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Colin Hambrook adds a vote of thanks to the intoxicating and cerebral survivor poet Dave Russell

This week Trish Wheatley and I have been busy making plans for new projects on DAO, getting ready to for DAOs tenth anniversary in April 2014. As one of the projects we hope to develop is a poetry prize, I thought I'd add a quick post on the first Outside In poetry event hosted by Pallant House Gallery on the 12th October.

Simon Jenner penned a review of the event last week, but for those who were in attendance [and those who weren't] who wondered at the words of the wild and invigorating performance of the legendary Dave Russell, I thought I'd post one of his genius poems from his collection Prickling Counterpoints.

Dave gives so much as a performer with a rare quality of complete and utter uniqueness, mixed with a humour that is beyond all ken. I know because I've been set free by clinical psychiatry without a facile solution in sight.

Clinical Psychiatry

I never go to gypsies to find out about my fortune,
I've cast off superstitions of the past;
I am a product of an era of built-in obsolescence
Where relationships are just not made to last.

My world is morning-grey; I have learned to live with it,
That's a promise that to myself I vowed;
Because I've been set free by Clinical Psychiatry
And no facile solutions are allowed.

The highways of your mind are quite forbidden to pedestrians,
That's tough on me – I'm trying to be naïve;
When it comes to making statements from the bedrock of my feelings
It's the tongue inside my cheek I must believe –

You see, I read you up in books before I ever saw your face
And now it's just your ambiguity I see,
And as I wander through those labyrinthine depths of inner meanings,
I think the only one I'm talking to is me!

I hoped my being lonesome might place me on a pedestal
But now I see I'm in a lonely crowd
Of people all set free by Clinical Psychiatry
And no facile solutions are allowed.

We're half-past liberation; nothing's right and nothing's wrong –
There's just a big complex of different points of view,
And my vast array of paperbacks has so broadened my outlook
That I make all the allowances for you.

Yet you still seem to be present as a sensory phenomenon
and this poor superego can't be proud
Because I've been set free by Clinical Psychiatry
And no facile solutions are allowed.

I happened upon a recording posted by Jim Clark of Dave back in 1997. I'll be ever indebted to Dave for his song Microscope with its ever useful instruction on how to attain the binoculars of wisdom. To be astounded and amazed click on this youtube link... and remember to make sure you have your microscope with you at all times 

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 25 October 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 30 September 2014

A guest editorial from Q.S Is in response to Colin Hambrook's article on medication and mental health

I read your DAO editorial Colin and found it very illuminating. I'm personally, not an advocate of medication either. Actually, I've been asked to write a book by an organisation called KAOS, based in Brussels, which will include essays detailing my own personal strategies and methodologies to deal with issues of the mind, along with accompanying artwork. I have no proof, but I think making art and writing helped me recover from psychosis and stopped a recurrence of episodes.

I think the main demon remains society, the people within it who judge you for having a ‘different sort of brain.’  I am working with an interesting psychiatrist, Dr Erik Thys, who is neither for nor against medication. He's also a practicing artist and musician!

What I did notice, working with people diagnosed with 'schizophrenia', on my latest scroll project was that they seemed 'changed' on long term medication. They had a certain manner and way of talking and moving, the physiological effects were self-evident, but they remained wonderful open people. I would go as far to say that all of us who have experienced psychosis were ‘naked in the room’ not literally, but psychologically. Psychosis strips the mortal bare of everything. They also found working on the scroll to be immensely beneficial to them mentally.

Interestingly, most people have no idea that I have ‘mental health’ issues. Oh how I hate that term. Nor do they have any inkling that I have experienced ‘multiple psychotic episodes’ - oh I how I loathe that expression too. The problem with both these terms is that they are extremely loaded with erroneous stereotypes and any admission of either is tantamount to professional or social suicide (tacit or overt), which is why people remain silent and then break down behind closed doors or end up exploding mentally and causing a wave of destruction personally or otherwise.

