This is a remarkable book: I set out last night to read the first few poems and ended up at 1 am, profoundly moved and disturbed, having read the whole collection.
At the top level, this collection describes the author’s experience of mental collapse, treatment and eventual recovery and stability. But it is more. Though the poems are intensely personal, the author’s cool and slightly detached voice gives them a degree of universality that might otherwise have been missing.
This is helped tremendously by the nature of the verse: sparse and sinuous, with no flab or spare tissue. The author uses the barest minimum of words to create effects, and this hugely increases the impact, where a more consciously poetic approach to mental illness (we can all imagine what linguistic abominations could be committed by one determined to do so) would have failed to depict its horror with such power.
All of the poems are of very high quality. My favourites are ‘Peace’, a paean to peace and deep silence, ‘Sarah, Wife of Abraham’, a moving journey to acceptance of things as they are, and ‘Handwriting’, a very brief description of one isolated act that grants it a numinous, almost mystical status.
(Fairness in reporting: I should add that I know the author, but I don’t think that has prejudiced me)