Categories
Interview

In Conversation with Jared Carter

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all 
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." 
Ode to a Grecian Urn, John Keats, 1819 

It was a challenge to interview a poet who does not want to talk of his work or of himself. And yet, here was a person whose poetry moved me and from who, I was sure, we had much to learn. I am talking of an acclaimed poet from America, Jared Carter. He permitted me to introduce him with this: “Jared Carter is an American poet who has published seven books of poetry. His volume of new and selected poems, Darkened Rooms of Summer, was issued in 2014 by the University of Nebraska Press. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.” If you are more curious about him, his achievements, education and awards, visit his Wiki Page.

Jared Carter

Carter’s poetry is remarkable in giving us glimpses of American life and thoughts, especially as he talks of the wind, the snow and cicadas, as he wrenches poignancy in the hearts of readers bringing out the cruelty in the slaughter of cattle. He draws from the life of common people and their work. At times, he could write of  changing a lightbulb and yet create a sense of wonder with his crafting. Despite his obvious Western outlook, he has written of the elusive Yeti – a most beautiful composition. He does tell us in the interview how he wrote it. One would also wonder why he selected to represent ephemerality with such a mythical creature from the East when most of his poems reflect life in America. The poem strangely captures the quality of elusiveness perfectly with extensive crafting.

For him, poetry is more than the first part of the Wordsworthian concept , “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. It is about working on the concept further “in tranquillity” and making it exquisite, like an artifact. We started this interview by reflecting on artifacts that impacted him. Despite his reluctance to speak of himself, Carter does tell us much about his Victorian upbringing and the impact it has had in making him who he is and writing as beautifully as he does.  And perhaps, we can also get a glimpse of why he wrote of the “Yeti”. Let us now step into the world of Jared Carter.

You are fascinated by certain artifacts from India and China. Tell us the story around those. Why do they move you?

I mentioned those two heirlooms — a chess set made of ivory, from China, and a carved wooden box, from India — because they provided my first introduction to those two great cultures, when I was a boy growing up in a small town in Indiana, a state near the center of the United States.

My father had purchased the chess set in September of 1945, in a pawnshop in Chicago, when he was on the last leg of his journey home from serving three years in the war in the Pacific. It was a set of delicate white and red figures, in elaborate costumes, the white side in Victorian dress, the red side in traditional Chinese robes, and on both sides, horses rearing and elephants carrying castles.

If my memory is correct, the attire of the pieces was the very embodiment of colonialism. I was told much later that the set was among several that had been made for the export trade in the nineteenth century.

As a child, of course, I had heard the word “China” and the country was mentioned in school, which I was just beginning at the age of six. But in those days, I had no strong impression of China, nor even much interest in it. In contrast, my father’s ivory chess set was a tangible object that I could look at and admire, and sometimes even be allowed to touch. It had traveled many thousands of miles, from the other side of the world, to be in our home, and was held in great esteem by my father and my older brother, who were both avid chess players.

Once a year, on my father’s birthday, as I recall, they would take down the set from the glass case they had built to display it and play a game of chess with those fantastic pieces. This was always a solemn occasion in our household, and a memorable one. In my young mind, it was an almost ceremonial way of being in touch with a mysterious land that lay far across the seas.

If today, almost eighty years later, I try to think back to my first awareness of China — what it was, where it is, what it might be like — I return to my memory of that chess set. I return to the sight of those delicately carved pieces, in their remarkable formality and fragility, arranged in rows on a chequered board. That image is suspended now, and outside of time, and yet in my mind’s eye, the figures are still waiting to be moved, in ways that will begin once more that most ancient and traditional of games. In this way I was first introduced to the very idea of China’s existence.

By our best estimates, chess was originally invented in India, although I did not know this at the time. In a way, as I look back now, perhaps my memory of the ivory chess set puts me in touch, even now, with something great and lasting about the contributions of both of those cultures.

