UA Fanthorpe: Casehistory: Alison (head injury)
The reader has to separate the poet's attitude from the attitude(s) of Alison. Fanthorpe was motivated to write these poems because she felt that the patients were more than a set of doctor's notes or a
"casehistory". They each had a story to tell, even if neither Fanthorpe or the patient could fully describe that story.
The present Alison has a mixture of attitudes. She is fond of the past Alison and admires her,
"I would like to have known... A bright girl she was". But she also feels sorry for her,
"Poor clever girl! I know,/For all my damaged brain, something she doesn't:/I am her future".
The present Alison is also - understandably - bitter and confused about what she has become,
"I, who need reminding/Every morning, shall never get over what/I do not remember".
Loss: the present Alison has lost her ability to function properly both physically (
"fat... lugs me upstairs") and mentally. And she has lost her father, who has died. Alison has also lost her future and all the good things that could have been.
Life is fragile: the past Alison seemed to have everything going for her. She certainly had intelligence (as she shows even in her present state) and was also physically agile (
"Her autocratic knee/Like a Degas dancer's/Adjusts to the observer with airy poise"). Her accident could have happened to anybody.
We should not judge people on what they appear to be: the doctors will have produced a case history about Alison that only partially describes who she actually is. She was once very different in all sorts of ways.
People should not judge others merely on their situation. Society might even abandon some people for this reason. People often have far more to offer than we might realise.
Plus, there is something universal (affecting everyone) suggested in this poem (even though Alison’s situation is extreme): one day we will all look back on an earlier photograph of ourselves and realise that we were a very different person then... though hopefully not because of traumatic circumstances like those that affected Alison.
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