Does writing dark poetry make you insane? 

Clinical insanity: mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.

When I was about 25 I wrote a story about a hotel constructed only for those who are willing to die. Whether by natural causes or by suicide. The concept was, those tenants who committed suicide would, for eternity, work at the hotel as staff – A purgatory of sorts for the lost. The idea of the story came from a forward of a Stephen King book I was reading at the time where he mentioned this unforgiving knack of asking “what if?” That has led to his various best selling publications. 

The other part of the story came from an establishment called “The Metropolitan” situated in the heart of a city I was, then, and still am, in love with. 
More recently, a very close loved one happened upon the story and wondered, even if for a brief moment, whether I am clinically insane for conjuring up these horrible thoughts. He also went on to question every single thing I have written in my life to this point. Our conversation moved into why I write dark poetry and whether it is fuelling my dark thoughts instead of being therapeutic. 
He then proceeded to find connections with my past behaviour, my poetry and my writing. Leading up to a conclusion that I might be clinically depressed to be thinking up all such stories. 
For obvious reasons, that conversation has led to this blog. 
I don’t consider myself a great poet, actually I don’t even consider myself an ordinary poet. But the one thing I have been true to all my life is that I have always looked to improve my writing. Whether it is experimenting with the structure or imagery, I have worked hard at the 100+ pieces I have written in life. Whether the subject of it makes me clinically depressed never really crossed my mind because they were simply reflections of the world and sometimes reflections of stories that I imagined. 
I must, therefore, have a wicked imagination. Well so do Anne Rice and Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe, does that mean they were clinically insane? Honestly, I have never had a problem in the past with such observations. With people looking at me all funny thinking ‘what’s going on in her head?!’ I suppose this affected me more because it came from someone I love deeply. But having seen up close and heard up close the problems of mental illness, I have a problem with my poetry being labelled in such a way. If anything it is an insult to scores of people dealing with REAL mental illness. A lot of these observations come from the stigma around death and mortality. A lot of it also has to do with the stigma on mental illness itself. There is a perception that if you are in general thinking about these things, you must be thinking about hurting yourself. Nothing else’s could explain your interest. 
Death
At a very young age, my father’s stories of a lost era of genius family members had affected me. There were also stories about funeral rituals that used to scare my father as a child. Death has always been talked of as a welcome friend, almost training children of that generation that this will happen (perhaps it had to do with the general high mortality back then). In our myths, ancestors would come back to look after us when in times of trouble. Death was just a gate through which they went and they’d often come back to visit and it was fine if they did. Now we think twice before even saying, if I die — perhaps that is what has led to a lot of the criticism that has come my way. 
A Ruskin Bond ghost story set in Shimla at the age of 12, got me excited! The hills that had otherwise been settings for beauty and clean air (I grew up in Delhi!) were suddenly the scene for something sinister. My lovely fifth grade teacher got us to write our own ghost story making writers out of all of us. It was the first one I ever wrote and I was delighted when my peers watched me wide eyed after reading it. I saw it unfold in front of me, my story, but no one said I must be insane. I suppose that fear is more pronounced when we grow up. 
Mental illness
Our school had a Manovikas Kendra (mental development Center) where children suffering from Down’s syndrome and other congenital neurological disorders came to study. My peers in sixth grade would say only “Buddhu” (stupid) kids went there. I was once there talking to the school counsellor and happened to interact with these kids. I realised how smart the kids were and how my classmates were the stupid ones not realising the amazing and witty company they were missing. 
What makes us think about pain or sorrow and why is it more interesting to some people than others? There is no answer to that. But does thinking about pain and finding the same beauty in it that one finds in joy, make a person depressed? Well I have had these conversations at length with a certified psychologist (because that was my level of self doubt at that moment!). And the answer is no. It perhaps makes us more empathetic to other people’s pain but doesn’t necessarily mean we’re heading towards the knife or the noose! A lot of times I find that people when approached with thoughts they don’t want to associate with have a couple of reactions: 

1) “you’re too philosophical for me.” Well, in a way you are right, most writers and more importantly confessional writers are philosophical. They wish experience their feelings at a deeper and spiritual level. But the little I know about philosophy, I don’t think it can be measured to be less in one person and more in another! 

