Mental Health and the Journey to Recovery
The second poetry workshop run by Young People’s Laureate for London Theresa Lola in partnership with the Museum, centred on mental health and the notion of the journey to recovery.
The workshop took place online and began with the group studying two sets of drawings commissioned by early 19th century Bethlem Hospital physician Alexander Morrison, currently on loan to The Four Ages of Woman exhibition from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh - see here.
The drawings offer a reductive concept of recovery from mental distress, and in the exhibition they demarcate each of the four ages of woman that are explored through other artworks by, and of, women.
Images: Eliza Ash Improving, and Eliza Ash Recovered, Charles Gow, 1842
Elizabeth Jeffreys, and Elizabeth Jeffreys Recovered, Alexander Johnston, 1837
Looking at the two pairs of drawings, participants were asked to write a haiku (three lines, with five, seven and 5 syllables respectively) showing a before and after of a physical aspect of the two drawings of Elizabeth Jeffreys as way of commenting on what changed about her to signify recovery.
Haiku in response to the first drawing of Elizabeth Jeffreys, with a focus on the restricted hands
My Free will is theirs,
The chains rub across my wrist,
Mind numb, restriction.
Haikus written about Elizabeth Jeffreys’ eyebrows
Threaded like caterpillars
Theatres for stories of the face
Audience tight shut
Slopes like a low hill
Ascending towards flatline lips
Secrets locked in between
Thinking about recovery as a journey, the group studied the poem The Journey by Mary Oliver and spent some time writing poems in response to it.
Kal – a word that means both yesterday and tomorrow
reminds us of our need
to look both ways
spinning gold, spinning fire
Forgotten worlds, forgotten flavours
a language that tastes unfamiliar
Like brain fog and memory lapses
I lost who I was and the world I knew
could not see my reflection in
memories or the mirror
Thought if I emigrate change course
A renegotiation of narrative could take place
Find where the excess fits in
A self - worthy of belonging, being seen, heard
spinning gold, spinning fire
I find my way back to these cacophony of voices
inhabiting the in-between
the flow of memories forgotten
building a remembered future, slowly
moving towards that quiet vital force
the voice - that will not be silenced
spinning gold, spinning fire
Walking Away from Comfort
She ventured out her front door of misery and mauby,
too comfortable and cushy in home of needles
jabbing at her mental, emotional and physical;
she needed to let herself out before
her punctured bones were all that remained.
First steps were shaky, a baby wobbling into unknown
tripping her up a little, unsure of what she’d stumble on ahead;
almost giving up after her ankle rolled mischievously, mocking
her mind, contorting it so she thought her body had turned against her,
but she found a heat pack of resolve, helping to push her on
until she could find her stride.
Finally she built trust in her feet again
as they found strength to step over fallen lamp posts
then jump over puddles, strengthened by a new lease of purpose;
focused on starting over and sorrel, newly sweet
moving into an unknown home that was in the best way uncomfortable,
giving her freedom to skank and salsa
dancing to the beat of her newly released confidence.
one day you finally knew
though the gas was empty
though the metal teeth
too cold in your palm
for the electric switch
what you had to do
the door creaked
when you opened it
spat dust out its sides
realising its sunned leather
letter box red paint peeling
a mouldy artichoke of a car
an escape route
a ribbon in the maze.
though the seats were sandy
you sat in them.
though the empty sprite bottles
melted slowly at your feet
though the christmas tree
in your eye line
had long lost
its bubblegum scent
you opened your hands to the body of it
let’s do this together.’
though the wheels had
you asked it
and it let you
and the only
In Response to The Journey by Mary Oliver
Sweat profusely drenches my upper lip.
Scum run walls and distorted drawls preach the daily delays on the lines.
Intricate networks that weave and cross, all a sabotage plot for me to get lost.
The rushes are rude, stomp by and tightly lipped faces,
All in a desperate need to get to their workplaces.
The tide holds me and pushes me forth,
Deep, deep, deeper down
thick clotted air sticks and distorts.
Distorting my lungs and clings on tight,
Heavy monotony of bodies pushing by as the masses alight.
And my head hangs heavy, eyes down
‘Keep back from the yellow line.’
A line that attempts to keep me safe in this dark place, that infiltrates.
The distaste of the brown decor, itch of the seat against my thighs,
As I recline is this space that must be mine for a time.
For a time in my life, but the time it will pass.
To rise out of the ground into brightness at last.
An unfinished poem in response to the Mental Health and Journey to Recovery session as a whole
Counselling was not an option for a girl like me. For anyone in my community. Sit in a room and talk? About what? They’ll judge, they’ll laugh, I don’t need it.
Yet I can feel it. Still. The sadness and the anger and I channel it into my lungs where it grows as I breath the hate in, till they swell, and I shout the words out.
Then I cry, because I’ve hurt those who care, I’m not me and they can see it, but they resent it and ‘it’ will grow.
Biting the bullet, I entered a space that was safe
and the leather chair squished gently against my thighs as I reclined and immersed myself in this small room in Catford.
Violence. This world has been violent, and this room is violet. Crushed powdered sugar that’ll make me feel better.
She said she can’t make me better. But she can help me get there. Then words started to pour from my brain to the floor and they floated around in this space that was mine, for a time.
One hour for my sorrow to shower, big droplets that splash from my eyes on the leather,
each word I spill to sew my heart back together.
But the thread is loose, and my tongue is too,
the words of our past cannot reunite me with you.
And it was time, and it is time, that forces us forward still.
And she shook my hand when our time was done and said goodbye to me for what she hoped would be forever,
A professional relationship that I mourned to be severed.