The elaborately carved box from India had a similar effect on my young imagination. It was a box in which my father’s mother kept her few items of simple jewelry. Sometimes she would let me and my two cousins take it down from her dresser and examine it more closely. There were already a few books in my grandfather’s library about India. We were familiar with the name of that country, and we knew it was quite distant. But the box was an actual object that had come all the way from India, we were told, and that made it special.

The box had been given to my grandmother by her only brother, who was an artist, and who had purchased it sometime in the 1930s, along with a great many other art objects and artifacts with which I would become familiar as I grew older. But this box — again, something made in the nineteenth century — spurred my first awareness of India. I could peer into its carvings of elephants and monkeys and exotic plants and imagine that I was seeing into the heart of that mysterious, far-off place.

India and China of course constitute much, much more than what was suggested by those two objects.  But we are speaking of first impressions here, which are precious to a child, and which, in my case, have proved to be lasting.
      
You had an interesting story about your aunt being in India. Can you tell us about that?

The artist mentioned, my grandmother’s only brother, took as his second wife, in the 1930s, after the death of his first wife, a teacher of English literature, who taught for the Baltimore school system. She had been brought up in India and was evidently the child of missionary parents. 

She may actually have been born in India, and most likely left it in about 1923, to attend an American university.  She lived until 1959, and I was taken to visit her on several occasions, and when I was old enough to drive, I would ferry my grandmother down to visit her, in a summer studio located in southern Indiana. She spoke with a British accent — perhaps the first I had ever heard — and preferred tea rather than coffee. After the artist’s death, in 1946, she would speak knowingly of his own works of art, and of the various items and artifacts he had collected during his lifetime. 

Those things were from many cultures, many eras — a handsome 15th-century refectory table from Italy, a pair of large, nineteenth-century ceramic jars from China, an unglazed wine vessel that may have been Etruscan, a variety of pieces in English pewter, and so on.  The spacious, high-ceilinged, two-story building had been a lodge hall before it was converted into the artist’s studio by my father and grandfather. It was utterly chock-a-block with beautiful objects and gorgeous paintings.

On a number of occasions I was allowed to wander through those rooms on my own, and to consider those different objects. There was no teacher, no guidebook, except for the widow’s occasional comment about where this or that artifact had come from, or when he had acquired it. I simply looked at what was there. This was a part of my informal introduction to art, and exotic places, a tutelage that had begun with the chess set and the carved box.  If nothing else, the experience may have made me into a lifelong museum goer, especially when museums of art are available.

But you asked about my Aunt Carolyn, as we called her, and her origins in India. She sometimes referred to that Indian childhood, although unfortunately I remember little of what she said. I do recall her speaking of a time in the early 1920s when she witnessed a crowd of Indian nationalists demonstrating in a non-violent manner. Raj policemen carrying lead-weighted wooden cudgels waded into the crowd, shattering the kneecaps of the demonstrators with their clubs. The authorities knew, she said, that a broken kneecap was not a mortal injury, but that it would render a demonstrator unable to walk for months on end, thus preventing that person, for a time, from joining future demonstrations. To say nothing of discouraging him from joining any demonstrations at all. Aunt Carolyn seemed to have a very low opinion of the British.

Are you familiar with Indian and Chinese literature?

Only as a reader and an amateur. In about 1961 a younger sister brought home from college, as a houseguest, an Indian student she had met. He was very polite and serious, and generously gave me a copy of a translation of the Gita, which I still have, and which was my first introduction to the classic literature of India. I’ve been sampling that literature ever since, reading essays and an occasional book, attending a lecture or two, taking in a traveling exhibition. So, I have a layman’s understanding of subcontinent history and culture, but it is no more than that, and I am far from being well-versed.

My introduction to the history, art, and culture of China came slightly earlier and has been a bit more extensive. As an undergraduate at Yale, I studied history of art with the scholar Nelson Ikon Wu. It was an introductory course, but he placed special emphasis on landscape paintings of the Southern Song, and with that influence, in later years, I seem to have gone on to develop an interest in many things Chinese, especially art of the T’ang dynasty.

