The Double Image- Reflections On Social Responsibility – SRL No 16 Foreword by Alex March

Perhaps only three times have I read a poem and been truly affected by it.

One time was on reading an Anne Sexton poem (The Double Image) here in Stockholm, a poem which has the line:

And I had to learn
why I would rather
die than love.

The week I’m writing this (September 5-11) is National Suicide Prevention week and this line by Anne Sexton touched a particular nerve and made me think about two friends who took their lives three years ago. The phrasing in Sexton’s poem: ‘And I had to learn’, emphasises the cruel lesson which depression gives us, the chemical exchange in the brain which has no rational reason but asks questions of you that you don’t really have the answer to.

Sexton’s poem addresses how her desire to look after her child is being foreshadowed by her long standing struggle with depression. She writes an anti-love poem for her daughter, explaining all the reasons why she was unable to love her through her formative years. A confession which shows how her declining mental health has forced her to adopt a new kind of philosophy. The pain of having this intimate stranger in her life means she has to rethink her own existence, her own priorities and come to terms with the tragic situation in front of her. Sometimes life dictates that love is not something that can be simply tapped at the source. What Sexton does beautifully is take the chance to break the taboo that loving someone is for some reason natural or unconditional when everything around you is screaming lie.

Why this poem sings loudly for me now and this week in particular, is in the UK, where I am from, our public health service is being dismantled and privatised. Which means mental health services will be set upon by the free market and individuals in the same situation as Sexton are treated as customers rather than patients.

Beck Levy is an artist and writer who has had to deal with severe depression for a large part of her life and writes a rallying call on this subject for National Suicide Prevention Week-

“The bottom line is that in this ongoing crisis, “awareness” and “ending stigma” are toothless if depoliticized. All the awareness in the world won’t dismantle for-profit healthcare. Applying free-market principles to human needs wreaks havoc on our bodies. Awareness won’t end capitalism’s tyranny over our survival… All the awareness in the world won’t change the problematic definition of disability as contingent on one’s level of participation in the economy/desirability in the labor market. Ending stigma won’t end the reality that, in a carceral society founded on inequality, to be marked different/deviant is to be marked disposable.” (Suicide Didn’t Kill Me, but Capitalism Might)

What I loved and what pained me most about Sexton’s poem is the airing of her guilt in the ways in which society has made her feel for ‘abandoning’ her child. Choosing her self-preservation over her child’s is a selfish act society tells us, how can a good family function when you are choosing yourself over something more vulnerable than you. Capitalism will calmly place this idea in your head and then never protect you when you become vulnerable in the process.

Sexton writes in ‘The Double Image’-

Once I mailed you a picture of a rabbit
and a postcard of
Motif number one,
as if it were normal
to be a mother and be gone.

But what is normal in a crisis. When a capitalist society is stream-lined to function without the sick, when all pressure is piled back upon you by being apart, you have to grasp to the desperate idea of sending an image of a rabbit as a form of caring for someone. Turning to poetry, turning to a rhyme scheme is for Sexton a cave of catharsis that she has carved out for herself. She is sending to the shoreline of her and her daughter’s relationship something which will cloud out the witches calling her ‘selfish’, ‘absent’ or ‘irresponsible’.

*

Someone once wrote about poetry that it stops the clock. It casts all around you obsolete for as long as you are tuned into it. You are alone with a page and you are having a conversation. Far more than prose or drama, for me it is a two way exchange. With Sexton I feel she wrote this knowing it was a conversation she would have with her daughter later on, perhaps knowing she wouldn’t be around for much longer. When her daughter was ready she could take this explanation, like you might find an answer-phone message you forgot to listen to and understand that in writing this poem she is packaging the care she wants to feel for her daughter.

And I take comfort with this idea of poetry as packaged care. When the clock is stopped and you are alone with it, somehow it doesn’t matter that the words come years later than you were ready to hear them.

‘The Double Image’ Ending:
I, who was never quite sure
about being a girl, needed another
life, another image to remind me.
And this was my worst guilt; you could not cure
nor soothe it. I made you to find me.

*

Sofia, Sarvat, Cian and I wish you a pleasant reading.

Alex


SRL issue 16 will be published Sunday 18 September. We are looking forward to read fiction by:

Giselle Leeb
Julia Armfield
Kristoffer Cras
Shane Jones
Rachelle Zalter
Elizabeth Cohen

and poetry by

Susan Fealy
Anton Yakovlev and Sergei Esenin in translation by Anton Yakovlev
Lucy Durneen
James Fisher
Madeleine Braun
Laura Mullen

Changing Roles at The Stockholm Review

As work on the 16th issue of The Stockholm Review of Literature begins, Sofia Capel will take over the role as Editor-in-chief.

I — the departing one — would like to thank all of the writers who, over the course of the last two years, have offered this tiny and humble publication the opportunity to publish their work. Without your tireless efforts to produce great art, and without your unyielding support and encouragement, the SRL would not have lived to celebrate its second birthday (August 9th!).

In equal measure, I would like to thank all of the people who have read the SRL, and who keep coming back to read every new issue. You are indeed the very reason the SRL continues to publish new work, and we delight in every single one of you.

Now, before I go:

  1. If anyone who reads this would like to give me a job — location isn’t that important, but I’d prefer it to be inside the EU — I’ll most likely take it. I’d like the equivalent of €12/hour, a free gym pass and a health care plan. I don’t really care what the job is, as long as it doesn’t involve extreme physical exertion (I’m done prize fighting rabid chickens on merchant navy boats — that was a phase, I was young, I was stupid, I don’t do it anymore — so please reserve those offers for someone else).
  2. If you’re a Swedish or American writer, then check out this new thing that I’m working on. It’s not much, yet, but if you’re interested in having some part in it, then go ahead and let me know.
  3. If you’re a Londoner or a European writer living in or near London, then don’t forget to show up at The Nines in Peckham on August 31st for the SRL’s European poetry night. It won’t be any fun without you.

Last but not least, I’d like to give special thanks to Sofia, Sarvat, Alex and Cian, who make sure not only that the SRL maintains its high standards, but also that it continues to improve. They really do put their hearts and souls into this whole thing, and they genuinely deserve your continued praise and support.

Thanks!

Ted

London: European Poetry & Prose Event

In the wake of the UK’s recent decision to leave the EU, the Stockholm Review of Literature and indie publishing house Sidekick Books are determined to gather some of Europe’s most talented poets and writers under the same roof for our first joint event.

What: an evening of poetry and prose.

Theme: European languages.

Who we’re looking for: European writers who are interested in giving readings of their original language poetry or short prose, as well as in having their work translated into English and read out by a fellow writer.

The UK may have voted to leave the European Union, but mainland Europeans are still very much part of Britain and especially of London. We are still here and our voices will continue to be heard.

Where: The Nines, Peckham, London, SE15 3SN
When: Wednesday 31 August

Get in touch with samples of your poetry/short prose: stockholmlitreview@gmail.com

Please mark your  email “European languages”.