I’ve begun a draft of the introduction to the poems and illustrations in a poetry collection I am working towards, which will be published by Waterloo Press. It would be great to have your comments and responses to the following reflections on the themes within this work.
Knitting Time draws on personal experience of psychosis, in all its magic and chaos. Within my family history there has been an impressive display of so-called ‘mental illness’. I don’t think we’re especially unique. However, I do know that there has been and still exists an enormous difficulty to talk about the part our propensity for psychotic experience has played in the immediate and wider family.
My sense is that so long as there remains a tight wall around our ability to talk individually and collectively about our experience the more vulnerable the younger members of the family are to falling foul of the psychiatric system. 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 have 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.
This collection has arisen out a need to talk about what it seems impossible to talk about. I’ve been lucky in many respects. Having grown up with and lived through the exigencies of the ridiculous things done to my mother in the name of psychiatric treatment through the 1970s and 80s I made a pact that I would find ways of coping with my own nuttiness without being ‘cared’ for with electric shock treatment and major tranquilizors. And by the grace of god I’ve managed that so far. It’s got easier as I’ve got older, having found strategies of coping with having an extraordinary brain.
I write partly as a way of coping and partly as a way of linking my experience with a more universal experience. The motive behind this collection has been about exploring emotions around what has been a major aspect of my life, but more importantly it has been about a bid to open up conversations about madness as a cultural phenomenon with others who’ve crossed that rubicon.
Knitting Time explores themes of how psychotic experiences arise out of loss, but the writing is also about what is gained from the understandings that come about through those experiences. The poetry takes images from specific hallucinatory experience and gives those moments a metaphoric sensibility.
Knitting Time also draws on memories of the old ‘asylums’ that were closed down in the 1980s and puts them in the context of survival of those institutions and the prejudices which corner us within narrow frames of reference as ‘survivors’.
This collection follows on from my first illustrated poetry collection ‘100 Houses’, which was published by Dada-South in May 2011.