I would argue, in my case, that my brain is just fine, it’s a curious, probing mind, and society has slowly pricked it leaving tiny lacerations that have not properly healed and psychosis was probably one too many lacerations that created cracks tantamount to an earthquake. This is a better description of what has happened inside my head. How can we assume that pills can erase the devastation caused by a brain earthquake. It is ludicrous?

I really appreciate your drawings. Tracey Emin once referred to my drawings as Brain Drawings and I think yours fit that description too. I’ve been examining them very closely, studying the details and there are so many parallels with my own style of drawing, the maniacal attention to detail the recurrence of certain mark making. I found the same visual parallels with the work of the Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, which makes me wonder if psychosis unlocks certain creative doors in the mind that are closed off to others. It is the same with the poems; the visual motifs that recur within them are very familiar.

There is an intensity in your/our work that can only come from experiencing psychosis, and the mark making serves as an alternative form of medication, by distracting the mind, by using the hands, by creating something on a piece of blank whiteness and transferring the memories that continue to haunt and refuse to budge.

Coming through the other side of psychosis can be lonely, some people don’t come ‘back’ but if you do return to the ‘real world’ it can seem more hostile and unforgiving than before. Psychosis is traumatic and unless you have experienced it, no one can begin to fathom what you have been through, you try to explain it, but each person’s experience is unique because psychosis transports you to a parallel universe where you reign supreme and everything is heightened. I see those details in your poems, but the experience remains unique to you, just as mine is unique to me and it’s hard for other people to access such an alien world.

I think there are parallels in what we are both trying to do and there are not many people on the same page, not many people who want to go there. You are brave by putting your poems online, by putting your mind out there and not feeling ashamed of what you have been through. I hope one day to find the same courage.

It's a relief though to know that 'you are not alone.'

The problem is no one wants to talk about psychosis properly. In certain programmes I have listened to on the radio it's dealt with superficially (my personal opinion) or as something novel/intriguing/freakish/voyeuristic, perhaps it is just not possible to distill the experience without alienating the listener with all the immense detail and nuances.

Psychosis is tantamount to a complex painting that you can’t fathom in one sitting. It takes years to penetrate the layers and work out the very first brush stroke of a painting that has no form and yet encompasses the universe that all our minds are capable of being.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 7 January 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 2 June 2015

'Dreams of the Absurd...'

In the 1990s I put together a visual arts exhibition called 'Dreams of the Absurd' which got shown in various galleries in the UK and abroad.

It was an extension of a series of large-scale paintings, prints and writing about experience of mental health issues. During research I did whilst still at college I connected the work with the representation of 'madness' within the history of art.

I've been trying to get back into making and showing my own work since the those days... With encouragement from other artists engaged with DAO I'm putting tentative feet back in the water...

So here is a poem that relates to my experience of growing up in a psychotic household and dealing with issues of psychosis personally from a tender age...

 

 

On Healing my Childhood
On RD Laings' fit of promise
I gave you a magic potion, hidden
in a steaming plate of baked beans.

You held your demons in suspension
for a while. I hoped you would find forgiveness
in the small hours and learn to be kinder.

Building a time machine with sticky
back plastic, you concocted a
spell; attempted to undo our births.

I put a band-aid on each moment that hurt you;
went to the moon for help, but couldn't find
my way past the myriad of therapists
who crowded the path to the place of no pain.

The universe exploded with nazi meditators
surrounded in light oozing from every orifice.
I travelled to the end of London and back
to find a potent enough medicine to calm your
nerves; put schizophrenia in remission;
denied its existence to release the guilt.

I tried remembering everything you had ever said;
confessed to the time doctor who gave you yet more
electricity in the name of healing. When
you blamed the next-door-neighbours
I wrapped myself in a ball and sent myself to the talisman.

Calling on blood and stone; I found the faces of change
in the place where the gods live and empowered
each memory with a prayer for healing.

You listened to my heart, made promises for every secret
and bound our love to the four corners of the wind
before your white blood cells dried up and died
of largatyl, chlorpramazine, depixol and modicate.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 19 July 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 27 July 2015