Last week I was fortunate enough to meet the poet and playwright Basir Kazmi and chat to him about his work, the idea of writing drama to be read rather than performed, and the merits of poetic form. I’ve always been a dogged free-versist – what the fuck do Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Chaucer know that Plath, Eliot and Pound don’t? – but nevertheless the conversation inspired me to try my hand at a ghazal, the form for which he and his family are famous.
It’s tricky shit.
I pushed and pulled at this thing and was left with a mutant – something not traditional, but not so separated from the original to be pointless. A Western cultural appropriation of an Eastern art form? Maybe. I’d rather look at it as an amateur’s attempt to express admiration.
I hang slack, a coat draped over a chair,
A lead weight hangs, pinning me there,
I take deep breaths, scrabbling for words
To translate my anger and despair.
I pull my chin from my chest, a Herculean task,
Try to release my voice from its lair,
I stop, hitching, silenced by the feeling
That I’m sputtering out like a flare.
“I’m not working,” I finally whisper,
Lungs starved of air –
“Oh Kit,” you smile sadly, squeezing my hand,
“I know – it’s your cross to bear.”
This piece has gone through a few iterations…I’m finally happy with this one. Funnily enough, the title caused me the most grief – once I landed on it though, ah…yes. Of course. What else could it be?
This is where the dead come to live;
Pallid skin of psyche pulled taut over bones of neurosis,
Lungs of ego pierced by arrows of self-doubt,
Shield of reason sundered by the lizard
That dwells in places light can’t reach.
The walls reek of desperation, old lies,
The acrid snarl of bleach,
The metallic weight of blood spilled
In frustration, in despair, in empathy,
In defiance, in self-determination, in futility.
Close your eyes and listen:
The windows whisper stories of the sights they’ve seen,
Of men who rotted and women who rose,
Wrapped in flame, laughing, laughing, laughing,
But unable to speak.
Some beat the odds.
Some lived. Numbers in a ledger.
Some died. Statistics in a journal.
Reduced to currency by men in stuffed shirts
Who wonder aloud why we’re all crazy.
With apologies to Sarah Kane & thanks to the workshop.
I’ve been reading a lot of Sarah Kane lately, inspired by my dramatic writing class. The voice(s) of 4.48 Psychosis in particular resonated quite strongly with me. We all have nights were we sit awake and torture ourselves with our inadequacies; some nights we win, others we lose. Ultimately, Sarah lost. Night after night, waking at 4.48am, she tried to express what it felt like to lose your grip on, well, everything. She chose to die before the play saw the light of day.
I think what resonated with me most was this: if The Bell Jar presents an image of someone beaten by life who finds something, some semblance of hope by the end of the novel, 4.48 Psychosis abjectly refuses to. It forces us to confront that little voice in our heads that tells us we’ll never make it, and accepts that we might, with the best of intentions, lose anyway.
Smile, it’s only poetry.
brace brace brace
the happy trajectory we were on
has encountered some
please ensure you secure your own oxygen mask
before attempting to aid others
brace brace brace
we apologise for the inconvenience;
no soul could foresee
this tragic turn of events
tuck your chin,
put your hands over your head
block out the sound
block out the fury
block out the world
close your eyes
wake up tomorrow, do it all again