‘Neurologists at Exeter University, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, found that reading poetry activated different brain regions to prose – even the lyrical prose we find in fiction. When the research participants read poetry, it lit up the regions of the brain variously linked to emotion, memory, making sense of music, coherence building and moral decision-making. Poetry, the study’s authors concluded, induces a more introspective, reflective mental state among readers than does prose.’ – Sarah Holland-Batt, Weekend Australian, 21–22 March 2020
And they read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.
And they listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed.
And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
‘Poetry is the quiet music of being human and in these days and nights when our humanity is fully vulnerable and exposed, poetry takes a small step forward. In our separate isolations, a poem is like the Tardis: bigger on the inside. Like spring – to recall TS Eliot – poetry mixes memory and desire.’ – Carol Ann Duffy, The Guardian
This poem by poet Ian McMillan, reminds of us of just what we lose each time a library is closed.
I always loved libraries, the quiet of them,
The smell of the plastic covers and the paper
And the tables and the silence of them,
The silence of them that if you listened wasn’t silence,
It was the murmur of stories held for years on shelves
And the soft clicking of the date stamp,
The soft clickety-clicking of the date stamp.
I used to go down to our little library on a Friday night
In late summer, just as autumn was thinking about
Turning up, and the light outside would be the colour
Of an Everyman cover and the lights in the library
Would be soft as anything, and I’d sit at a table
And flick through a book and fall in love
With the turning of the leaves, the turning of the leaves.
And then at seven o’clock Mrs Dove would say
In a voice that wasn’t too loud so it wouldn’t
Disturb the books “Seven o’clock please …”
And as I was the only one in the library’s late summer rooms
I would be the only one to stand up and close my book
And put it back on the shelf with a sound like a kiss,
Back on the shelf with a sound like a kiss.
And I’d go out of the library and Mrs Dove would stand
For a moment silhouetted by the Adult Fiction,
And then she would turn the light off and lock the door
And go to her little car and drive off into the night
That was slowly turning the colour of ink and I would stand
For two minutes and then I’d walk over to the dark library
And just stand in front of the dark library.
‘The astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson (January 2, 1960–May 19, 1999) was twenty-nine when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma — a blood cancer that typically invades people in their sixties and seventies. Throughout the bodily brutality of the treatment, throughout the haunting uncertainty of life in remission, she met reality on its own terms — reality creaturely and cosmic, terms chance-dealt by impartial laws — and made of that terrifying meeting something uncommonly beautiful.
‘When she returned her atoms to the universe, not yet forty, Elson bequeathed to this world 56 scientific papers and a slender, stunning book of poetry titled A Responsibility to Awe (public library) — verses spare and sublime, drawn from a consciousness pulling the balloon string of the infinite through the loop of its own finitude, life-affirming the way only the most intimate contact with death — which means with nature — can be.’ – Maria Popova
Elson’s crowning achievement in verse is the poem “Antidotes to Fear of Death,”
ANTIDOTES TO FEAR OF DEATH by Rebecca Elson
Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.
Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
But unconstrained by form.
And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.
Hope you felt the positive benefits of reading these poems.
My contributor’s copy of ‘Not keeping mum’ – Australian writers tell the truth about perinatal anxiety and depression in poetry, fiction & essay – edited by Maya Linden, arrived by courier yesterday. Am very proud to have a story included in this important anthology to be launched on Wednesday 6 May (Maternal Health Day). $9.99 https://au.blurb.com/b/10013951
SUICIDE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH FOR AUSSIE MUMS: NEW BOOK AIMS TO END SILENCE ON PERINATAL MENTAL ILLNESS
Perinatal anxiety and depression affects up to 1 in 5 new and expectant mums—and in Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death for mothers during pregnancy and the first year of their baby’s life (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). Perinatal mental illness is common, and can be devastating for women and their families. So why aren’t we talking about it?
On Wednesday 6 May 2020 (World Maternal Mental Health Day) Not Keeping Mum, a new collection of writing, will be launched to help break the silence around the shocking reality of perinatal mental illnesses in Australia. The book features confessional essays, fiction and poetry by twenty-two authors from across the country, edited by Maya Linden (Just Between Us and Mothers and Others) with a preface by Anne Buist, Professor of Women’s Mental Health (Austin Health and University of Melbourne) and author of the Natalie King trilogy and The Long Shadow.
“As a perinatal psychiatrist I know how fearful women can be—but how brave and determined they are to be the best mother they can, sometimes against the odds”, says Buist. “Heartfelt, at times confronting and occasionally funny, this collection gives insight into how women navigate the profound changes that occur in their bodies, relationships and lives when they become a parent—and how they find the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Inspired by her own experiences of postnatal anxiety and depression—and knowing how writing through the illness helped her survive and recover—author and editor Maya Linden’s goal was to create a collection that opened up conversations on the topic:
“Nine weeks after the birth of my daughter, and with no history of mental illness, I slipped overnight into a terrifying episode of anxiety and depression which saw me hospitalised twice in the first year. But during all my many prenatal health appointments no one told me about this risk and how common it really is. Awareness needs to be increased so women can be prepared for the possibility perinatal mental illness and not feel so scared and alone if they do go on to be affected.”
All profits from sales of the book go directly to PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia).
Contributors to the collection are available for interview and comment. Extracts are available for reprint. Copies available for review, giveaway or promotion.
For all enquiries:
+61438 553 019
Not keeping mum: Australian writers tell the truth about perinatal anxiety and depression in poetry, fiction & essay, Maya Linden (ed.)