Tuesday 9 October 2018
Review by Sue Mackrell of "Please Hear What I’m Not Saying" edited by Isabelle Kenyon
Words are powerful and these words are more powerful than most. They burst through the gaps and silences surrounding mental health with brutal and searing honesty.
It is sometimes said that creativity comes from a dark place, forged from an intense sensitivity to the highs and lows of what it is to be human. It is certainly true of these poets, who write from direct experience of their own or loved ones’ mental illness.
Images are surprising, sometimes shocking. Grief is a ‘cruel handbag - / its catch snaps shut like jaws’ burying ‘an old compact, / hankie embroidered with an M.’ Clothes are ‘a pile of ugly cocoons’ provoking unwelcome memories of childhood. When ‘Baby Blues / were cover for the hopeless days,’ a baby boy is strapped to his mother’s chest, hidden under a blue raincoat as his mother contemplates suicide. Another baby is ‘kicking out sweet baby legs - / his fat oaf of a mother crawling, hands and knees, walrusing the floor / in search of filth.' Dementia is ‘a sleeping sickness / that makes a drought / of memory.' Anxiety is to ‘walk on the needles / of all my worries, / nettling and biting.’
In ‘My Father’s Paranoia’ Jonathan Taylor writes movingly about how he once said he would cut the hedge when he was ‘less busy’ and then seeing his father, ‘in a sweat, trembling, / falling over, fitting, minor-stroking ... and all I know now / is how un-busy I actually was / that hot Sunday.’
In my own poem I try to convey the visceral jolt of a sudden descent into depression, the ‘hangman’s drop to Hades.’ But there is also hope, that ‘streaks of sunlight / will diminish the dark.’
There are moments of beauty, of appreciation of small moments, of survival in these poems which are accessible and engaging but also profound. Those who have felt isolated by mental illness may respond with a sense of recognition, and for others there are opportunities for new insights and understanding. Crass comments about ‘having an OCD day‘ or patronising ‘jokes’ about ‘schizophrenia’ are challenged here in a way that is courageous and empowering.
About the reviewer
Sue Mackrell ‘s poems and short stories have appeared in a wide range of publications, including Agenda and Fairacre Press. She has an MA from Loughborough University, and taught creative writing there for several years. She enjoys working on local history projects, giving a voice to those who have been silenced, such as local witches and Leicester Conscientious Objectors of the First World War.