April 15th 2016
Audre Lorde wakes me up at night. I have Bipolar, so sleep is precious. But Audre doesn’t care. Now for me to write I have Bipolar in a public, permanent space - I hope you know that’s a revolution. There are those I’ve loved who I’ve never said those words to. What does that mean about you, stranger? Do I love you more? Or love myself more, somehow, without a human face in front of me? I’ll tell you.
It takes so much energy to not say. So much meticulousness to not reveal. Like Sisyphus I’ve rolled that thick secret (mental illness) up the hill, only to watch it inevitably roll back down, sometimes flattening me on its way back. It’s an eternity, silence. Hell’s quickmud at your ankles: stigma’s momentum. This isn’t poetic. It’s not deep. It’s the simple fact of a simple life: I kept it from employers (of course), new friends (not yet), and wore a wide, closed smile to family holiday gatherings. I was encouraged to. Keep the peace. No one needs to know. It’s private. Those are not my words. Say what you will about fear, it does its job.
“And when we speak we are afraid/our words will not be heard/nor welcomed/but when we are silent/we are still afraid/So it is better to speak.” So it is better to speak. In the last year I have found myself explicitly speaking my story, often so frightened at the weight of revelation that I am unable to sleep - only to be woken by Audre when I do. On the other side of speaking I have found profound joy, a cackling laughter that points to fear as nothing but a little man behind a curtain. Do you know what happens when we speak? Do you know what happens when we speak?
We define ourselves. We exemplify that we are not just hospital-socked zombies or raging uncontrollable messes repeatedly depicted in media. We are also not high-octane redemption stories used to infuse meaning into the lives of the able-bodied. In this spirit of precision & complexity, it thrilled me to edit this issue. Can you imagine the luxury of sifting through endless voices all describing mental illness for themselves? My sheer gluttony!
These writers did not come to play. The poems you’ll find here are lit with music, unrelenting in scope & capable of the greatest compliment: they question. They question everything: the misfirings, the so-called Self, diagnoses, the coming-up-for-air, every blood-sopping card dealt. They bite back at history, revise the revisions. They could give a fuuuhhh about language rules. In the words of one writer, “from out the mud we siren eternal / blud royals of lost skin & shadow / I un-blood you to blud you.” I echo Audre again when I say, “Without community, there is no liberation.” One voice is never enough to smash the sketches & suppositions. Only together can we paint the wide, wild truth(s).
Here we are. Knowing what we know. Ready to wake you up at night.
Shira Erlichman Poetry Editor
I approached the selection of the works for Reshaping the Bell Jar with no curatorial vision in mind; rather, I wanted to see the various insights that individuals living with a mental illness wanted to share, in hopes of facilitating a conversation between artists that would develop organically. I was excited to see a breadth of works that demystified the views of mental illnesses as being "disorders" and instead offered the viewer a glimpse into how the artists view the world from this different lens. From the figurative to the abstract, and encompassing a range of materials, the artists and their works presented in this issue instigate a dialogue on identity, of longing, of being possessed, and reconciliation.
Timothy Hyunsoo Lee Art Editor