Writing as a form of survival

a black and white drawing with a tree and a faceWriting is important to me for a myriad of reasons. A big one is to do with impairment. Having M.E. makes life difficult. I lose focus and struggle to recall even the vaguest details of things. I write so I know what I’m doing; so that I have record of events and how I felt or what I thought about them. I don’t always go back to what I’ve written, but knowing I’ve something down in writing is reassuring. It gives me a sense of security that I don’t get from moment to moment, living with brain fog and the persistent threat of finding my thinking processes have become incapacitated.

With M.E. memory is untrustworthy. There are a mirage of possible events, but no sure way of knowing whether or not what you recall is just an image or is fact. Without the writing, you cannot be sure. Writing, for me, is a bit like being a dog sniffing the ground in pursuit of definition of where my territory lies. The words make things tangible in spite of the brain fog. And poetry, like the sense of smell, can evoke an emotional definition of experience in a way that goes beyond words.

I’ve always written poetry. It has always been an essential part of who I am – although the poetry that has influenced me, has mostly been the stuff of popular writers, lyricists and songwriters, rather than the heady stuff of literature. It’s taken me a long time to find the confidence to take my efforts seriously and to go beyond the notion of poetry with a big ‘P’

Writing poetry is part of that instinct to find meaning and purpose; to dig down into the recesses. It is a way of crystalising thoughts and feelings about experience; an almost alchemical process where you take the raw, gut sense of life and try to turn it into gold. I love imagery, the magic of the ability words have of creating pictures the imagination can revel in. But with practice I have learnt to let those pictures fade, or even to rub them out, when they get in the way of saying something that has intention. It is hard to define that sense of knowing that what you’ve put down in words is ‘real’.

The Up-Stream commission last year represented a real breakthrough in motivating me to pick up the mantle of the poet and to start crafting my art. It came during a time of grief for my son, during his descent into psychosis. In her memoir, ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ Joan Didion refers to Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein’s clinical commentary on the process of grief as an illness. Grief set me on a course of falling into a space where my own childhood sat like an empty mirror, calling me to examine emotions I couldn’t contain. Grief isn’t rational. It affects the way you think and feel in unpredictable ways. I found myself writing from a point of view that lay somewhere between my mother and father and myself – a melting pot where family experience was a well-spring that needed expression, if I was to prevent myself from drowning.

And so, since Up-Stream the poetry has kept on coming. It has been a wonderful opportunity to take the writing into places it hasn’t been before. I’m starting to get things together and put the work out in the world a bit at a time. And with the help of Bonny Cummins and Cate Jacobs – mentors I’ve been working with as a result of Up-Stream I’m gaining confidence in myself as a poet.

The Word Locker
© Colin Hambrook

In the corner stands a locker where the words lie contained;
some arranged like bricks stacked for use in order of relevance.

They wait, sentinels to be taken out when the moment seems right;
often dislodging syllables, breaking with context,
withholding meaning like cruel siblings.
Some hang limb-like, or fit the body of the room;
organs effective for purpose, motivated by desire or need.

New words are acquired at risk of displacing the old;
a trusted myriad of volumes of language
made for love or business, devotion or art.
They slip or crawl like insects struggling to free themselves;
lost in a mind-maze with its cavernous pathways and endless corridors.

I work extra hard to retain the key to the store –
the bridges they create; the barriers they destroy.
Often invisible they hide; scuttling away in naughty corners
like children ready to trip for fun
or resembling slug trails between me and you.

Often, in the hardness of this word made flesh
I fall shy of reaching through this difficult veil;
lose you to urgent winds that blow the diagraphs to ash.
It isn’t the content that counts, but whether it allows you in;
to feel the quality of the chords’ vibration releasing them into the world.

And facing the space between endings and beginnings
I look for you in the silence that holds the light;
where they fall like tears; oxygen dissolving
in that briefest of moments where life is.

For further information on my illustrated collection ‘100 Houses’ can be found at:


About Knitting Time: art and poetry on the theme of psychosis

'Knitting Time: a journey through loss' is a poetry and visual arts project reflecting on the theme of art and psychosis. A book and exhibition of the work is due to be launched at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex on 10 October 2013 to celebrate World Mental Health Day. During this research and development phase I want to gather responses, thoughts, recollections and comments, so please fill in my surveymonkey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/F2MN2MT and add your let me know what you think? Or feel free to email me via knitting-time [at] btinternet.com
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66 Responses to Writing as a form of survival

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