Also while an upperclassman at Yale, I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of a young graduate student from Clare College, Cambridge, named Jonathan Spence, who subsequently became a well-known scholar of Chinese history and culture. Over the years, my conversations with Jonathan, and my having read his numerous books, have formed an important part of my informal education.

For two semesters in the 1980s I served as a visiting writer at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where I met and talked with Professor Sanford Goldstein, the eminent Japanese scholar and specialist in tanka, who for many years now, following his retirement, has resided in Japan. Thanks to Professor Goldstein, and one of his students with whom I am still in touch, and not immediately, but gradually, my awareness of Japanese literature in translation has increased, along with my curiosity about haiku and tanka in English.
I have published a few haiku and tanka, and have corresponded with other scholars in that field, such as Professor Bryce Christensen, who is only recently back from a year of lecturing in Taiwan. By virtue of my acquaintance with these talented individuals, I hope I have developed a better understanding of both Japanese and Chinese literature — especially the poetry of the T’ang dynasty, in translation, for which I have a great liking.

Do you read translations? What is your opinion on the role of translations?

Without translators and translations, we would be utterly lost. For example, whatever I am privileged to know about the poetry of Li Bai (701-762) and Du Fu (712-770, also spelt as Tu Fu) and all of their marvelous contemporaries, I know their poetry only because they reach me through various translations. So, I have accumulated a small library of translated works by the major world poets — Sophocles through Dante, Basho to Neruda. Every serious poet does this. I would like to think we are perhaps the wiser for it.

Any poet writing in English is immeasurably indebted to Arthur Waley for his masterful translations. Another translator I might mention is the American, Kenneth Rexroth, who happens to have been a fellow Hoosier — which means he was born in the state of Indiana. Rexroth emigrated eventually to California, where after World War Two he became an eminent poet, scholar, and translator of poetry from both the Chinese and Japanese traditions.

Du Fu.
Courtesy:Creative Commons

I possess a number of Rexroth’s books, and thanks to them, and to other translations by many different hands, I have come to have a great admiration for the T’ang poet Du Fu. He is my favourite, perhaps the poet that I return to, most frequently, in my own reading. In the following quotes, Rexroth, in a book published in 1971, employs a transliteration of the poet’s name different from the one in general use today. Rexroth alleges that Du Fu is

in my opinion, and in the opinion of a majority of those qualified to speak, the greatest non-epic, non-dramatic poet who has survived in any language. Sappho, for instance, can hardly be said to have survived. He shares with her, Catullus, and Baudelaire, his only possible competitors, a sensibility acute past belief.

I agree with that, except the part about his competitors, since there are a few more who might be mentioned. But the remark about Du Fu having “sensibility acute past belief” — surely that is apt. And for me, as for Rexroth, there is even more to Du Fu. It is something almost personal. Rexroth attempts to sum it up:

Tu Fu comes from a saner, older, more secular culture than Homer and it is not a new discovery with him that the gods, the abstractions and forces of nature, are frivolous, lewd, vicious, quarrelsome, and cruel, and only man's steadfastness, love, magnanimity, calm, and compassion redeem the night bound world.  It is not a discovery, culturally or historically, but it is the essence of his being as a poet.

Rexroth goes on to say how Du Fu’s writing has affected him as a person, an admission with which I happen to agree, and have found to be true in my own life:


I am sure he has made me a better man, as a moral agent and as a perceiving organism. I say that because I feel that . . . the greatest poetry answers out of hand the problems of the critic and the esthetician. Poetry like Tu Fu's is the answer to the question, "What is the purpose of Art?"


What writers do you read? Why?

 As a young person, in university and later, dreaming of becoming a writer, I read a great many novels and short stories, and was initially drawn to the work of the American novelist, William Faulkner.. The world he created seemed recognizable to me, and authentic. I hoped to create a similar world. Other American authors I have admired, and tried to learn from, have been Sara Orne Jewett, Willa Cather, and Sherwood Anderson. But there are dozens more, and dozens more European and world writers whom I admire.  

