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Raise the Bar

17 May 2017

While my mental health and other limitations can make my world feel quite small and confined, within those constrictions I like to find new things to do, to keep my mind and imagination alive and make my small world feel bigger.

I didn't always hate poetry.

As a small child I enjoyed the short, clever, funny poetry all children seemed to do. But then came high school, relentlessly forced to analyse bleak poems about war; grim and joyless subjects I had no connection with. Poetry became about study, the study felt like a post-mortem. It was no longer something to experience, something to enjoy.

In the intervening years any brushes with poetry have only added to my dislike, open mike nights where self important people with pointy beards read mind-numbing and self-indulgent dirges which I couldn't relate to. Poetry seemed like something that was never going to connect with me.

This changed when I happened across of a YouTube video of Shane Koyczan, a Canadian spoken word poet, reading his poem "To This Day", a poem about bullying and it's deep and long term consequences. It was so powerful I almost felt winded. Instantly I felt reconnected with poetry. When I read that he was performing in Bristol last week I had to go to see him.

The support acts were a surprise. They were an array of spoken word poets who all acknowledged Mental Health Awareness Week and tailored their performances to reflect this. Almost all talked about their own experiences of mental illness; they made it seem like the norm, that people were able to just be who they are and be accepted. Someone mentioned a quote which said spoken word was created so the socially anxious finally got to hear their own applause. It seemed like a very welcoming world. It was organised by "Raise the Bar - Spoken Word" and I'd really recommend attending one of their nights.

I wanted share with everyone a poem by Shane Koyczan which I heard that night. These are his own thoughts about the poem followed by the poem itself. I made a donation to his site as a thank you.

"I am often asked for answers I don’t have. Some of the questions I get are funny, but others are more severe. They come from a place of fear, confusion, and pain. I struggle with not having the keys to unlock each person from their particular torment. It weighs on me that so often the only thing I’m armed with are the numbers to hotlines that can hopefully help more than I can. I’m not trained to counsel people in from their individual ledges. I do what I can, and sometimes it’s enough to acknowledge people… sometimes they just need to feel seen or heard. Other times I’m at a loss… I try to respond and all that comes back is “page not found”, so I’m left wondering what became of the person on the other end of line. I don’t think I could count to how many sleepless nights it’s led to.

There’s a lot more to unpack here than I’m able to at the moment, but I wrote this piece that I started to think about while staring at a piece of graffiti I came across while on a walk. The piece was beautiful… the colours lush and vibrant, but I couldn’t read what it said. It got me to thinking that we don’t always know what it is we’re looking at, and that just happens to be a parallel for our lives. Sometimes we stand back to look at it, and while we can admire the line work, the textures, and the gradient, we miss the meaning. We aren’t able to translate it into something our consciousness can digest. I wrote this about trying to find acceptance in not knowing… I’m not sure that peace is possible in this regard… I don’t know.”