Thursday, July 06, 2006


Poetry on my mind once again. This Thursday the prompt was to dig into "the personal side of poetry" possibly write a poem about an "intense experience" and explore "how writing it helped"--or, to reflect on a poem on a "difficult or personal subject" by someone else. Immediately, I thought of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and reading through Diane di Prima--the lonely woman in a tawdry sea of male confessional voices of the Beat Generation. These words broke me open as a teenaged girl half-drunk on the sorrow and love of the whole world. I would write about how these poems bearing witness to the ordinary taught me...

No. I would share a poem of my own...something I don't do nearly often enough as I read others' contributions. I have slid sideways into the world of writing fiction, essays, and articles by way of years of poetry composition. Surely, as many poems as I've read and workshopped in various places, it should be easy to find one "confessional" or personal poem suitable for public viewing. Or...not.

So again I find myself squarely in the arms of another contemporary poet, considering her work and how it intersects with my own life. Marisa de los Santos wrote this difficult poem about her mother for her widely-acclaimed book, From the Bones Out. It was a razorblade against my tender skin when I first read it just this past April...and I share it here, with my own scars exposed.

Monologue of One Returned
by Marisa de los Santos

Yes, I know my children's faces now, now
that I shrug on Lithium like heavy clothes.
Once, I wore my skin
like gauze and pressed myself
into the grass not
to get beneath.
I heard the whole yard
change colors in the rain.

To relearn
that the wicks of magnolia
do not--do not--sing when they flare
finally into wide, white flames
has been hard.

My daughters' hair is long
and fans across their pillows.

True, there were days
I'd sit in the cane rocker
and feel the deaths of everything
I'd ever seen die--a cat,
my mother, that whole row of elms--fill
my bones with smoke
and I couldn't sleep
and I couldn't find anything.

Marisa's brows
are dark and arched.
Kristina's cheeks are smooth.
(The singing of those little
fires was so sweet!)
All night,
I watch my daughters sleep.

--in the collection, From the Bones Out--

Yesterday, a contract was sent back with my looping signature and publishing permission for an essay I wrote about my Post-partum Depression and Psychosis with Rosie. I didn't hear magnolias sing like de los Santos' woman. But, I did see eyes in the tree-leaves and hallucinated that the baby's limbs had turned into other things. Whenever the media rides a mentally ill woman up on the rails for killing their infant, I get a catch in my belly--because I was lucky. So, I do not offer my own confessional poem today, but my own confession. I have experienced madness...yes, it responded well to medication. No, my impulse was never to injure my child. We are "justfinethankyouverymuch". But, we weren't for a while...just three Summers back.

The poem by de los Santos says what I still haven't managed to about what mental illness can be. Her mother experienced it--had a full breakdown when de los Santos was fourteen. So, the poet knows what she speaks of here in these lines. As soon as the contract was gone, a terror hit me. These watery words I wrote in a great torrential rush are going to sit in a magazine on newsstands for months. The ladies at the kids' school can read the essay and whisper when I pass, "That's the one who went crazy." My extended family and our friends who didn't really know how sick I was can peer at me over the dinner table and wonder if I'm thinking wild, fantastical thoughts.

Confessional poetry is powerful in spite of whatever its detractors may say. There is something so fierce about standing naked in a crowd and I admire it...and I respect it. With the state of poetry in our country today--that I read and buy books by poets who "navel-gaze" and "whine" about their experiences is worth paying attention to. Yes, there is a time to look beyond the surface of our own lives and into the vastness of the world beyond. But, until you've spent an afternoon contemplating the garden in the sidewalk cracks with Ginsberg, the golden fog on Kerouac's mountains, or indulged in the random dinners and gleaming nightmares di Prima had--I don't think you can see anything.

Yes, I am nervous about my "confessional prose" hitting the presses--Rosie turns three tomorrow--which marks the anniversary of both her life and my descent. Years are passing and we both are growing...I do not live where magnolias sing and spiders spring from bones without warning. But, I still look at my children and the world with a muted awe, because I have seen the other side of things and returned to tell about it.


Blogger Amber said...

"There is something so fierce about standing naked in a crowd and I admire it...and I respect it."--- And so do I. And I admire YOU for standing naked.

Wow. That poem. This whole post... I know mental illness intimately. You know this through the things I have written on my own blog---even my post now touches on some of this. And this experience is why I aim to work with other people who have had this struggle, or loved those with this struggle.