I have been fortunate, too, in having known Joseph Love, a  prominent historian of Brazilian history, and author of a splendid study of a remarkable  moment in Brazilian history, The Revolt of the Whip.  He and I were undergraduates together (he was at Harvard), and I have known him ever since, and through his many gifts and thoughtful recommendations, I have been introduced to a great deal of the literature and culture of Central and South America.

In the last few years most of my reading has been in history. I am a great admirer of the British historian Richard J. Evans, whose history of the Third Reich is unrivaled. Another of my favorites is John Julius Norwich and his history of the Byzantine Empire. I am extremely fond of Shelby Foote’s history of the American Civil War. And at the moment I am reading the late Tony Judt’s Postwar, a history of Europe from 1945 to the near present and am finding out how little I knew about that period, even though I lived through it.

These days I spend much more time reading history than either fiction or poetry. I have a large bookcase full of nothing but books about classic Egyptian history and art, and I have a smaller group of books about Meso-American prehistory and culture, and particularly Mayan art. I am simply curious about such matters.

Which are your favourite poets? Why?

I would have difficulty naming even a few. I have attempted to read them all, which of course is impossible, since new ones appear every day, and one is constantly discovering earlier ones. It has never seemed acceptable to me to list the names of poets who “influenced” me or the way I write. There are a few poets whose work I keep at my bedside, and whose books I still read. Two in particular are poets writing primarily in German, Rilke and Hölderlin. Among Americans, Frost. Among the English, Hardy and Larkin.

What do you learn from these writers? Do they impact you in any way?

I really don’t know. They’re just writers that I particularly like, and find myself re-reading, over the years. Kafka is another. So is Flaubert. I continue to read Henry James and Turgenev — all of those persons on whom, as James pointed out, “nothing is lost.”

Why is it you are reticent to talk of your work and poetic sensibilities?

I seem to be naturally reticent, even introverted. As a child I spent a certain amount of time with my grandmother and with a great-great aunt, both of whom were born in the 1870s. Both were thoroughgoing Victorians who exemplified the traditional virtues — thrift, honesty, industry, steadfastness. And perish the thought of anything vainglorious. I think a bit of that rubbed off on me.

I’ve done a little talking about myself in this interview, but only because you asked. My parents, too, taught me that one should avoid talking about oneself to others. It is also a professional attribute — physicians and attorneys traditionally do not advertise or promote themselves — and although I do not consider myself a professional in that sense, I can understand the reasoning. Professionalism in any undertaking is not a matter of office, title, or entitlement; it is a standard to be lived up to.

At university, it was explained to me that in polite society one does not discuss politics, religion, or how one earns a living. Ezra Pound says somewhere that you can always spot the bad critic if he focuses on the poet and not the poems. Add all of that up, and I seem to have little to say about myself or what I do.


I really loved your poem “Yeti”. You had said that while writing “Yeti” you disposed of a number of lines and picked a few. Would it be possible to share this part of your poetic process with us?

Well, again, “poetic sensibilities,” “poetic process” — I am not a critic, scholar, or professor, and I have no insights to offer about such matters. It is not my business to do so. Instead, I make poems, and I have been privileged to have published a few of them. So that our readers will know what we’re referring to, here is my poem “Yeti,” which your journal kindly published, for the first time, in its May 2021 issue. The poem conjures up the mysterious creature of the Himalayas, whose existence has never been verified, but which continues to haunt the imagination:

            Yeti

Tell me again that nothing’s there,
          that never was
At all, except in places where 
          things slip, or pause,

Yet register, on some high ridge
          where something moves
And then is gone. As though a bridge
          of snow should lose

Its grip, and drop away, but leave
          a shadow where
Such vanishing might still deceive
          in that thin air.

The first thing one notices about this poem, which is in a relatively new form called an Alexandroid, are its formal aspects — its lines end with rhymes, and it has repetitive stanzas and lines of a predictable length. A second thing one notices is its brevity — twelve lines in all, and a total number of syllables amounting to half of those in a typical sonnet in English. It is a small poem, then, in a range of length favoured by the American poet, Emily Dickinson. Longer than a haiku or tanka, but still very brief.

