Q: You recently completed a book with Sandy Jeffs called Voices From the Dark which explored mental illness and creativity. What, for you, is the most important thing you found out working on it?
A: I discovered I had chronic PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after I suffered a minor breakdown and ended up in the Emergency ward at Darwin hospital with an acute panic attack and a dose of shingles. After accidentally viewing a special on PTSD on a small motel television where I had been hiding out and then researching on the internet, the pieces of the puzzle of 36 years of living with a neurological disorder and not knowing what the hell was going on inside myself fell into place in less than an hour. This was all a result of the Sept 11 crisis.
I wanted to put some of the trauma I had suffered over the years into words for the first time. I trusted Sandy because of what she has gone through over the years with schizophrenia. This allowed me to speak. For years I had known that there was something wrong. I remember as a child I used to hit myself in the head with my hands as if trying to knock the problem out. This was an act frustration. Working on the book with Sandy Jeffs was a satisfying way of claiming success over a very challenging life.
Q: And what was the process of putting your traumatic experience into words like?
A: When I create it is often an unconscious action, so I am unable to answer questions about creative process. I usually know what motivates me if I think about it afterwards, when I go back and analyze the work and wonder what motivated me to write or photograph. I guess it's like when I travelled out to the drought stricken country a couple of days ago in order to hand feed the cows. For some reason one of the most pleasurable things for me is standing among their huge dark heads as they burp and snort, gulping and tossing up the hay. I walk away in a euphoric daze, not knowing anything.
Q: You write poetry. Do you remember what motivated you to write your very first poem, how you came to write it? Under what circumstances was it written?
A: I was thirteen years old and the poem was called The Rainforest. I wrote it about Minnamurra Falls in southern New South Wales. It was a description of a dark moist landscape and included moss covered boulders and a lyrebird at dusk. How dark can a rainforest become without perishing? The motivation was power. It felt good to describe this place that had touched my life. I was probably trying to explain my own psychology to myself. It was the moment before the traumatic separation of my parents where I lost everything and was in fear for all our lives. It felt so good to write that I wrote hundreds more poems throughout my teens. There was a sense of achievement but mainly it was about trying to establish a sense of place and self. To quote the US poet Elaine Schwager, it was about "living in the falling apart."
Q: In relation to living with PTSD, how dark did it get? What did you have to overcome?
A: When the light is edging out of a rainforest darkness can be very peaceful. The psychosis that one experiences during a PTSD relapse is comparable to a state of terror, war, apocalypse or natural disaster. A majority of people respond to these real life situations accordingly and get over it once the threat has passed. In my case the threat did not pass. My problem is that my neurology is so well adapted to living with trauma that it stayed that way. To this day I suffer nightmares involving combat, crisis, war, secret agents, murderers etc. My sleeping patterns are distorted. I become edgy in social situations or where I feel exposed to threat. I am hyper vigilant and when in the grip of PTSD related stress I think I can hear animals in distress or people sobbing and whimpering, or those I cannot get to in order to assist. It is most often a case of mistaken identity rather than hallucination. I simply revert back to a time when certain responses were necessary in order to ensure survival -- which in my case was long term exposure to domestic violence that involved threat and torture. I could compare a number of my responses to situations to that of police, army, firemen etc. They are prone bouts of PTSD as well. My perception is often of a world in crisis. My response is one of fight or flight and I am always ready for an emergency.
Q: What have you done to cope? I imagine your writing, your photography, your drawings, all are part of ways of dealing with this?
A: Perhaps my entire life has merely been a series of coping mechanisms. Humour, drug use and abuse, the car I drive, the sex industry, where I chose to live, my creativity, animal rescue, obsessive travel, avoidance of intimate relationships, prayer and contemplation, workaholism, what I chose to wear, my politics, adrenalin addiction, escapism and the many qualities and layers these mechanisms involve.
For example; in order to cope with an acute 4pm anxiety I involve myself in outdoor activities. In order to cope with a fear of the dark, I may sleep with a bright light shining into my eyes. To cope with a world that is in crisis, I work harder in order to rectify the situation. There are dozens of things I do in a myriad of different circumstances that would seem complex, mysterious and even eccentric to some. But I now understand what motivates me. I am a lot more simple than I ever imagined.
While I have over twenty different creative projects I am working on at present, it has been more than just art for me. When I look back at how I have lived my life, I see a person coping not only within extraordinarily harsh environments, but with a brutal and unusual psychology to match. I believe that one of the reasons that I am doing so well today is my belief in myself and in love or god. I have always been a minimalist and these days I chose to live out of several suitcases. When I am asked why I point to the sky and say, "I'm on 24hr call or in my case, probably 24hr Emergency Service!"
Coral Hull was born in Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia in 1965. She is the author of over thirty-five books of poetry, fiction, artwork and digital photography, and is an animal rights advocate. She is the editor and publisher of Thylazine, a non-profit biannual literary and arts e-zine focusing on Australian artists, writers and photographers in the areas of landscape, animals and in other areas of special interest, with a strong emphasis on indigenous Australian culture. She lives in Sydney's west.
I wouldn't canooty
The bundy of clout
Even if I knew
What I was talking about
I wouldn't connect him
To a collatelly tin
For the simple reason
He wouldn't get in
He might have the panthines
He might have the skid
How would I know
If he didn't or did
So the safety check measures
In place in the morning
Are alright all day
For the likes of these
But if a blister pouts up
Like a black bottled nitrate
I'm leaving immediately
I can't cope with that
The Emotion Stone
The emotion stone
Emotion of stone
Hard cold and brutal
When it bangs on the bone
Does just to break it
And bring it on home
To a family just like it
With emotion of stone
Gives a cold cup of tepid
Then leaves it alone
So you go to your cave
For more emotion of stone
Then you're all on your own
Like a bat that's a bookmark
In the dead book of drone
Dreary in its template
Old cold through its spine
Mad in its matter
Thought twisted like junk
Every third and fourth page
Is hoary and bleak
And the book stinks like rat rotten
And your mind glows bright blank
Till you turn off its engine
And put it back on its back
And curl up beside it
And go to sleep in its space
Till the images crawl like beetles
Up to holocaust hill
They've just come to look now
But they'll soon come to kill
As your nightmare crackle
With burning black flame
And your emotion stone
Drops like a pallet
In a wet water pool
As the ripples move towards you
You just can't go on
So you curl up death donut
And loneliness too
In the thin iron pond
As they put the emotion stone
Down gently beside you
You hear them whisper
He's through yes he's through
As they move you in deeper
To make sure if you are really that dead
Or doing a pos sum or two
A fake phoney death
That doesn't become you
Then back in the township
They shuffle through your four quarters
Looking for gadgets and gold
The plastic's put over you
And you're wrapped in its crisp callous cold
Packed in your packet
Of the envelope grave
One step from renewal
And ten steps from your birth
And the emotion stone
Cold soburied in the desperate despicable and dilettante earth
Spike Rotundo: I work as an artist, poet, musician and performer. I found my love of arts as a small child and have been persecuting my local community ever since with my genius for being quite average. My achievements are too numerous to mention on the back of a Catholick postage stamp, so I'll sigh off now.
The social worker
thought I was cactus
a dead loss
a blight on the world.
The social worker told me
I had: reached the end of the line,
and I believed her
thought I was history
a story with a crappy ending
a nobody who
walked in the shadows of others
and cast none of my own
a witch who made others miserable
a carbuncle on my friends' lives.
I festered and oozed
and sealed the puss of my madness
in the scab of my life's retreat
which had: reached the end of the line
so the social worker from Hell said
condemning me to another Hell
which had nothing to do with being mad.
is only a breath
shallow at times
the myriad faces
that glide the ways
barely giving comfort
never taming the ghouls.
is only a breath
that fades into
asylum of beggars
When they frame
the shadows of
the nether world
in a golden cage,
into which I come
and from which I leave
angry and mad,
let them say:
she was the maddest of all.
And I shall say:
is only a breath
its hush speaks words
falling as a crescendo
upon the mad world's deafness.
