ARC review of History of Present Complaint by HLR

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.

Okay then.

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.

Bulletproof

(Inspired by reading Cordelia Feldman’s novel In Bloom, reviewed after this poem).

When the rush comes

questions like: Why are you doing drugs? Are you an

unhappy child?

Do you realize how inappropriate it is?

Bad choices lead to worse choices. Slippery slopes. Killed brain cells.

Those questions seem irrelevant

for, that which you have searched

seemingly before awareness, birth, first flickering

is surrounding you and the fucking magic of it

is holding sorrow so far away

you can’t recall the last time you felt its fingers

closing around your throat in possession.

Yes sorrow

misery, self-hatred, dysfunctional thinking, dysthymia

depression, malaise, disorder, horror, they

have long sat at your scarred table

munching on your best intentions

not to throw yourself from a bridge

just because every day is so painful.

Parents show the whites of their eyes

like distrusting horses being inspected

for cavities and you are the hole

they observe without looking

wondering how they birthed

someone so strange, unexpectedly unwell

did we not take enough pregnancy vitamins?

Was it more like my ‘funny’ uncle and how he never

seemed quite right?

Blessed, tainted blood

that’s not it

anymore than sexual abuse or

quiet pinch of undiagnosed learning disorder

when there are cheery-faced celebrities proclaiming

their cured malaise, even as they grew up

in fire

therefore, it is not

the firing, how deeply you set, how many cracks

it is more the knife of life

cutting you open

silence surrounding before

you knew you were alone

a haunting long before words like

‘intrenched’ and ‘affliction’ were commonly nailed

like scarlet blooms on thirsty cacti.

Sorrow, you were flowing in my blood stream

like an unbidden life, wishing to suck mine out

marrow and all.

There’s only apologies

for not being able to be what you want me to be

grieving for the perfect mess made when I was doing my very best

not to cut myself to ribbons

and as self-hate dances with a wish to

pull hard on the string attached to light bulb

and just blink out ….

music and its phantasmagoric wonder

infiltrates darkness with a tender mercy

potent keys of a piano played on an empty stage

seem to possess a furtherment.

You, who sup at the high seat for well-adjusted

cannot really fathom, aside in dusty theory

the every day battle with spirits resembling

skewed reflection and how when joy arrives

soft and cloudy, she is split savagely

by the very strength of your inner tenency

to plunge headlong, when you want to do

the opposite.

Fate lifted me out of the car gently

like I meant more to him than a one-night-fuck

and maybe thinking back, I was

precious

in that turkish delight moment

softened at the edges by

little blue pills.

If I die in ten years from some malady

will you point your frozen heart at me

and say; “Her bloody drug use killed her”

without recalling

without it

I’d already be nourishing trees

with my life blood.

Will you state: “She was weak because she

couldn’t cope without them”

forgetting, we do what it takes

to stand upright, pulled from the inside

skins flayed on electric lines of penance.

For our generation, for some of us

those who didn’t yet know how to

put words to how we felt

the holes in our fabric

those diminishments

only worsening with perpetual self-reproach

(after all, didn’t we have a roof over our heads?

How the hell could we be so ungrateful?

Do they say that to people with cancer?

Only the smokers I think, we are banished

to the smokers ward if we suffer from

depression, they put us down as incurable

and slightly pathetic and faces turn away

like cliffs beckon our swift feet forward).

I danced beneath strobe lights, proud of reaching

19 and not having taken anything stronger

than weed, my iron will a contrast to

my crumbling will to live, sometimes

it fascinates me. He whispered in my studded

ear; “I know you disapprove of hard drugs but …

and like a violin played accutely until

you find yourself crying on the other side

of intensity, I saw the futility of holding back

how ‘good behavior’ didn’t work with the model

of suffering experienced daily, another way of

saying it was

fuck it

the pill was bitter like

poison

and returned me someone

I had not met in many years

happiness flooded my bloodstream

I didn’t care it was artificially induced

all moods are, all behavior dictated by

the flow and ebb of chemicals surging

in our amygdala.

Why do some of us fall so far?

When others seem oblivious of

sorrow like it’s a thing to bring out

at funerals and nothing more? Can we really

reduce it to ‘failure‘ and ‘success‘ and affix the

ugly admonishment forever, like kicking

someone all the harder once they are down?

The self-loathing and condemnation

invariably accompanying perpetual sadness

lifted like a shroud and music entered

my blood stream with an invoking joy.

Many years later I read about ‘self medication

and thought as a professional

trying to help people who felt

like I did / alone / worthless

how trite labels and ‘understanding‘ in general

was.

I’d write you a book of my foray with drugs

if it didn’t cause you to condemn me

then again

you already have

so why not?

Don’t throw stones

at glass

houses

unless

you’re bulletproof.

Cordelia Feldman writes on WP and has published her first book of fiction In Bloom. She’s a magnificent person and a genuinely beautiful human being. I urge you to purchase a copy.

In Bloom

I didn’t know what to expect when I purchased In Bloom. That can be exciting. I purchased it because I have followed the author Cordelia Feldman on her blog for many years. As a publisher/editor I tend to get high burn out for acquaintance reads but this was not at her behest, I wanted to read In Bloom, because the quality of Cordelia’s writing and humor over the years has often left me astounded.

In Bloom is semi-biographical set-in mid teen hood. Which might seem odd at a time when the adult author is struggling with metastasized cancer since her mid thirties and this has taken such a chunk out of her valuable life. One might not be blamed for thinking she’d write about a later time in her life. However, if the reader has ever had a prolonged battle with their health, they will intimately appreciate the difficulty of ‘going there’ and the positive impact of focusing on other things. In addition, the challenges a writer has to accurately reflect her past self, something few do realistically and Feldman excels at.