A third characteristic, perhaps not immediately apparent, is the way in which the “sh” sound in the closing lines — should, shadow, vanishing —  suggests the texture of something slipping away. Or the sound of a bridge of snow suddenly collapsing into a crevasse. In certain cultures, it is the same sound we make when we put a forefinger to our lips to signal for silence — shhhh.  

That sound is followed by the stark, icy i’s and e’s, at the poem’s very end, of might, deceive, thin, and air. The trail has gone cold, the Yeti has disappeared. That poetry can suggest strange moments like this, with such minimal input, is one reason why I like it so much.

In the making of such a poem there is, literally, no place to hide. Whoever reads it will be affected, consciously or not, by the smallest detail. It goes almost without saying that to make a poem within these parameters, the writer must, to borrow your phrase, “dispose of a number of lines and pick a few”. This is inescapable. There is simply no room in which to say whatever one likes, or to run on interminably. No room for the vainglorious.

Somewhere there may be a poet who can write a similar poem without hesitation, as though copying it out, not pausing to substitute or change a single word.

I suppose I do the opposite. I experiment and try out many different words, many lines, many drafts, in order to arrive at what I believe to be a poem. In doing this I don’t think I am any different from most other poets.

It has been pointed out that one interesting thing about poems is the way they can talk about one thing while implying something entirely different. “Yeti” is presumably about an elusive, folkloric creature, but at the same time it is talking about poetry, and how it disappears even while you are reading it, and sometimes you are not sure about what you have just read. Something still seems to be there, even while it vanishes into thin air.

What is it you look forward to?

I look forward to making more poems, and more books of poems. There’s an old American saying, from the days of vaudeville, which holds that “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”   

But clearly I am an old man of the forest now, and I think the best claim from an aging artist, about what can still be accomplished in the years ahead, is by the Japanese painter and printmaker, Hokusai. Since we’re discussing art and culture of the East, I’ll suggest that his marvelous statement, in his colophon to One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, is a perfect way to end this interview:

From the age of six, I had a passion for copying the form of things and since the age of fifty I have published many drawings, yet of all I drew by my seventieth year there is nothing worth taking into account. At seventy-three years I partly understood the structure of animals, birds, insects and fishes, and the life of grasses and plants. And so, at eighty-six I shall progress further; at ninety I shall even further penetrate their secret meaning, and by one hundred I shall perhaps truly have reached the level of the marvelous and divine. When I am one hundred and ten, each dot, each line will possess a life of its own.

In some translations, Hokusai adds, at the very end, with reference to what he has just affirmed, this invitation: “I beg those who live as long as I to see if I do not keep my word.”

Hokusai lasted until he was 88. That final sentence has always seemed to me to be a blessing he is bestowing on readers and admirers — a wish, for whoever might be listening, that those persons too might have long and fruitful lives.

I would hope Hokusai’s spirit still lingers, and that I might join him in wishing that for you, Madame Chakravarty, and for all of your journal’s most admirable readers, there on the other side of the planet Earth. Thanks to all of you for allowing me to come into your world.


Thank you very much Mr Carter for your kind words.

Click here to read the more from Jared Carter in Borderless Journal.

(This is an online interview conducted by Mitali Chakravarty.)

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Essay

Reflecting the Madness and Chaos Within

Over 150 Authors and Artists from five continents, wrote on mental illness. Candice Louisa Daquin, a psychotherapist and writer and editor, tells us why this is important for healing

A watercolor of King Lear and the Fool from Act III, Scene ii. Courtesy: Creative Commons

When Indie Blu(e) put feelers out about creating an anthology based on mental illness, the passionate reception galvanized our belief it was a necessary subject. However, a few expressed concerns that an anthology about mental illness, would be ‘depressing’ and they wondered ‘who would want to read about mental illness?’ It is this perspective, acting like a fog, that separates those inflicted with mental illness from those who are not.  

