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Poems can express many ideas and experiences. In my first book of poems, We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders, part of CavanKerry Press’ Laurel Books literature of illness series, I tried to express how I felt both during psychosis and afterwards. I also often tried to put myself into the experience of others who experienced symptoms that I might not, but which I could imagine.
One thing I know, having had this illness for so long, is that misinterpretation is rife. I mean things when I do things, just as anyone else does. But people simply make assumptions about my behavior and forget that they might need to ask why I do what I do. I have often asked others why they did whatever strange or seemingly outrageous thing they did, and lo and behold there has always been an understandable rationale behind it. For instance, when I stripped naked in that freezing seclusion room, I was neither “acting out” nor totally around the bend, no, my reasoning was that if I were naked they would have to give me something to cover myself with, i.e. a blanket, which is what I had been begging for all along. But they never asked me why I had taken off my clothing — a flimsy tee shirt and lightweight jeans. They just assumed — whatever they assumed. Ditto for almost every other interaction I had with them, and the same almost uniformly went for other people when they behaved in a way that was somehow contrary to expectations. The meaning of their actions was reasonable, given the context.
I tell you this because in my poem, Word Salad, even though it appears to be, well, “word salady” and incomprehensible, in truth there is “method” to it, and in fact if you read it with a mind towards understanding the links, you would appreciate them. But you might have to “surrender” to getting it, and let it in without trying to rationally, intellectually understand. Only afterwards could you perhaps try to figure out what precisely is being done and said in the poem. One clue you might need, if you have not been subjected to this directly is that often, at least in the past, “patients” of a certain kind were asked to interpret proverbs. “Can you tell me what, ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’ means?” or “What does ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ mean?”
As for Grandiose, the same thing holds. Read it aloud and try to get the sense of it, how it reads. Then you may in fact understand what is going on “in one blow,” so to speak. It is full of double entendres, on purpose. Remember that “live” can be pronounced in two ways. Both of these hold.
“Word salad,” a term used for the completely disjointed, incomprehensible language sometimes seen in schizophrenia
Unpinned, words scatter, moths in the night. The sense of things loses hold, demurs. Everything means. Numbers soldier with colors and directions, four by four in a pinwheel: this is the secret wisdom. I inscribe it on sacred sheets of paper. The Oxford Dictionary holds not a candle. The self reduced to a cipher, a scribble, the Eye is all, with a Freemason’s lash, and 26 runic hieroglyphs to share how a stitch in time saved the cat and if a messy rock gathers no stones, clams must surely be lifted higher by the same rising boats. Why, why not throw glass tomes at grass huts? It is a question of propriety: grass is too dignified to lie down before gloss. Whirligig! How to pull the center back into the world? It would take all the OED to recapture the moths, all Harcourt’s English Grammar to pin them again. GRANDIOSE He says: I was always more important than you though with your cutting me down to size quarrel about just who I thought I was. I thought I was with my long dark hair and beard and rough working clothes John the Baptist, prophet of God wild man of the wilderness and would have to preach the word of a savior I didn’t quite believe in. I mentioned my conviction to a friend who told me to make friends with a mirror, discover which John I really re-incarnated. Lo, I looked and saw the more famous than Jesus John staring with his small important eyes behind his too small eye-glasses at me staring into the mirror at myself, yes, I wrote the songs you grew up on: Yesterday, Give Peace A Chance, Eleanor Rigby— yes, I was the one you swooned over and screamed for, yet now you only shriek at me, taking me down from a peg on the wall. Why do you yell, Get lost, baby? Imagine all the people who would rejoice to see me live once more.
Life with wings
Artwork, data analysis, and other projects by Jon
My Life is Art, My Art is Life