Friday, 20 April 2007

That girl blew down my house

"Whatever its actual content and overt interest, every poem is rooted in imaginative awe. Poetry can do a hundred and one things - delight, sadden, amuse, instruct - it may express every possible shade of emotion, and describe every conceivable kind of event, but there is only one thing that all poetry must do; it must praise all it can for being and for happening."
~ W. H. Auden

As I type this, I'm listening to Rugged Fantasia's new album (post about it coming up, it's amazing) - the track "That girl blew down my house," go listen here - Katy's beautiful, matchless voice, singing, "What a wonderful world." It strikes me that writing a poem is an act of worship. I don't mean worship in terms of a deity - though, in my case, it is, as I've recently become a Christian again - it's worship for the world, for life. God is life, in my view, but I know that view is by no means universal. I don't want to preach. I'm just saying that poetry is so important because it's spiritual. Art is spiritual. Life can't be divided into tidy sections.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

The Heart of God

"Poetry... is another way to be hurled straight into the heart of God."
~ Marjorie Holmes

I love this quotation, because it sums up for me the link between poetry (all kinds of art, in fact, but for me, poetry in particular) and spirituality. So far, in my life, I've been a Christian, a Pagan and agnostic, and now I'm a bizarre blending of the three. But poetry, for me, is a big part of spirituality. I think the Druids understood that, which is partly why I'm so drawn to them. I asked the professor who lead my poetry seminars at uni, once, about the way in which poetry elevates us, gives us that spiritual feeling which has no name. What is that, and why do we get it? He said he didn't know, or the hyper-eloquent professor equivalent. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with rhythms... the heartbeat? I don't know. 12:40am isn't the time for deciding these things.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007


I read an article, in the Spring 2007 issue of Pendulum, the other day, about proposed changes in the diagnosis of bipolar, led by Prof. Nick Craddock. He is quoted as saying: "We might move towards talking, for example, about bipolar spectrum disorder which would mean that the person is susceptible to ups and downs - but it might include people at the moment who are variously diagnosed as having bipolar I disorder, severe depressions and schizophrenia."

The bipolar guidelines and specifications at the moment are very rigid. You have to be pretty much exactly what's described in a text book in order to be diagnosed. In fact, I sometimes wonder if anyone could be pulled off the street, given five or six handbooks to work with, and do what our psychiatrists do now.

Bipolar disorder is now generally classified according to six types identified by Gerald Klerman, MD, (Psychiatric Annals 17: Jan. 1987):

Bipolar I: Mania and depression.
Bipolar II: Hypomania (less severe mania) and depression.
Bipolar III: Cyclothymic disorders (less severe mania, less severe depression).
Bipolar IV: Hypomania or mania precipitated by antidepressant drugs.
Bipolar V: Depressed patients with bipolar relatives.
Bipolar VI: Mania without depression.

Personally, I would fit Bipolar II. Or, if you want to go further into psychobabble, Bipolar II with rapid cycling and a seasonal pattern (ie. more hypomanic in summer, more depressed in winter). Because of the rapid cycling and the less severe mania, my bipolar wasn't identified, and thus wasn't correctly treated, until two and a half years after I first saw my GP. I was initially diagnosed with depression. Then, over a year later, when I eventually saw a psychiatrist (I demanded to see one), bipolar was raised as a possibility but psychotic depression was preferred. When I went into a psychiatric hospital, they diagnosed depression and suggested a possible personality disorder. It wasn't until I'd been out of hospital several months and saw my new psychiatrist, that bipolar was seen to be likely and I was tried on a mood stabiliser. There was an obvious improvement. Now, it seems to me that had things been done Prof. Craddock's way, it's likely that I'd have been treated for bipolar sooner, or at least it would have been one of the more prominent options. Which is why I favour the scheme. I won't go into everything he says, but it involves treatment that's less reliant on meds, things being more individual and less casebook, and other general sense! Of course, everyone's brain is different but has things in common, and likewise the experience of everyone who is bipolar will have things is common but will also be different.

I intend to write a letter in to Pendulum, saying such. I'd quite like to write an article for them sometime, if they'd let me.

It's clear, though, that as I have progressed towards the bipolar diagnosis, I have become more and more typically casebook bipolar. Is this because casebook bipolar is, you know, what I naturally am, in my adult state, and my adolescence has been progression towards that? Or is it that I've thought I'm bipolar so subconsciously I've gone with it? How effectively can the subconscious "create" symptoms? I mean, I've definitely got them. Take, for example, the diagnostic criteria for hypomania:

A distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive; or irritable mood, lasting throughout at least 4 days, that is clearly different from the usual nondepressed mood.
During the period of mood disturbance, three (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted (four if the mood is only irritable) and have been present to a significant degree:

  • inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  • decreased need for sleep (e.g. feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
  • more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
  • flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
  • distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
  • increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
  • excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g. the person engages in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments)

The episode is associated with an unequivocal change in functioning that is uncharacteristic of the person when not symptomatic.
The disturbance in mood and the change in functioning are observable by others
the episode is not severe enough to cause marked impairment in social or occupational functioning, or to necessitate hospitalisation, and there are no psychotic features.
The symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g. a drug of abuse, a medication, or other treatment) or a general medical condition (e.g. hyperthyroidism).

