“There is no activism without despair, no despair without hope. Despair can be as powerful an engine for change as hope.”Finding Hope in Despair — Borderless
History of Present Complaint (2021)
By WordPress favorite HLR
Published by Close To The Bone Publishing
After a while, when you’ve spent a lot of time reading poetry online, it’s a damn challenge to find that which sticks. When it does, you know you’ve got a keeper.
Before 2019 and the events described therein, I had been exposed to HLR’s work via Hijacked Amygdala, a Writing Collective . All the miscreants of that collective had gone off the deep end in some form or fashion, and without exception, all of them were bloody good writers irrespective of mental status.
Maybe some wouldn’t find that impressive. I thought it was bloody spectacular.
Sure, it’s easy for some ‘nutter’ to write a bunch of crap on a loo roll and call it art, and who knows? They might win the Booker or the Turner, depending on whim.
But true ability isn’t as easily honed. When you’re plunging in the deep end, the last thing you’re usually able to do, is be a coherent human being.
And while many an artist has produced their finest works when stoned, smashed, mentally impaired, simply mad, it’s more common these days to find well-coiffed Indian youngsters with mesmerizing faces and rich parents, on the poetry best seller list.
HLR is none of the above. In a way it doesn’t matter who she is, except that it really does.
HLR is a mysterious, slightly gorgeous, utterly deviant and exceptionally talented writer and I’d bet my horse on her any day.
From my first encounter with her writing, I was addicted. It isn’t the lesbian in me either, before you ask, but her raw, guttural truth and the ability she has to write like nobody else I’ve read who is still living.
I could easily wax lyrical here, and compare HLR to Plath, Bukowski, Childish, Sexton, or a raft of other notable poets you’d know the names of, and nod approvingly. But that’s not going to cut it.
HLR isn’t a prescription bottle, you can’t take a little blue pill with a cold glass of water and understand her. You have to throw her out of the window, every little pill, and watch where she falls. It’s in her fall, you find her deepest truth.
This couldn’t be exemplified more so than in her debut collection of poetry, History of Present Complaint.
This book is horrifying. Nothing less. I read it in one sitting (perfect length for a kick you in the mouth kind of read that leaves you sweating). To say HLR doesn’t pull back almost makes me laugh maniacally. She doesn’t just not pull back, she’s the fucking ringmaster to this and she’s wields the whip very, very acutely.
So, if you’re faint of heart, naw, don’t go there. Put the dangerous book down and walk the hell away.
This isn’t a gentle read and nobody is apologizing for that. No chance mate.
Let’s get the basics over with:
This is a collection of guttural cries from the unraveling depths of a human being who I happen to know is a really, really good human being and it’s a wonder she’s still with us but a very, very good thing.
This is written by someone who is more naturally gifted at writing than 99.9 percent of poets out there today.
This isn’t something you can forget and you’d better not try.
I’ve worked on #metoo anthologies, and I can’t say I have ever been as disquieted, which I know is a funny old-fashioned term, but so apropos for an age-long disease of society – that is RAPE.
Maybe we need to take the uncomfortable and taboo or pushed under the sofa truths out of their jars now and wake people the fuck UP.
This isn’t the kind of review where you quote ‘clever’ lines and pat the invisible author on the head for accomplishing such great feats.
This author stands with you whilst you read, she’s looking you in the eye, you’re trying to read the book but you’re acutely aware of her staring. It’s a bit like being caught looking through family photos without permission. Yeah, maybe you don’t have the right. Except she’s written this and she’s put it out there, which takes some MONUMENTAL GUTS and you find yourself tongue tied (which you never get, because you’re a verbose so-and-so) in the presence of this. Because it isn’t okay and it isn’t fixed and it’s not safe, and it’s lying on your lap beating its life blood all the way down to the beige carpet.
Dare I be personal and say I can relate intensely to a lot of this. Having lived in the UK before, there are nuances and details that stand out like sign posts pointing to the uncanny ability HLR has for evoking a moment, an era, a time in a person’s life.
And I’ve been her age, I’ve experienced some of the same things, but could I have succinctly and with eloquence and grit, put something like this together? Not in this life time.
HLR is an old soul for every one of her youthful years. She’s actually completely hilarious too, as all very, very clever people tend to be, she’s got that sardonic wit down to a tee and it serves its bilious undertone very well against the horror of the psych ward.
I’m not going to take a quote and put it in isolation to the rest, because this creature she’s whole and she deserves to stay that way. Read all of her or just go away. But don’t, whatever you do, be vanilla.
