New Welsh Review

163 Days

Hannah Hodgson

Beau Longley is impressed and moved by this collection on the medical and philosophical aspects of a young poet’s grave illness

PUBLISHED ON: 28/09/22

CATEGORY: Reviews

TAGS: body, health, medicine, philosophy, poetry, youth

PUBLISHER: Seren

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Hannah Hodgson is a young woman with a CV bound to impress anyone with a foot-hold in the arts industry. Accomplished poet, published writer, she also gained an Amnesty International prize for young poets. Her prose is nothing short of magical as she manages to weave medical, legal and personal perspectives together in her exploration of what illness, death and dying does to a person. Since Hodgson has received a staggering seventeen separate diagnoses, it is unsurprising that these themes are her concerns as poet.

The collection is entitled ‘163 Days’ in honour of her longest period of hospitalisation to date, at the age of seventeen, prior to diagnosis. Each day is marked by two entries: a poem representing her version of the day (beautiful but anchored in the reality of pain), and the other charting an approximation of her medical notes: cold and clinical. The poems are expressed either in free-flowing language exploring Hodgson’s discomfort and despair, or in iambic pentameter, the latter being breathtakingly beautiful and echoing the rhythm of a heartbeat. The notes, meanwhile, despite the setting of painstaking medical care in which would have been made, are notable for the absence of human touch. The contrast here is effective, as it indicates the poet’s perception that some medical staff may forget they are dealing with living, breathing individuals rather than mere medical cases. Her knack for description showcases her suffering in sometimes horrifying detail, bringing it almost unbearably close to us. The reader feels every ounce of her sorrow.

Writing of her experience as a very young woman, Hodgson’s frustration permeates every word. And we understand her perfectly. Because she is trapped in a Catch-22 situation: undiagnosed at the point of writing, yet subject to extremely restrictive rules. The nurses and doctors are portrayed in one of two ways: wonderfully kind or borderline negligent, sometimes even cruel. Too old to be in the children’s hospital, the poet is also too young to be admitted to the adult ward. According to the book, interdepartmental meetings about the care responsibilities for her case are held, discussing her and yet excluding her.

In the ‘aftercare’ section of poems, she has passed over the magical threshold between seventeen and eighteen. She is now a legal adult. She finally gains some agency and the ability to advocate for herself. Through the lens of her prose, she and the reader navigate the bright and beautiful world of the young adult: nightclubs, alcohol, a mirror-world to the stasis of illness and recovery. A third dimension in this paradigm is the world of hospice care. We see Hodgson as she embarks on her life as a disabled adult, having to throw herself under the umbrella of her diagnosis, which will sadly result in her premature departure from this world. I was very moved by this collection, and others will similarly feel for this young person’s experience. 163 Days is not an easy read but its author has a compelling voice and boundless amounts of tenacity, wit and charm.

 

Beau Longley is a reviewer for New Welsh Review in partnership with GO Wales.