    Now, let me describe the last week or so: Nothing particularly noticeable at first. Had a rotten cold, but was in a good mood. Wasn't sleeping well, but assumed it was down to the cold. Writing loads, but assumed that was down to the discipline of NaPoWriMo. Flood of ideas, assumed that was because I was a brilliantly creative person (!). Couldn't concentrate to read, but assumed I was being lazy. Night before last, it came to a head. I started to feel out of control and became frightened. I got to sleep finally around 5:30 or 6am. I woke up at 8:10, feeling entirely refreshed and saner, and packed a picnic. My friend and I went shopping. I spent over a hundred pounds that I didn't have. Bought a new mobile phone, and a digital camera. Had my nose pierced on impulse. Then we went to look round our old school. We were out for over eight hours. I wasn't tired, went to bed at the normal time. I slept for 12 hours then, which, for me, isn't excessive, just a good night's sleep. And I feel much more normal today. So: have I been experiencing hypomania, or am I just stupid? I still can't concretrate, but maybe I'm just being lazy. :oP

    Monday, 9 April 2007

    I wave the dumb-struck world hello

    I'm still on a NaPo-high. New stuff just keeps coming, phrases and images. I can see them so clearly in my head. The barrenness of most of the last few years seems a world away. And it feels so good. Hurrah!

    And, what's more, I had a poem written about me by a chap called Larry. I couldn't resist posting it. It's based on the following photograph of me, riding an elephant in Thailand, February 2006:

    Laura Rides an Elephant

    for Empty Chairs

    Laura rides an elephant:
    the sun comes bouncing down the lane,
    the sky too silver-blue to be,
    her mother says don't lie to me,
    behind the window pane.
    Her father's crying in his bed,
    his books glued closed in labeled rows
    as Laura rides an elephant
    across the lawn, beyond the shed
    where wild poppies grow.

    Laura rides an elephant -
    a swaying lull she can't contain,
    so high, to fall would break her soul
    to screws and splints, the rigmarole
    of staying smart and sane.
    The flappy ears slap slap her knees,
    she waves the dumb-struck world hello:
    when Laura rides an elephant
    she bids the frame to flash and freeze
    and never let her go.

    Nigel, pick me!

    I finished my application for The Tower Poetry Summer School at Christ Church, Oxford today - well, yesterday. Three poems and a covering letter. God, I want this so badly. I want it so badly I can't sleep. It's ridiculous. Do keep your fingers and toes crossed for me, and any other digits you may have. Here's the letter I sent:

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I am writing to apply for a place at this year’s Tower Poetry Summer School. I would particularly like to attend because I have felt recently that my poetry has reached a kind of plateau, in that it seems to have ceased to improve. This has been alleviated somewhat by taking part in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month, attempting to write a poem a day throughout April), which has so far been a great success for me. I still feel, though, that I am in need of some help or instruction from someone more experienced when it comes to revising my work and producing multiple drafts. I would also greatly appreciate the chance to meet other young people who are serious about poetry, as the members of my university’s Writers’ Circle are mainly concerned with prose.

    My previous writing achievements are modest but have been very significant to me personally. The first was when I was eight years old and we were told to write a poem about trees for a school project. This was when I first discovered that, not only does a poem not have to rhyme, but rhyme is a tool rather than a restriction. We had been learning, at that time, about simile and metaphor also, and it was with my tree poem that I discovered how figurative language could convey my impressions of the world around me, enabling me to communicate more effectively than I could in speech. The poem was, of course, childish. It was wholly unstructured and contained the unfortunate line: “its roots suck up nutrients like a huge, powerful vacuum cleaner.” Nevertheless, it was praised by my teachers and featured in the local newspaper. Since then, I have directed my life towards a career in writing. I have continued to have minor successes. At the age of eleven, I was published in a Young Writers anthology, and I went on to write for several more of their anthologies and also for their magazine, Wordsmith. I rapidly outgrew this, however, and since the age of fourteen, I have been honing my poetic skills in preparation for adults’ magazines and competitions. I won the 15-19 section of the Peterloo Poetry Competition in 2005. I have also attended several workshops, am active in online critique forums and run the university Writers’ Circle.

