From the Asylum: Better Poetry Through Sociopathy

A few years ago, I spent some time in a psychiatric center. I experienced a nervous breakdown after a promotion at work and a tumultuous merger between our school and another technical college. I sometimes fear that my depression took a small part of me far away, that I have somehow diminished as a result of my illness raging out of control to a point of meltdown. Many people warned me that the mental hospital would forever destroy my life, that somehow admitting to psychiatric problems would condemn me to an eternity of nervous looks and harsh judgement. I believe I have brought back something of use. 

I have come to the conclusion that good poetry must rise up from an over-abundance of living. I was never one to share my poems outside of very specific venues and would never consider myself a “good” poet, but lately I am beginning to own my work and share it with confidence. I don’t think that would have been possible without a trip down a personal hell. I do hope to share a bit of wisdom gained from that journey.

Anyone who has taken a creative writing course will remember the phrase “show, don’t tell.” This should be easy enough to understand as creative writing must strive to appeal to the senses and evoke imagery. But for poems, I have a new mantra that has served me just as well. In the hospital, I learned about the sheer emotional power of traumatic experiences and the need to connect with the memories of them. Failing to connect with trauma as it is discussed elicits emotions from the person hearing it. It is important to remember one’s role in therapeutic discussion and take care not to inflict emotional pain on others as we seek healing.

In poetry it is different. A stark and terrifying effect can be achieved as one dissociates from trauma. This hint of sociopathy magnifies the emotional power of verse as the speaker refuses to connect with material. If the speaker doesn’t show emotional inflection, the reader must. This device demands that a reader encounter the imagery and respond. There is no escape. I have observed this effect in detail when I have read my poem “Anencephaly Blues” outloud.

 

…One wonders

if its life could know blessed relief had his brain been formed

outside the skull.

A mother-mourning its life-wraps a blue/pink striped

blanket around the fragile gray matter—an attempt

to warm the failed vessel for his soul. Six hours of life

cherished and loved, feeling no pain.

 

When I read this poem, all eyes settle on me. Reading verse always runs the risk of an audience zoning out or diving into their phones. This piece has never failed to draw people in, even if they have no experience with poetry at all. This technique comes from sociopathy, or the kind of shell shock a person disappears into when stress leaves their mind a blasted and blank field of craters. Wordsworth defined poetry as a “spontanous overflow of powerful feelings.” I disagree. It is not enough to feel strong emotions. One must inflict them and draw them out of the reader.

 

For more poetry check out my self published work on Amazon

 

https://totaltext.wordpress.com/poetry/

 

Check out a reading of Anencephaly Blues on my youtube channel.

 

mental

Advertisements

Stalwart Heart: A Birth Story

 

I grew up practically bombarded with horrifying or comedic images of childbirth. Weather a movie made a traumatic scene of a mother agonizing over the natural (willing or not) birth of her child, or the sitcom couple stumbled into a natural birth through some buffoonery, it always played out with some degree of screaming, blood, and near insanity as the male characters would swoon or gag, often both. It was a weird image, and one I honestly internalized. I always expected a delivery room to be a place of chaos, screaming, and the intention of violence toward the father as the mother lashed out against the world in pain.

 

To be fair, those scenes do play out and they may even be quite common. But for my first child, the birth was nothing like anything I had ever seen or read. It’s a story that I hope is common, but I fear not many women (or men) get to experience birth as the deep, existential exploration that unfolded before me.

 

To start, the maternity ward itself was a rather quiet place. The lights were dim and new mothers certainly didn’t hold back expressing the pains of labor, but the facility seemed designed to take these sounds and disperse them through winding halls, dotted with wood panels. Somehow the place maintained an unexpected serenity. The hospital was also quite happy to accommodate my wife’s wish for a natural birth, something other doctors discouraged later.

 

When labor started, my anxiety began to rise with each quickening set of beeps on the heart monitors and my wife’s growing withdrawal to a world inside her head. I planned to be holding her hand, rubbing her back and feeding her ice chips as the process intensified. But my wife went to a place of deeper strength, falling silent, breathing the way many guided meditations suggest, and moving her hips in slow, steady circles to not necessarily alleviate the pain of contractions, but maybe more to process and smooth the sensations out.

