A Scattering by Christopher Reid

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Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 7 January 2014
Robert Bathurst's reading of Christopher Reid's Costa Prize-winning selection of poems was something that can only really work on radio, with a single actor's voice communicating the intensely private thoughts of a speaker trying to come to terms with his wife's death from cancer.
The sequence details in harrowing detail the process of diagnosis, degeneration and death, as the poet looks after the actress Lucinda Gane.  She is propped up in bed, unable to move save for one arm; needs to be fed coffee through a straw, interspersed with small pieces of croissant; and has her husband read Jane Austen to her as a diversion.  Eventually she passes away, and Reid has to come to terms with living on his own, suffering the aching silences and dreaming of his wife coming to sleep next to him.  He goes through her papers; the letters she wrote to her mother; the records of her acting career; the photographs of her self-consciously posing as a way of advertising herself; and the letters she wrote to him at various points in their life together.  The title "A Scattering" is significant; it not only refers to the scattering of the ashes after a body has been cremated, but describes the ways in which the poet tries to remember his wife.  Sometimes he feels that he never "knew" her at all (whatever that phrase means), but only understood her life in terms of a series of disconnected (or scattered) snapshots, as communicated through memories, letters and documents.
Combining a flair for external description with a searing analysis of his feelings, A Scattering was both harrowing yet poignant in its effect. The director was Kate McAll.