The following text is reproduced with permission from Susannah Dickey‘s new novel Common Decency (2022), a study of alienation and connection, love and grief. For more information, visit Penguin.
After meeting Andrew, Siobhan forced herself to read rapaciously, to become au courant with his interests, to become comfortable using au courant in a sentence. Over the first year of their relationship they spent a lot of nights texting until midnight. After they’d said goodnight, or while she was dutifully waiting to hear from him at all, she’d read the books he’d mentioned in passing, or she’d try to predict what he might one day wish to discuss. She read Lawrence and Saunders and Turgenev. Unaware, prior to knowing him, that poetry as an art form was not only still existent but thriving, she started reading the poets he was teaching on his Contemporary Literature modules and even revisited the ones she’d waded through dolorously at school: Hughes and Heaney. She came to like how poetry made her feel, although she was reluctant to interrogate the feeling too deeply, in case it wasn’t so much the poems as it was poetry’s cachet, and perhaps this is why she preferred reading it in public.
……She was also reluctant to question too vociferously just what it was she was feeling, in case it was simply relief at being able to share a common interest with the man she loved, or hubris at being able to speak casually about an art form of which her immediate circle knew nothing. If her new-found joy in poetry was simply a means of making her desirable to Andrew, then that implied the possibility that they weren’t meant for each other, that he had an idealized vision of her that she would spend a lifetime striving to preserve. In this sense, to not broach literature with her friends seemed like a tacit betrayal of him, because she wanted to always be the version of herself that he wanted. And yet she was aware that when she announced, ‘Not even the rain has such small hands,’ while huddling under a smoking-area awning with Clodagh and Nathan, she was presenting herself as newly affected, and pretentious, and gauche. She’d carved out a new ontological space for herself, one founded upon simultaenous self-alienation and carefully contrived assimilation. She was losing her grip on any notion she’d ever had of her core personality, but it was worth it, she thought, to feel like somebody he could love.
Susannah Dickey grew up in Derry and now lives in Belfast. She is the author of three poetry pamphlets, I had some very slight concerns (2017), genuine human values (2018) and bloodthirsty for marriage (2020). Her poetry has been published in Ambit, The White Review, Poetry Ireland Review and Magma, amongst others. In 2017 she was the winner of the inaugural Verve Poetry Festival competition, and in 2018 she was shortlisted for The White Review short story prize. She is an Eric Gregory Award winner, a prize granted for a collection by poets under the age of 30.
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