 

“Can I get you something? What can I do?” I had a nervous cadence as I hovered to her side. I wasn’t Ross from Friends or Kevin Costener from Robin Hood, but I desperately pretended to be.

 

“I need you to stop talking.”

 

Some men would have been insulted. Some men would have wrote off the exchange and gone back to watching Pro-wrestling highlights on their phone. I was awed. My wife, the soon to be mother of my child was weathering a storm of new life forcing it’s way through her very being. Obviously there was no way I could hope to alleviate her suffering, but the mere fact that my presence had divided her attention to the trance she had built in her mind meant that I presented more of a threat to her well being than a comfort. She needed silence. That was ALL she needed.

 

I sat and tried to process all of this.

 

I sometimes tell my friends that I love my wife partly because I know she could beat the snot out of me if she wanted to. This moment revealed that. I could never deal with pain the way she did that day. I have to moan and cry and vocalize my discomforts so that others are constantly aware of my suffering. The love of my life internalized them, kept them bottled up within herself and snuffed out the flames burning within her. I likened her calm to the supreme strength of a meditating monk or a Buddha reaching enlightenment. I respected and adored my wife before she gave birth, now my feelings for her are closer to worship. She is a faith I keep with devotion and zeal.

 

This strength does not always present itself. Our third child produced more than a few agonized cries, but he was nearly ten pounds so we can excuse that. But trust me gentlemen, it is there within all mothers if you look for it. Birth is the chance for men to gaze directly into the infinite strength and power of a woman. Once you see it, there is nothing to do but cower before it. It is humbling. I hope all men have the strength to see it for themselves.

babypic1

For more non-fiction writing, check out my essay collection Meditations on Bad Faith.

Charlottesville

We wash the children and let them drown.

Unity withers under a dim and Balkan sun

As “passionate intensity” seizes the helm.

 

The virtue of peace cannot stand

In the thrill of blood’s release. The weak

Are faggots, wood piled high as books

 

In a black and white nation’s birth.

Familiar salutes, shaved heads,

Masked faces, and public brawls

 

parade about our home on glowing

Sets as another over cooked meal

Forces its path down our throats.

 

Greatness has a price and our

Credit stretches so that next month

We must choose which child to not feed.

 

The bulbs burn out in the house,

And it will be darker than darkness

Before relief even begins

 

a slow, unenthusiastic march

Through the days. Cold in the heart

Cuts the skin. If we cannot feed

 

Ourselves, perhaps it is best

To begin the dreadful, nauseating

Ritual we have avoided

 

For so long. In the past we have,

And will again, consumed each other.

Though this time, we may not

 

Have the luxury of exchanging

Our children with neighbors.

We may, in the end,

 

Be forced to eat our own.

Cults, Poems, Nightmares, and Truths

When I was a younger man taking a survey of poetry course in college, I began an unseemly obsession with the occult. It all started with a light interest in the writing of H.P. Lovecraft and the now cliche stories of the Cthulhu Mythos. All Science Fiction and Horror fans owe it to themselves to read a collection of Lovecraft, as the entire Sci Fi cannon can be connected to his writing in some way. Even Stephen King has taken huge notes from Lovecraft’s world building. The story that caught my attention was “The Dunwich Horror,” and to be honest, it’s not exactly the most groundbreaking piece of short fiction. But the actual description of the monster that emerges near the end absolutely captivated me. The creature was a mass of tendrils and unsettling images with a human face at it’s center. It was escorted by a cloud of whippoorwills wherever it went.

It was a bizarre image to say the least, and I thought back to my childhood listening to whippoorwills cry out late at night at my grandmother’s house. Later, as a young student of literature,  the similarity of the Dunwich Horror and the Lion creature of Yeats’ poem: “The Second Coming” set me upon my first real obsessive literary chase. I suspected that more hid behind this coincidence and hoped to find evidence that Yeats and Lovecraft had somehow met or referenced each other in correspondence. My instructor at James Smith allowed me to embark on the wildest of Whipporwill chases, likely knowing how insane and fruitless this path would be. To this day I am thankful for his patience and willingness to let me chase some ghosts.

