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Time Lived, Without Its Flow by Denise Riley review – stunning clarity

A precise examination of parental grief and a rich Selected Poems from the poet philosopher

In 2008, the poet and philosopher Denise Riley’s adult son Jacob died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart problem while on holiday. Four years later, she published two new works: a poem about Jacob’s death, “A Part Song”, which won a Forward prize, and the essay “Time Lived, Without Its Flowin a micro-press edition that was shared reader to reader like a samizdat pamphlet, and is now made widely available in this new edition, introduced by Max Porter.

Riley drops the reader into the thick of life after death. She begins: “I’ll not be writing about death, but an altered condition of life.” This straight-speaking clarity runs throughout, and helps the reader navigate Riley’s complex thinking on what Alice Oswald called “the being of grief and not the feeling of grief”. It is not a memoir: we learn only the barest of details about her son’s death.

A child’s time is 'quietly uncoiling inside your own', so when the child’s life stops, 'the purely cognitive violence of it' freezes the parent’s time, too

Related: Say Something Back by Denise Riley review – exquisite, intimate, direct

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