Lament, Briony Bax
Rough Trade Books, 2020 £7.99
Shining a light on mental illness
This is a topical pamphlet for our times. Strong, uninhibited poems which chronicle the experience of those living with schizophrenia. Hurdles and bureaucracy are faced by patients every day — as evidenced here through witness testimony.
‘World War III’ introduces us to the intense experience of living with a profound mental health condition. Through the entire poem, a wild range of imagery increases in emotional power. The narrator’s hands tremble, there’s ‘babbling to the judge’, a deck of cards collapses. Words like ‘hunted’, darting’, ‘destruction’, ‘soldiers’ and ‘guns’ pepper the lines as the mind is overwhelmed:
You lay in the single bed.
Helpless and curled, weeping,
hair matted like a lost puppy,
hands clamped over your ears to stop the voices.
Poignancy infuses the poem ‘Christmas’. The process of being sectioned is boldly expressed in factual lines and short sharp phrases. Violence is implied — ‘Largactil is forced into your veins’. There’s a sense of loneliness and abandonment running through this poem which is intensely affecting. And an ironic last line pulls no punches.
The concluding piece, ‘When It Comes’, describes the impending arrival of a psychosis. The lines are packed with sensory phrases and a sense of helplessness. The narrator seeks refuge but a ‘tiny spider’ turns up, ‘crawling out of the wallpaper’, followed by ‘an avalanche of arachnids’. Nothing to be done but accept them as ‘my sweet, sweet, spider children’.
A long prose poem called ‘Unlocking value or How the government is screwing the mentally ill’ describes the soul-destroying, laborious process of applying for social security — from completing a form, to county court, concluding with an image of palpable fear, ‘found frozen dead on a street corner’.
A laudable and inventive set of poems. Profits to be donated to MIND.