People who have followed Mad In America regularly enough over the past few years may be familiar with the general outlines of my story: that I was struck with schizophrenia and voicehearing experiences starting 15 years ago; that I have done my best to go through the experience as naturally as possible and, when possible, without drugs, which have been forced on me but which have done nothing in the past five years to interrupt, disrupt, or otherwise affect the frequency or depths of my voicehearing experiences, which include activities like transcribing poetry and translating the Book of Genesis, among other literary efforts; and that these literary efforts at present include taking dictation and transcription from a voice that identifies itself simply as representing The Writer or sometimes as The Writer himself. It seems The Writer is male. I have also made it clear that I regard these voices as originating in something we would only ever call “the Beyond,” whether that is in the realm of spirits or aliens or whatever else and in whatever combination we can at best only imagine and all of which, strange as it sounds, probably have existed at some point or another somewhere in the Universe(s), including the phenomenon we call God.
The Writer has now outlined a significant work through my hands, a work that I believe shows the kind of qualitative proof that it is a voice from the Beyond. It is, quite simply, a work that is too human not to be an honest account, told by a voice of someone who lived (or lives) at some point a long time ago, such as—as the text identifies—London in 1682 A.D. Whether the voice is telling the truth about particular incidents probably cannot be determined, or at least I am not going to try to do so. It is the quality of the testimony, and the profoundly well-composed narrative, that makes me pay attention, which I know since The Writer dictated this testimony or account or epic poem to me personally. This is the voice of some neglected poet of the past.
The Writer thinks it should make clear how this account affects my (Eric Coates’s) personal ambitions for my own life, ambitions that now include providing an outlet for these voices that choose to dictate things through me. I was, myself, in a former life and as a much younger person than I am now, a poet and writer, and the piece of writing that has been reported to me as being by The Writer (the voice) and Reinaldo, the author of the work, apparently interrelates with things that I wrote when I was that younger person. In other words, Reinaldo’s “Recitation” is in some ways custom fit to interlock with my own (Eric’s) human writings.
Thus, The Writer would like me to set down what interests him about Eric Coates’s writing. This will consist of three poems from Eric, just to show what interests The Writer in him personally. Following that, I present a section of Reinaldo’s own “Recitation,” and then a piece of Eric’s again to show the complementarity and such related matters between the two.
So: on to the poems.
I, Eric Coates, was about 20 years old when I wrote my first real poem, as I considered it then: A poem that seemed well composed and meaningfully constructed in some way. At that age I was floundering around on the shoals of poetry as a very most beginning writer, struggling all by myself to master the English language and how to express my thoughts and, indeed, to learn to have real thoughts of my own which I could even describe, and so forth. So when I sat down and wrote this, I was simply figuring out the poem as I went along writing it, grasping after each image as it came along, and the truth is that I really had no idea where the poem was going when I started it, which was often the way I wrote until I started writing prose instead of poetry. I would begin with an interesting thought, and then just sort of find the right thing to say next. It was very haphazard, depending on luck this way to write. And so, what my voice says is that the way this one, very first poem of mine, called “Presence,” actually talks about voicehearing more than 15 years before I ever heard voices must be a sign from God of what was going to happen to the human being I was.
I have heard the voices
Behind the hill and stack of wheat,
From the opening of the barn,
And from the water
That runs through my backyard;
And felt the presence of a lover,
Or of something else that hovers
As if I were its child;
Something great, and something terrible,
But also something mild.
And I have turned to see
If someone followed me,
And been afraid,
And pretending not to hurry
So: Eric’s very first poem was about voicehearing. As indicated, this is rather an ominous beginning for someone who was to become known chiefly for hearing voices. So, the next poem shows a side of Eric a few years later, a side that is sort of dark, and that became very, very characteristic of his writing later on. He was very much a follower of a sort of dark, Germanic strain of poetry that included Milosz and Trakl and Celan and went through some of the French Symbolists and Surrealists, even if it might not be immediately obvious how that happened to influence Eric’s writing. In any case, the voices representing The Writer say that they are particularly fond of this one poem, “Patience,” which they say was composed when Eric was 24 years old and had been writing for only five years.
Out here in the woods what I need
Is less a lover than a companion,
A quiet friend who understands
How long the winter is and how it stretches
Farther than a person’s patience. Someone who can respect
The hedge of silence that has grown up in my house
And not pry at it with questions, who will realize
That my habits give me something to keep in sight
Through the bewildering thickets of the days. Once my feet
Have left the ruts there is no telling
Where they will wander. Sometimes, on a particularly
Clear night, when I imagine
The moon is calling me and it grows difficult
Not to break free of everything, only the stillness
Reflected in my friend’s observing eyes
Keeps the nervousness unbroken, keeps
The both of us alive.