    Please see below for my details and the three poems are enclosed. Many thanks for providing this wonderful opportunity.

    Yours faithfully,


    Sunday, 8 April 2007

    This is the sun's birthday

    i thank You God for most this amazing
    day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
    and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
    which is natural which is infinite which is yes

    (i who have died am alive again today,
    and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
    day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
    great happening illimitably earth)

    how should tasting touching hearing seeing
    breathing any--lifted from the no
    of all nothing--human merely being
    doubt unimaginable You?

    (now the ears of my ears awake and
    now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

    ~ e. e. cummings

    Somebody had been reading Hopkins, methinks. Happy Easter, everyone.

    Friday, 6 April 2007

    NaPo and Schtuff

    Just a little catch-up regarding my writing, etc.

    As Plath said, "For the few little outward successes I may seem to have, there are acres of misgivings and self-doubts." Plath also said that self-doubt is "the greatest enemy to creativity." True, indeed. So thank you to all those who provided reassurance a while back. It did help.

    What's also helped a great deal is plunging into this year's NaPoWriMo at PFFA. NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month, is, as many of you know, a challenge similar to NaNoWriMo, in which the participants attempt to write a poem a day throughout the month of April. I have persisted in spite of illness, and it's done so much for my self-discipline, and also for my confidence. Nothing makes me feel better about writing than writing itself. As Plath said, again (note to self: you're too old for a Plath obsession, get over it), when you stop writing, even for a very short amount of time, you cease to be a poet and become a sort of poet-in-rest. Which is an uncomfortable place to be, in a way, and it's hard to start again. One thing I've learned is Just Keep Writing. I was reading Mslexia yesterday and somebody or other said her motto was: "It doesn't have to be good. It just has to be written." Or something like that. That helps a great deal, because I think I'm so frightened, sometimes, of not being able to write well, or write promisingly, that I don't write at all. Which is lethal, of course. Anyway, if you want to read my sketchyfirstdraft-filled NaPo thread, it's here.

    That's recent news. Less recent news is that we had the Runnymede Lit Festival. I did the two workshops, run by Jo Shapcott and Dell Olsen, which were good, took something away from those. I also discovered a new poet, that I really like, at a reading. His name is Adam O'Riordan. He also has Seth-Lakeman, beautiful-man appeal, which helps, naturally. I spoke to him briefly on Facebook. His new pamphlet, Queen of the Cotton Cities, is being launched at Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road, London on May 15th, 6:30-8:30pm. I highly recommend his work, so be there if you can. Hopefully I will.

    I've got lots of competitions ahead that I'm thinking of entering. Hopefully, after NaPo, I'll have lots of stuff to enter. The big one, though, is that I'm going for this year's Tower Poetry Summer School. So I need to send three poems and a covering letter, which is underway. For the three poems, there's Novenary obviously (God, I'm still such a one-trick pony), but I'm not sure about the others yet. I did ask Dell Olsen for help in the end. She said to make sure I include a range of stuff, which was damned good advice, but apart from that she didn't say much. She's a busy lady, of course.

    Well, I'm still poorlysick so I was up at five, writing, and saw the lovely dawn. I've just put mugs of tea by my dozing parents, which I think qualifies me for the Daughter of the Year Award. And all of this is completely dull and unnecessary so I'm going to shut up right about.... now.

    Monday, 2 April 2007

    University of Life

    10 Things Learned in my Second Term at University

    1. Never mix red and white wine, especially not whilst congratulating yourself on not mixing wine and spirits and concluding that you can drink twice as much as a result.

    2. Screaming is not the answer.

    3. People are much nicer to me than I deserve, and extraordinarily patient. I'd have thrown me out of a window long ago.

    4. Lambrini girls do not have more fun. Lambrini girls embarrass themselves in public.

    5. Ducks love Skips.

    6. People in general are kinder than I give them credit for.

    7. Being nocturnal is bad. Very, very bad.

    8. My bipolar can be relied upon to always kick in at the worst possible time - ie. when I have something important to do.

    9. Successful sex is near impossible. So many things can go wrong.

    10. Most people lie most of the time.

    5 Things to Learn in my Third Term at University

    1. What's the point of flavoured condoms? And why do they call it a blow job when you don't blow?

    2. Who was it who said one day, "See that cow over there? I'm gonna squeeze the pink things underneath it and drink what comes out!"? And why did everyone say, "What a jolly good idea!" rather than, "Ugh, you pervert!"?

    3. How much undiluted vodka can I drink in one go?

    4. After exams, can I live a work-free, hippy lifestyle and be groovy and happy, drinking Pimms on the grass and singing along to the guitar? Like my whole life's a festival?

    5. If you choke a smurf, what colour does it turn? Where can I find a smurf to test this?