Such responses exacerbate feelings of isolation, unworthiness, and loneliness that many with mental illness already have. Through The Looking Glass, a metaphor from Alice in Wonderland, evokes this common feeling of separation, as poetry and prose has long had a tradition of doing. For many, this lack of understanding may be the tipping point leading to a premature death. If there is one reason to embrace mental illness in an anthology of art and poetry, it is to speak for, speak with and represent those who would be otherwise denied. To continue a tradition of poets and artists elucidating on the subject of suffering mentally: 

“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, 

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading – treading – till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through”

(I felt a Funeral in my Brain, Emily Dickinson)

If you Google ‘what causes depression?’ among the top ten searches will be ‘free yourself of depression’ and ‘depression is a choice’. As long as we blame the sufferer, the malady will become more entrenched. Mental illness is the only malady, aside from lung cancer caused by smoking, that we actively blame the sufferer for inflicting on himself.  We bandy around terms like ‘chemical imbalance’ and ‘deficit of proteins in the brain caused by trauma’ but nobody really knows what ‘causes’ depression because like most disease, depression is epigenetic, hereditary and mal-chance and so many things we do not understand.

Depression can be a learned behavior, it can be transmitted through a virus, be the result of a series of debilitating personal events, or because you have stomach problems, and the serotonin and other chemicals are not manufactured in sufficient quantity. Depression can be the result of faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, dementia, old-age, youth, hormones, drugs, eating disorders and sexual abuse. Or, depression can be caused by absolutely nothing! Usually it’s more than one thing, deeply complex and difficult to replicate in a laboratory setting.

As long as we as a society utilize words like ‘snap out of it’ and ‘be strong like …’ we will entirely miss the point. Not one person living chooses to be depressed, it is not a simple matter of one chemical being too low and another too high that can be ‘fixed’ with a pill or an adjusted attitude to life. We must distinguish between sadness, melancholy, situational sorrow, grieving, bouts of misery, feeling sorry for oneself, and medically defined depression.

The latter is a mental illness, it doesn’t mean you’re delusional or mad or unreliable, in fact depression strikes all but typically the more intelligent are more prone to it. One could argue, depression is a disease of insight and awareness of our ‘unbearable lightness of being.’ For some it manifests in childhood, others not until they’re elderly. All forms of depression are legitimate, and should not be shamed, rebuked, repulsed, diminished or ignored.

Whilst there is sense in saying we should not obsess over the subject, to the exclusion of efforts to brighten one’s life, by whatever means possible, we should equally not ignore those who are desperately struggling and usually without a single person to help them.

If your neighbor had cancer, you would not shame him for his ‘weaknesses tell him he was making a ‘bad choice’ and ask him to ‘get over it’ so why should you ever think it’s acceptable to do that for depression? Just as we are re-writing language for Trans Generations to be inclusive and supportive of insight and change, we should reconsider how we talk about depression. As long as we perceive depression to be a ‘bad attitude’ or ‘personality deficit’ or believe if Oprah could ‘get over it’ so could you, we condemn those who have obviously tried hard to do just that. They might feel it is their fault if they have not ‘succeeded’.

Encouraging someone to do things that help them when they are depressed, believing for some there is an end to their depression, those are all positive actions. We should take our depressed friends out for walks, to remind them there is joy in the world even when they are not able to see it, through no fault of their own. But we should also be careful that our well-intentioned prescriptivism does not become dogmatic and suggest the individual isn’t doing all they can. If they’re not (doing all they can), it may be that’s all they can do for now. Equally if you really believe someone isn’t doing enough, you can suggest things you feel might help without seeming accusatory.

From inception, we at Indie Blu(e) sought to offer a platform for those who might otherwise find no platform. Artists have historically endured mental illness in higher numbers than average. Reasons abound but there is no final analysis, it is thought whatever spurs creativity, may equally make certain illnesses more likely, just as left-handed-people are often more creative, perhaps it is about what parts of the brain are utilized and how. 

No one group of people, based on gender, ethnicity, culture, doesn’t suffer from mental illness. Varied cultures have sought to shame others.

