Keeping the memory alive

Ilyana Kuhling is the winner of our annual poetry competition.

Our annual poetry competition has been won by Ilyana Kuhling, a psychology student at the University of Limerick. The competition judge David Sutton, a published poet and our editor’s Dad, felt that Ilyana’s poem was ‘spare, controlled and poignant’. He added: ‘I suspect the title is a nod to Walt Whitman: “I am large, I contain multitudes”, though Whitman was speaking in the context of self-contradiction rather than the changes wrought on us by time.’

Ilyana tells us she started writing after joining a creative writing poetry group in secondary school. ‘I’m now in the final year of my undergraduate, and throughout my studies I’ve been involved in local poetry groups in Limerick. In particular, a local group called Stanzas helped me get my start. I also spent a year abroad in Toronto where I was involved in the Art-Bar poetry society, which has been active in the city for over 20 years.’ Ilyana’s favourite poets include Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop, and she firmly believes that a good cup of tea can solve almost anything.

‘Multitudes’ is one of a series of poems titled ‘Ambiguous Loss’, written about Ilyana’s grandmother, who is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. ‘Ambiguous loss is a term I came across that refers to an unresolved loss, or loss without closure. It can be used to describe the complicated grieving process that family members of individuals in a state of cognitive decline, due to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, can experience. I found the term captured my experience so well; for a while, there were days when she was present, and others when there was no glimmer of recognition. In the last year, unfortunately, her situation has worsened and her only presence is physical. “Multitudes”, then, is my attempt to deal with this, and “piece her back together”, in a way, by cherishing the best memories that I have of her while acknowledging that she will soon pass on.’

Ilyana says that writing about her grandmother has helped her to come to terms with the illness. ‘She was a poet herself, so in a way, I hope that my own poetry keeps her memory and her passion for writing alive.’

Ilyana wins a £50 book voucher courtesy of BPS Blackwell. Search our website for winners from previous years.

MULTITUDES

I am looking at you now, piece by piece
To reconstruct the you
you were

I strip away
The hair, white wisps
The skin, paper-thin, translucent
The muscle, the fat,
the soft

Right down to the bone
your bones
containing multitudes
Of a lifetime
and my father’s
and mine

I piece you back together
Carve the muscles that would hold me tight
in your arms
The fat that made your embrace so warm
The skin, toughened with time
The hair as thick as mine

I am looking at you now
and you are looking at me too.
Somewhere
in those eyes of deepest blue
I think you recognize me,
And I, you

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