By J. David:
I enjoy poetry that is murky enough to leave room for the individualism of readership; saving space in the poem for you as you are, inviting you into the world it imagines— what emerges is entirely a matter of self, what has been brought into the poetic imagination mingled with the work on the page. Upheavals is like this, with the potential to inspire whatever conversation is necessary within the reader. Some of the important ones that come to mind: the border between reader accessibility and exploration of content/form, the visibility of male survivors of abuse, among others. Within myself, these poems inspired a conversation about the way the large umbrella of “entertainment” covers mental illness and suicide— “entertainment,” being books, music, movies, art, television, etc. etc.
So often in depiction, mental illness becomes a spectacle: something viewed from the outside-in. Pop culture is ripe with examples of mental illness (depression being particularly in-vogue at the moment) being used to further a narrative, functioning as a character gimmick, or the ole tried-and-true protagonist befriends sad person and fixes them (my favorite flavor of this is the “good [insert gender here]” falling for the “edgy” [insert gender here] with generational traumas and substance abuse). This commodification of depression has permeated everything from Thirteen Reasons Why being a tragically destructive and terrible debacle (an aside: I read this book almost ten years ago, for my Freshman English class and it was the catalyst for a great discussion about mental illness that lasted an entire semester, so I look favorably on the book) to all the bullshit indie junk Urban Outfitters rolls out (half of their shirts have some sort of problematic nonsense on scribed across the front, and in 2016 they had the bright idea of selling both flasks shaped like pill bottles and “Shampoo for Suicidal Hair”).
To be clear, I have no issue with the attempt at representation in popular culture. What I take issue with is blatant misrepresentation and representation that functions to romanticize mental illness. Let’s be honest, books have a huge impact on people— always have, always will. What you put in your books matters. What you put in your books matters. What you put in your books matters. That includes people with mental illness too. We are responsible for how we engage with and present it also, and some people (hem hem John Green) do a disservice in their presentation of mental illness.
I can’t speak for anyone else when I say this, but I will say that what I needed most during bouts with mental illness when I was younger was someone who had words for the feelings and things churning within me I could find no way to name. To know I wasn’t really alone. I preferred this person be older than me— so I could look and see some potential of survival. Name the demon and it shall have no power over you, while that isn’t true, it’s a start.
Had I read Upheavals at 16, maybe it would’ve made a difference. I can’t say for certain but I know I wish for some younger self to be able to have engaged with it. Zackary Lavoie captures within it words for the sometimes unnamable- the disconnect from body simmering into a callous indifference to impermanence (take the blood from my willing corpse and boil): “ tell me how / to admit to my body i no longer / covet it ”; the propensity to notice death everywhere, the way in which every facet of your life somehow becomes permeable to it (early October): “ this morning i watched a leaf die i watched / the supple life drain from / its stem and saw rust inhaled from its imperfect edges / i die the same way / from the outside in. ”
The titular sequence of poems in the book engage with suicidal ideations and struggle in a way that neither romanticizes or encourages them while still offering no shame or condemnation, my favorite one being upheaval of the ideation: “ i spent this morning on the bridge above / comparing bodies to mountains / and how happiness can leave the body through sublimation if / the surrounding air is hot enough. ” This book is for the sad boys (the sleepy boy) to read and hopefully lead them into moments where they “rise— Unbent” (aubade to rest after abuse).