Likewise, mental illness has long been thought to affect women more than men and is tied inexorably with ‘hysteria’ (hyster/womb, the once-thought seat of mental illness in women).  However, in The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon has said: “If one discounts depression triggered by anxiety about offspring, the rate of depression for men and women appears to equalize”, especially, with women seeking mental health counseling in higher numbers because of cultural approbation toward men owning any perceived vulnerability. This is further proven by the higher rate of completed suicide and ‘accidents’ among men, pointing to a social cause rather than one gender suffering more than the other. 

With the stigma of mental illness well entrenched in most societies, and not likely to be eliminated, despite best efforts, the only course of action must be in continued awareness. The more we are aware and exposed to diversity, the more accepting we ultimately become, or so sociologists tell us. If there is any truth to this idea of ‘acceptance by exposure’ then being a vehicle of awareness is how to eventually overcome prejudice and bigotry. Solomon tells us: “The insistence on normality, the belief in an inner logic in the face of unmistakable abnormality, is endemic to depression.” These kinds of ‘certitudes’ can be the triggers that push someone suffering from moderate mental illness, to a breakdown. It is the lack of support, empathy or compassion that acts as a sharp rebuke to those who need the very opposite. 

For those suffering from the myriad of mental illnesses that exist; stigma and shame are daily companions. While logically we know people never ‘choose’ mental illnesses, a societal prejudice can be deeply engrained, making it a greater challenge than ever not to blame oneself. How often have we heard the sayings: “If I could beat it, then I think anyone can and they’re not trying hard enough if they still suffer,” or something to that effect? How often do pronouncements like: “They don’t seem to be able to get themselves together,” or similar, indite people who are sick, when we would rarely use those same pronouncements on those with physical ailments?

In ‘The Will To Power’, Friedrich Nietzsche tells us: “(the mentally ill) represent the same ills. Health and sickness are not essentially different, as the ancient physicians and some practitioners even today suppose. I fact, there are only differences in degree between these two kinds of existence: the exaggeration, the disproportion, the nonharmony of the normal phenomena constitute the pathological state.”

Our penchant for judging, putting ourselves above others, ridiculing and labeling, seems boundless, and causes those who are already struggling to stay afloat, further grief. Why we feel the need to do these things, is too long a consideration for this foreword, but suffice to say, the more we put others down, the better we seem to feel about ourselves, if history is anything to go by. In many ways then, prejudice against the mentally ill, is not dissimilar to racism, homophobia or sexism. It shares that delight in rebuking someone else for who they are, and a relish in implying the accuser is of superior stock. When we look at it like that, it seems quite pathetic, and obvious, but when it’s subtly employed in modes of speech, everyday considerations and overall responses, it can be insidious and incredibly damaging. This could be a reaction from people who are unable to process the condition. They attack, as a form of unconscious self-defense. 

In Psychology and Freudian Theory, Paul Kline says: “When we speak of defenses, we actually mean whole ways of perceiving reality such that important attitudes, for example prejudices and sexual views, are affected.”

When I trained as a psychotherapist, I wanted to ensure children and adults who were depressed had someone to go talk to, rather than fall into despair. Sadly, I found in the profession, such a high rate of ‘burn out’ that I could understand why therapists seemed so disinterested, uninvested and fatigued. If you see 12 clients a day, each for an hour and then have to write long notes and take phone calls, you simply cannot give enough of yourself to be competent.  Psychotherapists have a duty through their profession to ‘nonmaleficence (do not harm) and beneficence (promote good) but psychotherapists are only human and possess human flaws, including their own prejudices and biases. When you combine those with an unrealistic workload, you may find psychotherapy doesn’t work as well in practice as it should, which is a pity, considering how necessary it remains. 

Even in countries where insurance companies do not dictate how we label people, in order to be reimbursed, there are too many sick people for too few therapists and the patients really suffer a lack of quality care. One could argue this is an improvement from the days of mass mental institutions or even, the ‘care in the community’ model, that fell flat on its face and led to mass homelessness. One could also argue, what other way realistically exists? But we seem to find the money for other things, just not mental health, so the real issue is priorities. Mental health, despite its terrible fallout, has never been a priority and it doesn’t matter how many mentally ill mass shooters there are, it never seems to significantly alter policy or be considered important enough to truly invest in. Easier to dose with pills that are supposed to be short-term and have long-term side-effects. 

