Poetry from the wards

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Suite 136 is a prose-poetry documentary book that it was published last year by Carnaval Press. This book is the result of my experiences working as a locum doctor (and as a foreigner doctor) in psychiatric hospitals in London. ‘136 suite is a place of safety for those who have been detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act by the police following concerns that they are suffering from a mental disorder’. It is a short term section to warrant medical assessment, and the suite is seen as safer place for that purpose, instead of a police station. The poems in this book are untitled and therefore 136 Suite works as metaphoric title.

My intention was to listen and to register, anonymously, and in different ways, the patients’ perception of their detainment in hospital under the Mental Health Act and their own experiences with a mental health condition. Confidentiality is preserved and narratives are slightly blurred with fiction.

This work has also been a result of my parallel activities as a doctor and a poet for many years, and of a degree I obtained in Medical Humanities at King’s College London, which allowed me to work more consciously in that direction – although medical marks can be traced along even my early writings. I presented this project in a Medical Humanities Conference in Ulm, Germany in December 2018.

The book is bilingual (English/ Portuguese), and can be ordered with Carnaval Press by carnavalpress@gmail.com

 

***

 

If you told me you were an angel, I wouldn’t judge you. An angel is a sort of innocent.

I’m an individual, I’m not a typical person so the dose of medication shouldn’t be typical.

It is affecting my angel’s rights. My naivety is being abused. In reality I was diagnosed with demoralisation and uselessness. The illness is no longer there. 

Unlike this induced state, I am blissful.

Thinking has helped my mental state, and I believe that talking is the way to solve things.

 

Se você me dissesse que você era um anjo, eu não julgaria você. Um anjo é uma espécie de inocente.  

 Eu sou um indivíduo, eu não sou uma pessoa típica, então a dose da medicação não devia ser típica.  

Está afetando meus direitos de anjo. Minha inocência está sendo abusada. Na realidade eu fui diagnosticado com desmoralização e inutilidade. A doença já era. 

Diferentemente deste estado induzido, eu sou uma pessoa bem-aventurada.

 Pensar tem ajudado o meu estado mental, e eu acredito que falar é a forma de resolver as coisas.  

 

***

 

I am afraid of world war syndrome. I am afraid of vampires. I am afraid of death. I can hear the vampires. They talk like people. Their faces frighten me. I can hear angels, demons, vampires and wolves. They are talking about me. They came to save me. The windows are closed, and angels can’t come in. She thinks I am vampire, and she follows me with a stake in her hand.

 

Tenho medo de síndrome da guerra mundial. Tenho medo de vampiros. Tenho medo da morte. Eu posso ouvir os vampiros. Eles falam como gente. As faces deles me assustam. Eu posso ouvir anjos, demônios, vampiros e lobos. Eles estão falando sobre mim. Eles vieram me salvar. As janelas estão fechadas, e os anjos não podem entrar. Ela pensa que sou um vampiro, e me persegue com uma estaca na mão.

 

***

 

My mind is mathematical
My body is electronic

Your body language tells me
you’re from SãoPaulo

Doctor you look like a patient

I’ve never been to Brazil
I’ve been to Suriname
My father was from Burma
My mother was Anglo-Indian

I fell in love only once in 1984
He is on the phone directory
He thought I was going out
with a ginger haired man

Now you can interview me

I can pretend I am Brazilian
I can be Gisele Bunchen
I failed as a model once

I can’t remember running naked
It was the first time that
policemen were nasty to me
That never happened before

How come I am so tall
and you’re so small

I am elated I told you
I am allergic to lithium

 

Minha mente é matemática
Meu corpo é eletrônico

Sua linguagem corporal me diz
que você é de SãoPaulo

Doutora você parece uma paciente

Eu nunca fui ao Brasil
Eu fui ao Suriname
Meu pai era de Burma
Minha mãe era anglo-indiana

Só me apaixonei uma vez em 1984
Ele está na lista telefônica
Ele pensou que eu estava saindo
com o homem de cabelo gengibre

Agora você pode me entrevistar
Eu posso fingir que sou brasileira
Eu posso ser Gisele Bunchen
Eu fracassei como modelo uma vez

Não me lembro de correr pelada
Foi a primeira vez que
os policiais foram malvados comigo
Isso nunca aconteceu antes

Por quê eu sou tão alta
e você é tão baixa

Eu estou exaltada eu avisei
que era alérgica a lítio

Virna Teixeira

 ALEJANDRA PIZARNIK – EXTRACTING THE STONE OF THE MADNESS

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Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik’s book ‘Extracting the Stone of the Madness’ (Poems 1962-1972) will be released in April by New Directions. The translator, Yvette Siegert, was born in Argentina, lives in New York and has translated two other books by the same author, but this is the first full collection of Alejandra’s poems published in English. According to the editor, ‘Obsessed with themes of solitude, childhood, madness, and death, Pizarnik explored the shifting valences of the self and the border between speech and silence.’

Alejandra Pizarnik was born in Buenos Aires in 1936 to Jewish immigrant parents from Russian and Slovak origins. Her first book, La tierra más arena, was published in 1955. Alejandra studied Literature and Philosophy at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, and studied painting with Juan Battle Planas. She lived in Paris from 1960 to 1964, where she participated in the Parisian literary scene. She was later awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968, and a Fullbright Scholarship in 1971.

While living in Paris, Pizarnik translated Henri Michaux, Antonin Artaud, Aimé Cesairé and Yves Bonnefoy. She was influenced by the French symbolists, by Surrealism and also Romanticism – her poetry has a strange beauty, characterised by dark, condensed poems.

Alejandra Pizarnik was addicted to amphetamines, which she started using as a diet pill. She was also diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  She died in 1972 after taking an overdose of Secobarbital, during a period of a severe depression.

Yvette Siegert will discuss Pizarnik’s work at Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation in February. Some of her translations of Pizarnik’s poems were published at Circumference Magazine.

Virna Teixeira