The search was not altogether pointless as I discovered one more creepy clue. Sometime in the 60’s or 70’s a forgery of The Necronomicon was published by an anonymous author that went by the name Simon. The book was an obvious hoax, or at least that was my assumption when my spells to summon some ancient evil from beyond The Gate of Walking failed. One page in particular inspired my obsession to flare into a near fever pitch. This image is taken from the Simon Necronomicon 1980 edition.

 

necro

This is Nergal’s symbol, the glyph used to summon the God of War. I include it here simply for the impressive way that Simon makes the marks look convincing. A reader could get lost in the fantasy that recreating this bizarre marks in a ritual could somehow alter the universe around them or summon an ancient power. The text describing this deity includes a few more than curious images. “He has the head of a man on the body of a lion, and bears a sword and flail.” His ceremony is to be done far from prying eyes and is to be kept a great and dangerous secret.

When we look at the text of Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” the similarities are uncanny. A menacing figure makes his way across a desert, approaching the city of Bethlehem.

 

…a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A Shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of indignant desert birds. (Finneran, 187)

 

This quote tied together the Simon Necronomicon, Yeats and Lovecraft in a triad of occult beauty. One of my proudest moments in life was achieving a raised eyebrow of James Smith in a private conference concerning my modern poetry research assignment. He wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it, and I could tell he fought with the urge to dismiss the whole thing as absurd.

But he didn’t. Instead he told me “This is more the basis of book than a paper.” I am now writing that book!

To be fair, after years of research and obsessive digging through the personal notes and lives of both Lovecraft, Yeats, and the historical figures both lives drew into their bizarre circles, I can confidently say Yeats drew no notes from Lovecraft. It was quite the opposite. Lovecraft was an avid fan of Yeats and drew inspiration from his poems. Simon, our pseudepigraphic friend, likely drew upon both Yeats and Lovecraft in his silly, but convincing effort to produce a real Necronomicon. The real story, and the real discovery goes much deeper. As one explores the occultic backgrounds and practices haunting Yeats and the texts that inspired his own mystical writings, a strange story begins to emerge. It is my hope to now use this story to shed new light on the Christian tradition and make a new appeal to the once lost philosophy of religious Gnosticism.

We will begin our quest with Yeats and explore the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. A brief discussion of Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley will lead us to the Jewish Kabbala and it’s relationship with ancient Egyptian mystical symbols. We then unite these traditions with the Chaldean Sumerian, and Zoroastrian themes that evidence now shows INFLUENCED both Jewish and Christian thought. After a discussion of the Yazidi and Richard Carrier’s new theories of Christ’s MYTHICAL character, we can begin to make large extrapolations to the nature of religion, it’s role in our lives, and the true origin of the Gods we worship today.

There is no magic here, no power to save, condemn or destroy. There is only wisdom older than perhaps our entire species. There will be a death and rebirth of faith. There will also be a new exhortation to Unitarian Universalism as the realized panacea of Madam Blavatsky’s hopes. I pray (to whatever deity started this entire mess) that some will share this adventure, and find some measure of peace in a world where multitudes claim truth but have no clue to the true nature of their mystical pursuit. Let’s make the world a better place.

 

D.Bailey

08/02/17

 

Steel waters

happy pictures

Forever he sails on a blue sea, silent and cold as steal. He chases an endless red sky and a sun that never sets. The dock is far, but his ship is true and the water shines with no wake or wave.
When he gets there, the journey will end and he will rest. There is no more to be done. No repairs to be made, no haste to unload, no pain in his wrists or legs. He will settle onto a bench and drink tea sweetened with lemon. Two black dogs settle at his feet and a breeze blows from the north east. It doesn’t worry him.
He is waiting there for us. Looking to clouds and taking long breaths into his now clear lungs. He is happy to wait.
When we get there it will all be well. He knows.