Instead, stereotypes abound, and few people outwardly admit to being mentally ill for fear of condemnation or it is affecting their job or right to keep their children. Draconian as that might seem, without sufficient protections in place, mentally ill people have fewer rights than anyone else. This ‘going underground’ response means those in need, are even less likely to receive it and the sheer cost means those with serious mental disorders, are often unable to earn enough to pay for treatment. Whilst this echoes modern medicine and the health industry at large, mental illness has more in common with chronic illness, the kind that are invisible, or misunderstood, like Chronic Lyme and Fibromyalgia. The same brutal disregard for the suffering of these individuals is shared by those with chronic mental illnesses, they are an inconvenience at best, in societies that prize profit above all else. 

In Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the dark side of the psyche, Robert A. Johnson contends: “The balance of light and dark is ultimately possible – and bearable. All nature lives in polarity – light and dark, creation and destruction, up and down, male and female. It is not surprising that we find the same basic laws functioning in our psychological structure.”

When reading submissions, we realized, even among mental health professionals, there is so much disagreement, and implied judgement. When someone talks of ‘those who can fight their way out of it’ they imply, those who cannot, are weaker. I’m sure that is not what is meant but language is so crucial when considering impression. Just as with racism, how we speak, indicates our biases and level of empathy. If we want to be non-judging, we should start with reworking how we speak about mental illness and consider how many times those suffering have been humiliated and judged by our lack of care in how we refer to their problem.

This is no less true in poetry, and some of those poems not selected for the anthology, whilst good and raw, had components within them that could have been misconstrued. This means even those who suffer mental illness may inadvertently judge themselves and others, through learned behaviors and language. One of the most judging people I spoke to about this anthology was an acquaintance with Bipolar 1 disease. Ironic yes, but not entirely surprising when you consider how we often emulate what has been done to us, so if we were judged our entire lives, we do it in turn.

Others would argue, what’s the harm in holding an opinion? When dealing with vulnerable populations who are trying to be treated equally and not labeled or dismissed, we must consider the importance of how we express ourselves. Of course, we’re all entitled to hold an opinion, but hate and prejudice are different, and judging is a form of prejudice that can act like a slow cancer. We should ask ourselves instead, why we feel the need to judge others when they are not like us, rather than consider how they are like us, or what we can do to help them? Why is claiming to be stronger than someone else, such a ‘thing’ in our society? Why do we relish putting others down?

When we learn to stop doing that, we may reach Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s highest level in his Hierarchy Of Needs, that of self-actualization, where we no longer live based on basic needs (physiological, safety, self-esteem) and begin to consider what we can do for others. If we don’t wish to do this, at least we could do no harm. When considering harm, we should bear in mind, words do not seem as apparently harmful as actions, but putting someone who is already struggling down, could be the last straw. Would any of us want to push someone over the edge just because we can?

Indie Blu(e) has published anthologies in response to the #metoo movement, LGBTQ equality and other socially minded subjects and with 2021 emerging from a year of hell, we saw how those with chronic mental and physical illnesses suffered silently without recourse. The umbrella of ‘art’ is one means by which, we have as humans have always expressed ourselves best. Art has led to societal change, acceptance, tolerance, elucidation. Art can heal, art has power. 

It is our hope mental illness will one day be seen for what it is, an unavoidable malady that people try their entire lives to overcome. We have seen some of the best creative expression come from those suffering from mental illness and without mentally ill people, our world would be bland indeed. Mentally ill people are not typically mass shooters; they are creative, expressive, intelligent, and incredibly strong. A collection of work celebrating the talent of those who suffer from mental illness, seemed to be a necessary way to begin to shift old prejudices and shine light through the looking glass. 

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist, LPC/NBCC. She is a Senior Editor at Indie Blu(e) Publishing & Co-Editor of their anthology exploring madness, Through The Looking Glass.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL