Poem 50: Dr. Earl Reum

Like most people who know this poem, I first came across it in Stephen Chbosky’s magisterial novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is very much my generation’s Catcher in the Rye. It’s a staggering poem that I think about a great deal, and I’m glad Chbosky included it in his book. Funnily enough, Chbosky knew the poem but had a great deal of trouble tracking down the author, and eventually Dr. Earl Reum was confirmed as the author of the poem, ‘Absolutely Nothing’ that would gain an unprecedented level of popularity thanks to Chbosky’s equally popular novel. The poem and the book had a profound impact on me, both as a teenager and today, and hopefully they can have that effect on you, too.

 

Perks Poem

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Poem 49: Frank O’Hara

Poem 49: Frank O’Hara

I can’t say for sure whether Frank O’Hara (1926-1966) suffered from depression, but the final section of his poem, ‘Mayakovsky’ (taking its name from a Russian poet, who, it’s worth noting, took his own life) is one I constantly go back to. I first came across this poem in one of my favourite shows, Mad Men. The main character, Don Draper, has an affinity to this poem that I won’t spoil here for anyone that hasn’t seen the show (it’s astounding, go watch it!)

 

Mayakovsky
BY FRANK O’HARA
1
My heart’s aflutter!
I am standing in the bath tub
crying. Mother, mother
who am I? If he
will just come back once
and kiss me on the face
his coarse hair brush
my temple, it’s throbbing!

then I can put on my clothes
I guess, and walk the streets.

2
I love you. I love you,
but I’m turning to my verses
and my heart is closing
like a fist.

Words! be
sick as I am sick, swoon,
roll back your eyes, a pool,

and I’ll stare down
at my wounded beauty
which at best is only a talent
for poetry.

Cannot please, cannot charm or win
what a poet!
and the clear water is thick

with bloody blows on its head.
I embrace a cloud,
but when I soared
it rained.

3
That’s funny! there’s blood on my chest
oh yes, I’ve been carrying bricks
what a funny place to rupture!
and now it is raining on the ailanthus
as I step out onto the window ledge
the tracks below me are smoky and
glistening with a passion for running
I leap into the leaves, green like the sea

4
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

Poem 48: Bukowski

Poem 48: Bukowski

Spark

I always resented all the years, the hours, the
minutes I gave them as a working stiff, it
actually hurt my head, my insides, it made me
dizzy and a bit crazy — I couldn’t understand the
murdering of my years
yet my fellow workers gave no signs of
agony, many of them even seemed satisfied, and
seeing them that way drove me almost as crazy as
the dull and senseless work.

the workers submitted.
the work pounded them to nothingness, they were
scooped-out and thrown away.

I resented each minute, every minute as it was
mutilated
and nothing relieved the monotonous ever-
structure.

I considered suicide.
I drank away my few leisure hours.

I worked for decades.

I lived with the worst of women, they killed what
the job failed to kill.

I knew that I was dying.
something in me said, go ahead, die, sleep, become
them, accept.

then something else in me said, no, save the tiniest
bit.
it needn’t be much, just a spark.
a spark can set a whole forest on
fire.
just a spark.
save it.

I think I did.
I’m glad I did.
what a lucky god damned
thing.

Melancholia
Charles Bukowski

the history of melancholia
includes all of us.

me, I writhe in dirty sheets
while staring at blue walls
and nothing.

I have gotten so used to melancholia
that
I greet it like an old
friend.

I will now do 15 minutes of grieving
for the lost redhead,
I tell the gods.

I do it and feel quite bad
quite sad,
then I rise
CLEANSED
even though nothing
is solved.

that’s what I get for kicking
religion in the ass.

I should have kicked the redhead
in the ass
where her brains and her bread and
butter are
at …

but, no, I’ve felt sad
about everything:
the lost redhead was just another
smash in a lifelong
loss …

I listen to drums on the radio now
and grin.
there is something wrong with me
besides
melancholia.

In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 47: Alejandra Pizarnik

In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 47: Alejandra Pizarnik

Hi all,

Here’s poem 47, from Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972), translated by Yvette Siegert. Pizarnik was a poet that I lost for years, I first read about her in a back issue of Modern Poetry in Translation. After that I kept meaning to go back to her and discover more of her work, but the need for her work faded. Over the years I’d forgotten her name, and I searched the Modern Poetry in Translation archives ravenously and found nothing. All I could remember about Pizarnik was that she wasn’t English, and that she’d taken her own life. In desperation a few months ago, I scoured the Wikipedia category of poets who had taken  their own lives, and eventually, I found Pizarnik again. Oddly I remembered her face, and I knew I had found my poet as soon as I saw her. Widely renowned in her native Argentina, Pizarnik only has only selection of her poetry available in English, called Extracting the Stone of Madness, translated by Yvette Siegert. Hopefully more of Pizarnik’s poetry will find it’s way into English, but for now I’m glad that some has made it through to English

 

Pizarnik

In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 45: T.S. Eliot

In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 45: T.S. Eliot

Hi all,

Here’s poem 45, from T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). I’m writing a part of my dissertation on Eliot,  so needless to say I have a great deal to say about him, I’ll try to keep it brief. Eliot was no stranger to madness, as a breakdown occurred shortly before he wrote The Waste Land (1922). The exact nature of the breakdown remains unclear, but it’s affect on Eliot and his thinking cannot be under-estimated. Eliot also knew madness in another way; famously, Eliot’s first wife, Vivian, suffered from nervous breakdowns or what we would today call depression, and Eliot’s half-sister noted of the marriage, “Vivienne ruined Tom as a man, but she made him as a poet”. Eliot is a complex, often maddening poet, and I like to think of him as a closet confessional poet, as his famously allusive and verbose poetry is often much more autobiographical in their first drafts. Every now and again though, sometimes a merely a line, or a whole poem escapes being closeted and clothed in  Eliot’s aloofness, and keeps its confessional content. Today’s poem is one such poem, and I’m glad it was able to slip the net.

 

Hysteria

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her

laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only acci-

dental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by

short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally

in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of

unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands

was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over

the rusty green iron table, saying: ‘If the lady and gentleman

wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentle-

man wish to take their tea in the garden. . .’ I decided that

if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the

fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I con-

centrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.