HLR could possibly be one of the most exciting poets of her generation, and yeah that sounds hackneyed but it’s so close it burns.
She’s not a squeaky clean, healthy, well adjusted young woman. Her dad died. She was really young and she lost her dad. Anyone who says that’s not a huge thing, gets the first kick in the face from me. She’s bipolar, although that’s just an outdated, generalized description that’s overused, but it causes her some massive trouble when awful things happen and she’s trying to cope. She’s an old soul with yellowed finger tips from chain smoking who does her bloody best in a dysfunctional world with a really heavy dose of horror thrown in, just because it can. She’s seen your labels and she’s raised you.
I have read quite a few collections of ‘my time spent in a Psych unit’ and this doesn’t evoke any of them. It’s a story written in blood, with very little distance between the actual moment of it happening and you reading the recollecting. If that doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck rise, very little is going to. But like any macabre rendition, it’s also desperately funny and horrifically detailed, guaranteed to dispel any notions of safety.
At times I felt I was reading inside HLR’s brain, the popcorn seizures of her descent and rise, like I inherited the mad vibe and lost my footing. It is this nearness of experience that makes HLR’s writing so genius, yeah, I said it, and I mean it. She’s got ‘that’ ability to crawl into your amygdala and take up residence. It’s pretty disturbing and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Maybe I will quote:
“I will never come back from this
Don’t say that
It’s true. I will never come back from this. If, with the benefit of hindsight, I had the choice between dying in the street and hypothermia and poisoning and those 12 hours in hospital, I’d choose the former, without a doubt. They really hurt me.”
I feel bad for quoting. I feel like I’m wearing a severed piece of a soul on my arm as a handbag by quoting. And yet, it might help you understand the method here. There is no method. You are free of method. This is real writing. It doesn’t need a fucking method. Look around. Use your words. Now THAT’S something.
We lament that art in its myriad of forms, is stale, lacking, aloof. And the purity of this collection is its lack of pretention, self-consciousness and formula. As if you had been there yourself. And there’s a bloody lake of value to that because it’s real, and it pulls you by the throat into the vortex that is trauma and refuses to politely lead you by the hand.
If we are ever going to change, if we are ever going to understand and stop not really giving a shit about sexual violence and mental health and other really important things, then we have to be like this. We have to.
As long as we hide behind formula, ego, methodology, then we may as well keep the same manuscript and just keep changing the name.
“It was real. It was real. It was real to you.”
Should poetry be this visceral? Absolutely.
Should women expose their experiences this blatantly? God yes.
“North London. Edmonton. On a Tuesday afternoon, you are sixteen and psychotic and should be at school.”
All that and more. All that and MORE.
I want something real, don’t you?
History of Present Complaint is real. I wish it weren’t. I really do. Because HLR went through this and that bothers me, a lot. But she got up and she wrote this and that’s what she did then and that’s not all she is by any measure, and you’re going to see that in the coming years, I’m damn certain of it.
Sometimes the ones who wanted to die the most, are the ones who can describe living the best.
In fact, I think I should say … I told you so.
They were the liars.
Get your copy here.
Recently I had the great fortune to interview one of my all-time favorite modern poets Kristiana Reed and here, alongside her interview, is a short of her reading one of her poems from her second collection of poetry, Flowers on the Wall. This collection came out yesterday and can be purchased here.
Candice: You have a background in Classics and you write a lot of very high-quality poetry that pays homage to your learning. Do you feel that helps you as a writer? And if so, how?
Kristiana: Thank you. The fact my degree is in Classics has afforded me a knowledge of mythology, of empire, of how history repeats itself, of the beginnings of poetry in the oral tradition, and of some of our earliest poets (Sappho, Theognis and Hesiod). Consequently, I find myself alluding to the past, our legacy and ideas which perhaps enrich the poetry I write. I think I’m very influenced by Homer’s descriptions of nature, Ovid’s darkness in Metamorphosis and Virgil’s idyllic landscapes in his Eclogues and The Georgics. This said, the study of Classics is very Westernised and Eurocentric and is therefore limited in this sense; I would love to learn more about the ancient empires in the East such as the Abyssinian and Persian empires and explore the literary tradition which was born there.
Candice: What inspired you to write poetry over say, prose or some other art form? Was there a specific genesis or was it almost an outpouring that became something more formal?
Kristiana: I still write lots of prose but I am more confident with poetry. I have a love for the brevity in poetic storytelling and I am insecure in regards to prose and the development of plot, characters and action. Poetry was my way to write about my Nanny’s (Grandmother’s) garden (which I still refer to as a fairy garden) and my way to express moments of fear, indecision and love as a teenager. I was told I was good at writing poetry from a young age so I guess I stuck with it and I remember my A-Level English Literature teacher telling me even my essay writing was poetic. It was never a conscious decision but I’m happy with my choice.
Candice: Who influences you as a writer/poet and why? This can include any type of artist or non-artist – explain what about their output influences you.
Kristiana: Again, I have no specifics here as such. I am an avid reader and I absorb storytelling. I remember images or phrases for years so sometimes these become a starting point for me when writing. Musicians are an influence – I have vivid memories of sitting cross-legged in my bedroom, aged twelve, reading the lyric book inside the CD case for Avril Lavigne and Evanescence. Even now, I often judge a song based on lyrics because for me they are just like poetry. Lyrical poetry was poetry set to a lyre; nothing much has changed apart from whether we pair our words with music or not.
Kristiana Reed reads one of her incredible poems “Tattoos for the Living” from her collection Flowers on the Wall
Candice: Your work is very pastoral in some respects, something I deeply appreciate as modern poets often stay in the navel-gazing pews and you are unafraid to really stretch outward into any genre. But your appreciation of the pastoral stays with me because you really know how to bring to life your surroundings. Do you feel where you live has influenced how you write?
Kristiana: I have always got lost in my surroundings and this stems from childhood. Already I have mentioned my Nanny’s garden which was a constant and burgeoning with blooms (I could easily watch the seasons from my slide on the lawn). My favourite memories are often associated with places and so I felt such freedom when I moved to where I live now which is an area between the town and country. There is a wheat-field at the end of my garden, woods a short walk away and the quay. To me, the natural world is magical. I always thought I was magical in these places and I guess I still hope to harness this feeling of hope, space and joy. I would also argue the cycle of nature is the best metaphor for life.
Candice: I noticed how prodigious you have been since Covid 19 and your wonderful movement of writing a poem in response to a poem that inspired you – almost daily. Do you find moods change your writing or are you able to work through any mood and produce solid work despite how you feel? Was it always this way? Is discipline in writing something you learn or something you are born with?
Kristiana: As a teacher, from the moment lockdown occurred in the UK, I was secure in my job. This meant I could work from home safely and found I had more time in my day. No longer standing in a classroom for 4 – 5 hours a day, I began to write more often and then the ‘on Reading’ prompts were created. The process of sourcing these poems and then sharing my responses with people and reading their pieces has been wonderful. I’ve had to teach myself the discipline of writing every day or every few days and I am aware that come September, this discipline will give way to full-time teaching again. So, in short, discipline is taught. I do not believe any one is born disciplined. In regards to different moods, I’ll often try to harness it where I can and let it fuel the work. If not, I’ll cheat and post a poem from my first collection and unashamedly plug it that way…
Candice: Do you see a future for poetry once we get over our immediate love affair with online memes? What does poetry bring to 2020 and going forward that prose does not?
Kristiana: I think the argument ‘online poetry is nothing but memes’ has been raging for so long I’m not sure it is even valid anymore… It is a very cynical view of a community which thrives. Through my use of social media platforms, I have met talented, fascinating and brilliant people. I’ve had the pleasure of reading collections I would never have discovered if I had stuck exclusively to my local bookshop. I think we are too quick to belittle online communities for what they are, communities.
Mainstream media will tell you the boom has come from Kaur’s Instagram poetry and for some reason we should be ashamed of this. In fact, whether you agree with the accounts boasting thousands of followers for two-line statements, who are we to judge what is art for some people? The fact an audience exists suggests people enjoy it and I’m not prepared to sit on a high horse and extoll what we should and shouldn’t be seeing from poetry. Poetry is an artform and thus subjective. It is a different entity to prose and so again, I do not think it will be anything more than prose will. I often read several books at one time – novels, poetry collections and non-fiction. All genres have their merits and reasons for why we should get lost in them. Life is far too short to get caught up being critical about how others consume art.
“I have learned so much about editing, designing and formatting through the process of creating and releasing two collections. It means I am perhaps prouder of them because I know how much of myself I have put into them beyond the written words.”
Candice: Bravo. well said. I completely agree with you! How has teaching influenced your writing if at all and what would you eventually like to do with your writing if you had the chance?
Kristiana: Directly, some of my poems are inspired by interactions in the classroom and what I endeavour to achieve as an educator. Teaching English also exposes me to a lot of poetry from the poets we may consider the ‘greats’ which has helped me construct the ‘On Reading’ prompts each month since June. Eventually, I’d love to have a series of collections which very much chart the passing of time and how I will no doubt change and, hopefully, publish the novel I’ve had in the works for almost two years now…
Candice: What is the most important thing you have been told about your writing that stayed with you and helped engender your next step in being a writer of poetry?
Kristiana: Nothing necessarily springs to mind here… when I wrote poetry as a teenager I shared it with very few people. The moment I realised I wanted to be a writer of poetry and to share my work with others was in the early hours of a morning in 2016. I couldn’t sleep so I wrote. Then suddenly I had an urge to let what I wrote out into the aether, if you will. Thus, my blog My Screaming Twenties was born. I wanted to document my twenties (kicking and screaming). And actually, I’m glad it was an inner voice which drove me to take this step because I haven’t regretted it once.
Candice: How does building a community of writers versus FVR and other mediums, help you personally as a writer and what are your goals in doing so?
Kristiana: Taking over FVR from the wonderful Nicholas Gagnier has been so incredibly rewarding and that certainly translates into building up a community around myself. I know we often look at creating a platform and audience in the frame of ‘How can I market myself?’ when FVR and spending the last few months working hard to establish and maintain the platforms I have, has taught me the value of genuine connections with like-minded people. Sharing the work of others not only makes you feel good but it draws connections between yourself and others. I’ve found through putting the work of others forward, I’ve benefitted in a way which feels organic and true. In regards to this community, I may or may not be considering an FVR anthology on the suggestion of a regular contributor.
Candice: What inspires you the most in this life and why? Do you find more in darker emotions or lighter or is there some other force that lights your pen?
Kristiana: Inspiration definitely tumbles, falls and surges like waves. Sometimes darker emotions fuel my words and sometimes it’s a love for my partner or simply the slow movement of the Earth. It truly varies. I very much tap into myself as a source whenever I sit down to write. I think this is why I struggle with set metre and form. My work is more often than not an outpouring of a feeling or a moment or memory and thus I write freely rather than write to a pre-defined structure. I suppose in this sense I lack a certain discipline. Poetry is something I seek in order to not feel tied down.
Candice: I agree and feel similarly about meter and form for exactly the same reason(s) although I think it’s good to understand how to do it, then you have a choice, much like Picasso did when he decided to do less realistic (cubist) work, he knew all the forms and chose what worked for him. Would you consider Flowers on the Wall similar to your first collection, Between the Trees, or would you consider it a departure? Why?
Kristiana: The treatment of nature in Flowers on the Wall definitely echoes pieces in Between the Trees. Certain images reappear like a wheat field, meadows, the sky and the ocean. Yet, I would consider Flowers on the Wall a departure too. Between the Trees was the documentation of a journey from depression to acceptance. Although, I still very much experience bouts of depression and healing, Flowers on the Wall is what I would consider a poetry collection. This collection says more about me as a poet rather than a person. It has a maturity I was only just beginning to grasp with Between the Trees.
Candice: Both of your collections are self-published, can you describe this experience and share any advice you might have with those who are considering the self-publishing route?
Kristiana: Self-publishing can feel like quite a lonely journey. Unless you have the pennies to spare, you’re often your own formatter, cover designer, editor, agent, and, of course, publisher. Not forgetting the marketing which follows. But, this also means it can be incredibly rewarding. I have learned so much about editing, designing and formatting through the process of creating and releasing two collections. It means I am perhaps prouder of them because I know how much of myself I have put into them beyond the written words. My advice would be to research every element of the process, speak to as many people as you can who have experience, map out exactly what you wish to achieve and steps one and two should help you achieve this. Stay open-minded and be realistic; you will be constrained by how well you are able to do something so plans will change.
For the foreword written by Candice Daquin for this gorgeous book please go to Kristiana’s brilliant page on WordPress My Screaming Twenties
One of the hardest things to do when reviewing a book is to read other reviews. I typically don’t because it can be intimidating or distracting. However, I was curious to know what others had thought of this series of books and interestingly more has been written about Sarah’s Earthen Witch Novels series than most […]
Coming July 2018 from Sudden Denouement Publishing
“Poet Christine Ray’s first printed collection of poetry, Composition of a Woman (Sudden Denouement Press, 2018) is a striking, fearless foray into the psyche of womanhood, both highly relatable and intensely personal for female readers and achingly candid and fascinating for male.”
Candice Louisa Daquin, Pinch the Lock
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