I’m preparing for my first reading from the illustrated collection I produced last year: ‘100 Houses’. The poetry is unashamedly personal, although that’s also the reason why i’ve found it so hard to actually tell anybody that it exists, despite the fact it was published over a year ago.
All of the poems relate to my experience of psychosis. I feel driven, somehow, somewhere, to have a conversation about psychosis; about what it means for individuals in their daily lives; about how you cope during those times you can’t believe what is going on in your head, because everything is so unimaginably out of control.
And somehow I want to have a conversation about the the causes of psychosis. My mother, myself and now my son, have all displayed a propensity for psychotic experience. I don’t believe that the cause is simply a matter of saying that it’s a chemical component within the gene pool of our family. Although I do believe that there is a sensitivity that has been passed down. But that vulnerability is much more about feeling sensations and a way of making emotional connections that has been passed on, than it is about chemical imbalances in the brain, as the medical profession would have us believe, with its dominant emphasis on the illusive chemical cure.
I have an intangible sense from my own family of something accrued through our collective experience of war. Although it has been almost impossible to talk about, my life has largely been dominated by an over-riding immanent, but absurd sense of threat. I’ve been struggling for some months to write a poem about how the shadows of the family experience of war has been passed down.
Recently I came across a short story by an author whose work I admire – Kurt Vonnegut. ‘Armageddon in Retrospect’ is a posthumously published collection of essays and short stories by the author, all related to the theme of war. ‘The Commandant’s Desk’ is a short story about a Czech carpenter and his daughter. They have bitterly endured Nazi and Soviet occupation during the long years of World War II. The father looks forward to his country’s salvation when American forces move in…
The father says: “It’s over, the killing is over… and we’re alive. Did you think that was possible? Did anyone in his right mind expect to be alive when it was over?”
His daughter Marta responds: “I feel almost as though being alive were something to be shamed of.”
Both father and daughter endure three equally oppressive armies who come to invade and / or liberate. And there is nowhere they can hide but in shame. In the story the father’s pacifism is overrun by hopelessness and leads to terrible consequences.
But in that short quote is the nub of the feeling I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to explore in my writing; that somehow surviving were something to be ashamed of. It isn’t something that’s easy to talk about, but there is a sense of guilt at being alive expressed in the story, that I can relate to strongly, instinctively.
The form of capitalism that has been developed since the industrial revolution, has been dependent on war; on producing mechanisms for war and for breeding the circumstances in which war occurs. Humans endure, life carries on after war, but individuals, their families and their offspring are never the same.
100 Houses is available from Amazon – price £5