2) “Oh my god! You need help!”- true. We all do. But does writing about pain make me an ideal candidate for therapy? I don’t think so!
There is of course a third set of non judgemental friends and family who typically just turn a blind eye. “If I’m not reading what she wrote, she didn’t write it!” They still love me and I still love them so no burnt bridges there. 
I have,  since the long conversation with my loved one, done a lot introspection and even thought about the joy I get and always got while writing. I’m still scared of the reaction I might bring from him after this post. But I’m gonna brave it. Sylvia Plath was more than just a woman who stuck her head in the oven. Emily Dickinson was more than just a recluse. Edgar Allan Poe was more than just a drunk. They were all writers who sought to change the world and while some people don’t remember that about them and their social and mental well-being has become more important that their poetry and prose. I, for one, do not forget that their best work came when they were in their complete mental faculties and in fact their respective illnesses made their lives tragically short. It is important to separate the insanity from the writer because otherwise we fall prey to foolish and confining psychological theories like the “Sylvia Plath effect”. They wrote to break free and not to be chained by their minds. I have a wicked ambition to do the same. 

The Artist

She sits in the corner of the room

You think she is waiting

For some kind of life to start

But little do you know

She is not sitting waiting for life

For she IS LIFE

 

You see the emptiness in her room

She sees the wind

Carving a story in the space

A story waiting to be told

Through her weary body

For her body and mind are one!

 

I have always wondered what that’s like

Mine denies me every time I hold a pen

Hers just flows like the river

A constant stream of emotion

She only owns herself

For she knows she is the best prize

 

You have a word of the day?

She is that word

The first line of your favorite book?

She lives that line everyday

The world tries to drown her voice in its insipid silence

For that voice can only be heard by the brave

 

So I’m back in this room

Looking at her from afar

She gets up; walks on over;

And everything behind her is a shadow

She doesn’t know she’s a ray of hope

She doesn’t know she’s a star…

Weeping Woman

Embraces suffering like an old friend

walks with her head surrendered

looks up only when dreaming of joy

her heart is ignorant of its own wonders

 

Her mirror is a friend and a foe

that smile – a guileless weapon

her sorrow has more courage

those tears – precious heathens

 

Lives inside a guiltless frame

becomes real to all those who walk by

and if they see those tears up close

they’ll find Dora Maar has just smiled…

the-weeping-woman

Chiaroscuro

打印

I am the light

In the depth of the dark

I don’t pray for a nightmare

In the middle of a dream

But sometimes we need the darkness

For lights to stream

In

I am sometimes the beauty

Behind the sickly lies

Another push and I will be done

Another drink in me

And you will be the one

For sometimes we need

A million endings to begin

I am your tears

At the end of a tough day

I am also your smile

Blushing crimson in love

I thrive in the depths of your mind

Inside the folds of endless treasure troves

I cautiously breathe in

In the tiny air

It feels small

To be dreaming of life

Inside a tin box

I dream of eternity

Inside your clocks

In

This moment

I live I die

I breathe

I fly

I keep

Secrets in my dreams; in this moment

I let you in….

chiaroscuro

The Song

As they float in
These forlorn notes
They bring about a memory
Of the times you were held close

As the voice spreads out
Through the cracks of the black veil
You wonder why this song
Leaves your heart broken and pale

Then comes the joy
so sweet and contagious
From the heart of the Irishman
A voice so loud yet magnanimous

Some they make you dance
Others make your soul cry
But each one plays some part
In the story of your life

image

The Magpie

image

He painted a breeze
Then hoped for a sigh
From the frosted trees
In his heartland

They spoke sometimes
The colors of white
The sparkling snow
It prayed the winter night

His world, it bloomed with
the green of the grass
The gold of the hay
The dripping nectar of flowers

He lived in loss
Filled his eyes only with a color
To make do
Without life’s mystical blurs….

His Starry Night

image

His starry night
Floats in the sky
With colors sublime

I wondered when
He became a muse
In my sands of time

Did he hear them
Begging him to stop
Tearing himself apart

Or on happier days
Did he just sigh
At the night full of stars

****

Sometimes lost
In a woeful translation
Of beaming joy

At other times
With a paint that smiles
Like a bemused little boy

But at length
A shadow appears
A challenge to the battle weary

Turning his night
Into a dark abyss
Of colors so starry!

Maybe he lived for those of us
Who wish to live
In a colorful apparition

And not those
Who rant of life
Like an unlikely desperation…