I am so happy that you came out of that darkness. But I also am---if not happy---almost happy?---that someone with your writing talent can speak so eloquently and beautifully of this experience that so many people have faced. Because your bravery and raw honesty will speak for those who do not have your talent or balls. This is purpose, my friend. You are a "storytelller", and this is a calling of the highest order...

I think you rock.

11:32 AM  
Blogger liz elayne said...

after i read de los santos' poem, i sat with tears in my eyes. pausing for a moment. finding my breath. even though i may not have experienced moments quite like this, i somehow can relate on a deep level. it staggers me sometimes, like i am just waiting to really feel this experience myself.
and then i kept reading and your bravery filled me up my dear. i am so glad you have stepped forward with the truth of your journey. others will know they are not alone. and think this is the reason we are here. to let each other know this over and over.
blessings to you for your courage...

3:48 PM  
Blogger bb said...

You know we have much to share.
*My extended family and our friends who didn't really know how sick I was*
You are further along your writing journey than I am but I can imagine that panic, the moment when the act of writing truthfully was only the first hurdle, and having to find the courage to let that writing go its own way without your protection.
You have great courage.
And the poem.
*there were days
I'd sit in the cane rocker
and feel the deaths of everything
I'd ever seen die*
And days when every face I saw I could only see as dead and decaying, the face of a corpse.
But our scars are integral to us, and i don't show them to others for pity or to shock. I share them because I must. And when you share yours I see a kindred spirit who is strong and brave, and I move further towards knowing what I have experienced is not shameful, but links me to something so much wider that desperately needs to be explored further to help understand and change lives.
With love and thanks x

5:32 PM  
Blogger jim said...

What a journey, detour, and return, and embedded a tremendous poem and defense of the confessional in poetry. I'll be sure to direct some of my more hip students to this meditation, as it gets to the very life of poetry. Thank you.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

I read this with tears in my eyes. How do I begin to tell you what this post means to me? I will try:

1. I applaud your courage in sharing your experience here and in the piece you are having published.

2. This poem is fantastic. It is not the going crazy that matters, although that is what so many people focus on. It is the fact that you CAN come back. And stay back.

3. This touches me personally because I come from a family that suffers from bipolar disorder ~ and that includes me ~ but we all lead pretty normal, productive lives. And medicine has played a role.

4. So many people think of someone with a mental illness, and they imagine a person who is really messed up. They have no idea so many of us are doing well and living among them ~ as neighbors, supervisors, friends and acquaintances. I really appreciate your helping to balance that perception out by talking about your experience. I've only recently started telling people I have bipolar disorder. It's not something I shared with anyone when I lived in Kansas City. I tried when I was first diagnosed, but I hated the way people reacted. But I think it's important to speak up and be an example, so I've been telling a few people and I've talked about it a little on my blog. If we don't talk about this from our own perspectives, who will?

Thank you for sharing this. The poem. The accompanying discussion. The whole damn thing.

(And I am glad to hear you are justfinethankyouverymuch.)

11:53 PM  
Blogger deirdre said...

Delia, I'm in awe of you, your writing, and your courage. What strength you have, to pass through the dark place and come back again. In myth it's called the hero's journey - the ability to set out on a quest (not always of your choosing) and come back with boons to bestow upon mankind. You bestow great gifts, and I am thankful to receive.

12:29 AM  
Blogger January said...

When I come here, I am constantly amazed yet never disappointed.

I echo the sentiments already written.

Thank you for Marisa de los Santos. I will seek out more of her work.

And thank you for your post about post-partum depression. It is so difficult to explain but you have a way to getting to the heart of the matter. Congrats on getting your article published.

Lastly, I understand about putting so much about your family out there. How confessional should a writer be, because one day our little darlings will grow up and question our choices. Who knows how they will feel about being front and center in our work. I am hopeful our kids will be proud of us. And I am hopeful that the subjects we choose to make public reach a larger audience who may find solace in not being alone.

Happy Birthday to Rosie!

6:28 AM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Beautiful - so powerful. I'm glad you made that difficult journey and emerged to tell your story. Thank you for your words and your example. And congrats on publishing the essay! Well done.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Tammy said...

You are a very brave woman that has used her gifts to shed light on mental illness. God bless you!

Congrats on the essay :)

6:03 PM  

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