Sandy Jeffs has had four books of poetry published. Her poetry invites the reader to experience the agony and humour of madness, the tragedy of domestic violence and the trials, tribulations and celebrations of midweek ladies tennis. Sandy often speaks to community groups, GP's , schools and university students about mental illness, hoping to raise awareness about the myths that surround this misunderstood phenomenon. Sandy lives on the outskirts of Melbourne with her friends and animals.
to avalanches as they rumble
down adjacent faces. head towards
the canyons that they have
fallen into. stop as the day
sets. cook whatever is
left over flames.
eat vegetarian meals. consider
snow angels during the wet season,
snow with breath, us
alchemists of the soul. eclipse
the ground we stand on. shimmering
life diamonds float
away before us. go on
from there. drink from glacier
manuel with cowboy hat
claudio with adidas cap
and me lacking tunic
stare at the sun.
yellow no. 5
triple cola pronounced treeplay lists artificial
colors as an ingredient. preservatives also. i
drank some in huaycachina
on a restaurant patio. on the street,
tourists from all over the world carouse
locals, some longlegged
with real bright shirts, too. its summer
in paradise. a dog with ripped orange tee shirt,
ribs protruding, big cock hanging out, saunters by.
im pretty sure hes from the bronx.
down a sanddune behind
the oasis, a boy does cartwheel back handspring
back flip back flip back flip
down to the water and gets nothing
in return for the fact
that it happened. somewhere im sure
some chicken makes real
shiny with piss a red wheelbarrow.
(a la noche)
the shadow of a donkey
comes to life from a painting
and chases beer
of a donkey
comes to life
from a painting
my throat. everyone
Michael Furs was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He has suffered with anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, and he has had a nervous breakdown. Despite this, he has worked as an Emergency Medical Technician and Rehabilitation Counsellour for schizophrenics, as well as spending much time volunteering in the United States and in Lima, Peru.
Clues were left
Hit-or-miss, seemingly in a random sporadic display
a verbiage unending in mindscarred careful disarray
the magascope astounds a perspecuity of conscious detail
Mare Island: one scene
Bryce Canyon National Park: another
All dress as garbed to a fancy ball
Parenticide avante garde mon derrier!
Clients perdu regained in San Juan
A tall bee tree
And we drink in the honey of each dripping syllabic.
He only wrote with conscious detail about the football field
The lives of his characters captured on the film
Of book bark encountered and tree trunks enfolded.
I wish I had that spaciousness inside myself sometimes.
Riding the Storm
sky of jet silver black as light
faded dreams fleeing along a forlorn song
violent clouds stirring quickly
streaking the sky out of a perspiring sorrow
a .22 and still a child
held the bicycle up to my head
and hit the road
the sky bleeds red
saw it in the catalogue wanted it
just that colour, cherry cool
begged for it
had no money
begged for it again
wanted it more
got some pain
got it one day
a sky that stirs
an anguish spiring
darkening ever like a fever river
never abating, breaking
a feminine shape slipping behind the masks of ether
stepping windswept lady through the gods' old war
to dream you wish for something other
to want is what the will considers reason
the thing which you desire
Icarus and the sun so cloaked in naked red
a youthful material-maternalistic virtue scrubs over
persistent pestilent in the naturalistic impasto
some definitions pertaining to two circular rubber objects
some link these together by metal adornment
generally having a chain, a steering apparatus,
pictured with a seat, rider donning a parasol,
well here's the picture:
They call her the town bicycle --
because everyone in town rides her
and she's that way
two at a time you know,
on to the next
take it down fast, pump and blow
onto the next wheel before the last is over
under the sky open with sin
bend her over rover
take it all in
The sky is riding from the stars
who cloak her bosom in tempestuous might
with their skinshade shady swarthes of taunting nothingness
deeper violences of shadow percolate still and heavy swarms
biting out chunks of a relentless gaseous aura
into the fleeing sun
She has the road
She has the vehicle of progression
She has no openings for you
Mike Katzberg, originally from Australia, lives and writes in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, with a roommate and a cat. He is in the process of writing a vampire novel, and deliberating over his first book of poetry, among other endeavours.
Didn't you know eccentric women
Repeat the pattern of madness?
Didn't they tell you that we comb our hair
Then stare into darkness?
I'll tell you then. I'm the eccentric woman of
Who talks to the rain that falls
And ask my plants why they don't grow
Into strong little boys and girls
I'll tell you then, I'm the quaint woman of yesteryear
Quintessentially mad to the masses
But to the legion that guards my brain
I'm not insane
Didn't you know eccentric women
Repeat the pattern of madness?