Cordelia has in her blog, done a monumental job of focusing elsewhere, she’s ‘bloomed’ in the years since her cancer diagnosis despite all obstacles. Her infectious optimism, her attitude of caring for others even as she suffers, the way she brings humor out of the darkness, and her undefeatable intelligence hook you from the start. With each blog post she refers sardonically to a book title, often obscure, and that quick mind of hers is as agile now as those who have never experienced a days sickness.

Likewise, with In Bloom, a little gem, a veritable Pandoras’s box replete with humor, nitty-gritty mindful observations, completely lacking in self-pity and with so much to evoke and fascinate. Why fascinate you may ask? Many of us can directly relate to being a teen and going through much of what Feldman has gone through, but many cannot. This is both a warning and a true invoking of a time in history and a type of lifestyle for the young that Gen X’ers and perhaps many others, can appreciate.

Just as we can put an album on and suddenly go back in time, In Bloom takes us to the tawdry experiment called youth and provokes some intense feelings about why we do what we do when we do it. For some, drugs are a clear cut no, no path to hell. For others, they’re a rite of passage. My personal take on it is; drugs are a gateway, to growing up and moving on, but for some, a gateway we don’t regret, nor judge.

The club scene of the 90s in the UK was spectacular and for many young things, going out and dancing all night on Ecstasy was the most fun they’ve ever had. If that makes them sound sad twenty years later, well you weren’t there. The clubs had such atmosphere and comradery that it was impossible not to see them as Magic Faraway Trees of their time. It might be like trying to explain to a non-drinker why a drink can feel so good at the end of the day. Or try telling your parents the Sixties weren’t a revolution.

All the proselytizing in the world and nary a judgment cannot convict those hearts who bloomed in that era and recall it with fondness and a little embarrassment. If you imagine ecstasy earned its name through hard graft, and lived up to it, there’s nothing shabby about those Turkish delight infused experiences anymore than throwing rocks at the Beats Poets for their dabbling with the illicit.

Feldman writes hypnotically and with great alacrity, understanding the mind set of the teen to an uncanny degree. Her intelligence as a writer is evident, but so is her sage wit. Feldman conjures a time that has passed but we can all to some extent, look back on. However, this is not all she does. In Bloom isn’t merely a celebration of taking drugs at raves, that really wouldn’t begin to give it its dues. In Bloom is an evocation of a young woman’s experience with mental illness.

Do drugs cause mental illness? We know they can but more often they exacerbate or draw out, what is already there, for chemical and hereditary reasons. We don’t truly know the myriad ways mental illness occurs, just that it does, and for so long, it was judged and condemned without trying to be understood. Feldman attempts understanding through description and succeeds admirably, in her gentle nudging toward insight through the stumbling’s of the newly initiated.

The main character of In Bloom is clearly a composite of the younger Feldman, but she’s also a character in her own right. Her experiences are not mere autobiography, she and her cast of bandits are all fully fleshed out people existing within In Bloom and they make you care about them, despise them, cheer for them. Do not forget 17 is the age mental illness will begin to rear its head irrespective of whether you are downing E or lemonade, although of course, the reaction with the former will be more dramatic and so it is.

I rarely want to stay up reading all night as I used to because I read for a living. But In Bloom was that notable exception, as I feel it will be for many of us. Before being tempted to cast stones and accuse Feldman of glamorizing drug-taking or blaming her cancer on her previous actions, consider the truth. We don’t get sick because we dabble with drugs as kids. We don’t start doing drugs because we read about them in a book. Pain has its outlets and kids know that well. There are deeper issues here, ones that In Bloom cannot speak to, but we all know they exist and we all know life is far, far more complicated than what we see on the surface.

The ultimate value of In Bloom lies in my knowledge that I would have enjoyed this book immensely whether I knew Cordelia as a writer beforehand, or not. Her skill as a writer has never been under question, she has proven her worth time and again with her tapping into the amygdala of her readership. Her intelligence as a thinker on this planet, is beyond refute. I only wish deeply that she were given time to write more, as I suspect, in Cordelia Feldman we have a voice of our generation.

14 YEAR OLD BOYS AREN’T THE GOSPEL – For Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week (this year the focus is body image)

14 YEAR OLD BOYS AREN’T THE GOSPEL

The year we held a Madonna competition I was flat chested
Boys said; Asprins on an ironing board
Girls said; You can’t dance with us
The exclusion felt … hot pink and slimy
I wore black elastic bands on my wrists to hide the snub

The year he asked me out because Zoe had said no
He said; Zoe is taller than you, you look quite SQUAT
He said; Zoe has tanned skin, why do you always BURN
He said; You give good head but it’s a shame you aren’t Zoe
I threw up in the bathroom to hide the shame

The year my best friend taught me how to binge and purge
She said; You’ll soon have a waist as small as mine
She said; When you feel sad put your fingers down your throat
She said; Skinny is the new superpower for girls
I quit dance class because I didn’t have the energy anymore

The year I tried to stop giving a shit
I said; Fuck it. I’m me. I can’t be anything else I WAS BORN THIS WAY
I said; I may never love myself enough but I’m damn well not going to destroy me
I said; Hate the image in the mirror, at least love the inside
I said; Someone will always want to put you down, don’t give them the power

The next year I still didn’t wear bathing suits, I still walked with my shoulders rounded
But I didn’t have raw knuckles and I didn’t survive on the opinion of 14 year old boys

A decade later at an art show we meet again, he’s going bald
He said; You look fantastic. I don’t remember why we broke up
He said; I always thought you were the hottest girl in school
He said; Want to fool around behind this Van Gough?
I quit listening and wished I’d learned not to at 14.
What you think is important then, usually is not.
Try to love who you are. Perfect is an illusion and 14 year old boys aren’t the gospel. We don’t all have to be Zoe.