows us what it is like to navigate the landscape of this illness, this fragile world where “everyone makes sense of their own reality”. He does so with honest poems that gain in power as you read on and resonate like aftershocks once you’ve closed the book.'
Thomas Ovans comments on The 3-D Clock in London Grip:
'... the narrative is a sad one since the poems recount the author’s experience of losing his mother to dementia; but the tone is far from relentlessly bleak. There is compassion and empathy throughout and even some recognition of the rueful humour to be found in misunderstandings and incongruities.
A prefatory poem in The 3-D Clock captures the initial wish to deny that anything might be wrong. When someone is unable to name the current Prime Minister it is easy to say ‘it’s hard: they change so often these days.’ But more worrying signs cannot be evaded so glibly. It’s hard to find a comforting explanation for someone’s conviction that an invisible Welsh Male Voice Choir is following them around and when, with frightening logic, they tell you it can’t be their imagination because the voices sing “Land of My Fathers”: "all three verses word perfectly throughout, so how could it be you? You only knew the first two." Lapses of memory and false recollections have to be accepted and accommodated. A mother still recognizes her son when he visits but does not see him as the same person who took her out in the car last week. This raises interesting questions of identity which Claughton can encapsulate with typical neatness:
'Perhaps there have always been two – the person I think I am and the one you complain about.'
Even after being moved to a care home, the mother still asserts her independence. The care home’s list of recreational activities is quickly dismissed:
'“I don’t bother with that,” you say. “They’re trying to baby me.”'
But this declared self-sufficiency has to be maintained in spite of the fact that the push button digital radio proves too difficult to use: ‘in the end, we taped everything up, / leaving you with a binary on-off.’
The title poem refers to another well-intentioned device, the Digital Dementia Day-clock which doesn’t deal with numbers but simply shows the day of the week and whether it is morning, afternoon or night. But this simplified technology does not serve its intended purpose:
Night-time for you meant the dark, not “Night” spelled out clear as day. As well as charting his mother’s decline, Claughton gives glimpses of her pre-dementia personality. He recalls her career as a teacher and describes her demeanour as she waded through piles of marking as ‘your default mode: exasperation’. More idiosyncratic still, he remembers her ‘teaching herself to drive / by sitting at the piano’
both feet on the pedals, an umbrella clutched by your side, as you practised changing gear. She did pass her driving test first time, however!
The final poems deal very tenderly with the mother’s final months, the lapsing into her native Welsh, the leaving of silent phone messages, the inconsolable agitations. These moving poems cannot fairly be summed up by a few extracts and need to be read in full to appreciate their effect.'
The 3-D Clock by Stephen Claughton