Shamed by our Condition
My wrists were small
but the cuffs were smaller
as they bit at my skin
Shoved into the car head first
my body contorted to fit
in a space not fit for small children or wildlife
CLANK went the door of the holding cell
Piss scented air engulfed me as I sat
alone and cold on the hard metal bench
(chipping paint and artful profanity)
Cries of women
echoed through the corridor
and out the window
falling on merciless ears
I would not cry
for anger caressed my lips
He took away everything I had
He took away my freedom
He was used to the cage
but prison is no place for a woman
We were round up
an assortment of motley women
chained together by circumstance
I was not a criminal
just a woman and a mother
who would not submit to the will
We were led out like dogs pulling a sled
Heads down and shamed by our condition
My cellmate was a crack addict
though she preferred the term "diabetic"
Her long, crack-eaten body draped over the entire
I studied her features
There was no doubt she took her insulin through a
Elizabeth Kelso is a native New Yorker who has been writing poetry for 17 years. She won 2nd prize in the 2000 "No Experience Required: A Literary Magazine Contest for her poem "She Fed Me Kimchi". Her work can be seen at zuzu.com.
Crazy is a mean place to be -
piranhas swim through saliva, teeth
pressure your tongue to tell a son
you wish he were never born, that your eggs
should have caught fire, burned black
like the ones he tries to make, ruining all the skillets,
before that drunken cum staggered its way
into your fucked-up Easter basket.
There is so much blood in the daydreams.
His and yours run together, a dysfunctional river
that covers baby pictures making cowlicks glisten,
making his Sesame Street romper orange.
In the night dreams, you cry.
How you've neglected the knife set!
The one from four Christmas' ago - they've dulled
like your hair, your eyes. Flat. Matte like the shadows
you wear as disguise. People don't look into them now,
and you know the men you'll never have.
Things like making toast and manicures become projects,
make you think of slots that pop out what you are so hungry for,
and fingernails small as sprinkles, so you drop the bread
to the floor, leave the polish open to dry.
With dead eyes it all seems funny.
Crazy is an interesting place to be, if someone notices.
Then there are pink and blue pills that you line up
on the counter like pairs of eyes winking all is well,
and doctors you picture naked with hairy balls,
which makes you laugh, and laughter is
the best medicine. If someone notices,
maybe sons will see the error of their ways,
become priests or even love you again, hold your hand.
But crazy is usually alone, going to six stores to find
the Schick straight razors dad used to use. Then you see
him shaving at the sink, nicking his cheek, sticking a piece
of tissue on it. Oh, how you fretted! The worst worry
in your life was his wound. You wonder why
he doesn't answer your prayers.
Crazy is a place where the doves never come home.
Breaking Down, Making Soup
A pockmarked life, ugly and filled
with flimsy notions of altered states
is reason enough to shed skin dead
a while, since the year full of holes.
Hung on bone (tired), teasing
like a tongue that circles pouting lips
and misses the point.
Fifteen thousand three hundred thirty
mistakes atoned for - promises, deals,
firstborn son. Like a pot of soup they simmer
until the whole schmear becomes something
with a name. Carrot shavings
and chicken feet are nothing on their own.
Sometimes he listens and forgives
but we pay with our sanity,
going crazy as we slurp poison
that does not quite reach the heart.
Lori Williams: Just your typical depressed poet from New York. I think I've had some sort of depression for most of my adult life, maybe even since childhood. People were always telling me "snap out of it", " you're so moody" and the worst one..."smile!". At age 43, I have finally put a name to it, stopped thinking I was just a miserable person. My poetry has been published in over 30 print and web zines and journals, including The Melic Review, Niederngasse, The Dakota House Journal, BlueFifth Review and is upcoming in Wicked Alice and Unlikely Stories. I've used poetry as my therapy for many years, but it's not quite enough anymore.
Drops of rain
Glisten on the wooden steps.
The wind blows
And the field answers
As everything else listens.
At the edge of the pond
It is like that dip and then tug
Into the darkness.
The line runs with that shiny scaled dream
That can never be fiction.
Danny P. Barbare's poetry has appeared in Pittsburgh Quarterly, Writing Ulster, Santa Barbara Review, California Quarterly, and many other publications and journals. He has struggle with manic-depression since his early teens. He started writing at the age of 20 and has written a poem everyday for the past 20 years. He works as a custodian and attends Greenville Technical College when able. He has a deep Southern accent, having travelled very little from the area where he was born.