The last of Eric’s poems that we will show here is particularly important for The Writer and his crew of voices, who all declare their allegiance to the concept of God and who wish to be looked at as Aliens, since that is how people would understand them. They say that this poem is another example of some special kind of intervention by God, it almost seems, except that they realize that Eric did, indeed, conceive of this poem at a time when he was a barely restrained atheist-turned-agnostic. We find it interesting that he was willing, as an agnostic atheist, to nevertheless give expression of this sort to a desire for God.
The way clouds gather
In the outline of a face,
The booming emptiness
Of the landscape finds
An answering note in my chest . . . .
But how will I know you?
Someone keeps painting over the signs,
Pointing your way,
While I sleep. As with a separated limb
I look to see what is missing,
And as with the cairns to which
Each passing stranger added another stone,
There, in the endless moonlight
As the endless hour before dawn
Stretches into the endless distance,
I hear new stones
Being thrown onto the pile,
The clatter of them
Echoing from the heights that tells me:
I am not alone.
And when I’ve perfected my solitude
As You have,
You will enter and reduce me
To one of those anonymous,
Gray weathered stones whose only glory
Is to mark a path,
To mark the road that is all
Of You we can ever know.
So much for Eric’s early work, and this is quite early.
What The Writer would like to look at most closely is the work to be known as Reinaldo’s “Recitation,” whose full title is “In Memory of Wine: A Recitation by One Reinaldo, of Blessed Memory.”
Reinaldo’s “Recitation” began as a relatively normal dictation experience for me, except that it began as notes that just sort of exploded into being one day when I was working on something else, and then it turned into a process where I was dictated to and sometimes was instructed word by word in revising a work that is complex and unique.
The material identifies London, 1682 as the setting for what takes place, which unfurls in an epic poem. I myself do not yet know it all well enough to accurately outline everything it describes, but it includes general knowledge about London and then the particulars of incidents that took place there. Witches are burned; heretics denounced; treason declared, and the treasonous punished.
One of the things that I mean by qualitative proof is something like the lines that go:
And now upon our way we slink,
and cum’st at last to ye Olde Clynke;
now we’ll sit and have ourselves a beer,
and I will tell a tale to hear,
how once upon a time, my loves,
sent here by Charles like three stuff’t doves,
did’st once hang Cromwell and two friends above;
It is the image of the lines, “sent here by Charles like three stuff’d doves, didst once hang Cromwell and two friends above;” — it is almost inconceivable to think that anyone would even think, even have the historical references in mind, to come up with that line.
So I would like to quote two short sections of the poem, from a part called “Part the Second,” which again makes you see what the times really were like for those who lived through the Great Plague of London.
Part the Second
From Tavern to Graveyard to Dock
But leap ahead now seven years,
and as we pass around a tray of beers,
we ring up the list of all the dead;
for though I am but lately wed,
I now find myself alone in bed,
for she that whom I lately married
hath put herself down for to be buried,
as though ’twere nothing but a load to carry
for which one called the horse and carriage —
the same that took us through our marriage —
to have her taken back to church,
where all the newest stones do lean and lurch
from all the blood that’s in the ground,
leaching out from all the Sound,
or so they say down in the town;
but who doth know what they’ll say next?
All I know is when my wife did take her rest,
I found a note close by her head
with all she ever wished she said
next to the one cup that she drank;
some smoke from out her innards stank;
with poison had the cup been lymed,
though it smelled a bit of thyme;
some concoction someone at some time
might have said, a bit of rhyme,
that fair Griselda brought to mind
at the dawning of that awful Time,
when the dread and awful plague
did through the streets of London rage,
brought withal by evil wind,
that first of Stuarts did let in;
but that is neither here nor there;
we did once quite the quarrel bare;
but all I did but mean to say
is that some thought of Judgement Day,
and sum’st did think to beat their fate
that rose from out the foul grates
by taking them a cup of wine,
in which they cut a bit of lyme,
which they swallowed in the quickest time,
for it did burn both ways going down;
then you just sit and wait around;
as with leaden Time, you seem just fine,
but having drunk of Living Death,
you soon are dying from a lack of breath.
They say it’s really cheap,
and you could buy it off the street,
but much better is the brewing,
to get the potion strong and sweet;
but on the day it’s time for mowing,
and you for once don’t feel like going,
brew withal a bit of wine, then set yourself
down upon your chosen shelf.
