The healing powers of poetry


I have been in poetry-mode for some time now. It all started a year ago just before my brain haemorrhage. Yes folks this is brain haemorrhage week as far as I am concerned because on the 30th. October it will be a year since I had mine.

I have mentioned before that I have decided to go with the flow as far as my psychological reactions go because this anniversary has brought a load of things back to me which I don’t intend to hide away in some compartment of my brain where they could come back to haunt me.
The most common image that flashes back into my mind is climbing that last flight of stairs when I came out of the coma. I still don’t know where I had been when the haemorrhage struck and so I also have no idea why I only remember climbing the last few steps of the stairs to the top of the house. It is an image which will stick.

Since that time I have written 45 poems – well 45 that I am prepared to admit to – and, so far 4 have been published and six rejected. That feels pretty normal to me and today I am sending 8 off to a prestigious British poetry competition which I know I will not win and I am hanging 5 poems in a local exhibition here in my home town of Lewes, Sussex where I also hope to do my second public poetry reading some time in November.

In other words, I have put my brain damaged head above the parapets as a poet for everyone to take shots at and, oddly for someone who can be pretty neurotic about these things, I feel just great about it.

So as I finish the mass subbing of those 45 poems, I am feeling pretty realistic about my place in the world. I know that some of the poetry is better than others but they are all much much better than anything I ever thought I could do and the actual doing has been surprizingly inspirational. I don’t really believe that art should be a form of personal therapy, or if it is, it should be kept well away from public gaze, but I do think that poetry writing has come out of my illness and it has certainly helped me in my recovery.

I have also written 29 short stories, or pieces of so-called flash fiction in this time and, now that my symptoms appear to be receding, I also feel the urge to do some more long-form writing, something that I have not felt up to so far this year.

I have been putting these prose pieces too into their final order working to a personal deadline the significance of which has only just hit me. All of my existing writing has now been “finalised” in time for the dreaded 30th. October, my possible “deathday”. Some subconscious mind-games have been going on no doubt but I have felt a real urgency in getting this done and, madness though it might be, it now seems right that I should bring some “closure” to a difficult year. Next week really will see the beginning of the rest of my life.

As I sit here today though, in the week when I am remembering how I nearly didn’t make it at all, I am just grateful that I have, hopefully, not only survived this terrible affliction but actually begun a new life which is at least in part due to the illness and those special people who have helped me to go beyond it.

I was asked to write a poem on the theme of Celebration the other day, so sitting in my local cafe on a dismally wet day last Saturday, it may not have seemed much of a party but I think something there was worth celebrating none the less. I wrote this:

Celebration

That was then,
this is now.
Nearly dead,
now alive.
I am me,
you are you.
An unconscious hand
now a smile returned.

Dismal memories disconnected.
Climbing stairs, I am come from nowhere.
A doctor in a dim-lit doorway,
inside an ambulance, flashing lights,
trolleyed, injected,
not much more.

Distant gentle medical voices,
foot soles tickled,
tubes inserted.
Pain clouds a muted mind
death surrounded
in an unknown place.

That was then,
this is now.
A year slips by.
Anniversary thoughts can’t help but haunt
Halloween and Bonfire Night,
these shortened days from darkness snatched.

The pain has gone,
some hope’s returned.
I am me,
you are you.
An end postponed, life regained,
trauma-taught, a new voice found.
It’s celebration time sitting here alone
on a wet, grey October day.

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