Then, once you really know you’re going,
when it’s more than just a gentle slowing,
you just fall asleep;
they say it’s very long and very deep,
and sometimes even takes a week
before you wake at Kingdom Come.
Well, it seems my wife went quickly;
she didn’t look so very sickly.
I buried her right then at dawn,
and it really didn’t take that long;
so there’s really not that much to say,
but that for did her body lay
as I strove to dig the grave,
there but to one side;
and as I worked, my bride,
from whom I lately had but thought to hide,
stared on me close with her dead eyes;
they never quite had really closed;
they stared down almost on her nose;
I rummaged then about my bag,
and hung over her face a rag;
and as I dug her hole there in my health,
I took to toast my own sweet self;
and as I took my fill of water,
I thought of all the hogs they’d slaughtered
as their blood began to leach into the grave;
so with an old half-broken shovel
that I fetched from out some nearby hovel
for to splash the filthy stuff around,
dropped Griselda in the grave quite bare,
took a lock of her bright hair,
looked around my grief to share,
then took breath of the freezing air
and calmly walked away.
There are too many sections of the poem to mention clearly and specifically here. One part, for instance, describes a brutal assault where a living giant of a man slaughters a room full of slaves while bystanders watch and make bets on who, if any of them, will survive. Another part describes the horrible spectacle of seeing men hung and witches burned.
I will quote one last section. This section is known as Nurse’s Bridle, and it comes directly out of a book that was printed, my voice says, in 1682 in a little-known bookshop in what was then known as Printer’s Alley. The subject matter means that it should be as well known now as it was then, when people also referred to it as Curse’s Bridle. Curse’s Bridle was also used at times on the mad.
Part the Third
A Stroll Past ye Olde Clynke
And she who doth wear Gossip’s Bridle,
wears it now, for once thought idle,
it’s the only thing your newest Bride’ll
need to keep her being Bride well;
oh, Bridle, Bridle, Nurse’s Bridle, Curse’s Bridle,
oh, just do wear that Worst of Bridles,
until at last you go to Bride’s Hell;
oh, for what can but a lonely Bride tell
of what happened on the way to Bridewell;
oh, Bridle, Bridle, Nurse’s Bridle, Curse’s Bridle;
oh, but get thee up and go to Bridewell;
oh, get thee hence now, Gossip’s Bridle.
So sang the folk when I was young,
when about a woman’s face was hung
a basket made of flattened wire,
from which did out protrude one wire
that rested on the tongue;
the whole thing was made quite well to fit
each lass on whom the thing did sit,
for they did make quite much of it
to heat the wire glowing red
and get it close about her head
until she doth rear back in fright;
it was indeed a gruesome sight, and one for to be pitied,
for all throughout the city, they did hear then all the news;
another woman hath been much abused,
and now they gag from out her mouth the news — !
And all of us knew that it was true.
And, to make the connection between Eric’s writing and the writing that composes Reinaldo’s “Recitation,” there is the seriousness of the work. Eric is mostly a very serious poet, one who is (or who used to be) interested in what we would call a confessional or grimly realistic point of view, and Reinaldo has a certain similarity in his taste for the grim.
So when you consider this next poem of Eric’s, written more than 20 years ago, you can see that, in working with The Writer’s and of Reinaldo’s material he is also looking at the sort of thing he would indeed have wanted to be working with: serious, soberly considered poetry. And this is, really, just the beginning of a whole river of other writing projects that are either in progress already or will be soon.
One day it will happen:
Looking down from a railway trestle
Through the ties, searching my image
On the fast moving water, where it shifts
In a pool of color, and breaks as my body strikes it;
Or one day, looking out from a high window
To the bed of grass below, answering
The summons of the air;
To be looking,
Not in a room full of windows
Set too high to see out of, where the machinery
Keeps me from raising my head —
Not the final sight
Of a nurse above, then blinded by lamps, but to look out
Or if not looking, at least in a dream,
To go out and walk without turning, til the place where I started
Disappears in the trees —
Or to find myself on a train,
Staining the glass with my forehead, watching the mountains pass:
At the highest point, I’d like to stop a minute,
And step out on the platform in the winter sunshine and look
Out over the land and engrave its shape in my memory
Before the conductor calls me back on board
And the train rolls infinitely away.
If you have interest in this sort of material or have things to share with me of a similar nature, I would be very interested. The complete text of Reinaldo’s “Recitation” will be appearing soon. Check the author’s page on Amazon; the link is in the bio at the end of this article.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.