A review of Schizophrenia Poetry by M. Stefan Strozier

Some of the poetry is subtly humorous, such as the cleverly written “The Graveyard,” a poem written in 69 rhyming, heroic couplets. At first glance this looks like an anachronistic, and chaotic wandering in the clichéd landscape of Ancient Greek mythology, but a careful reading reveals a modern journey.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Schizophrenia Poetry
By M. Stefan Strozier
Paperback: 60 pages, April 2006, $10.00
http://www.worldaudience.org/pubs_bks_index.html

Schizophrenia Poetry pulls no punches. Like its straightforward title, the poems cover the Rimbaud inspired terrain of insanity. It tackles the limits and struggles of maintaining daily existence in our world of cloaks and roles. The poems tend to be first person, describing hallucinations, fear, paranoia, the daily drift towards death, and the relationship between these mainly psychological experiences and the way we move forward in a ‘normal’ life. At its strongest, it is brave and bare, a kind of Season in Hell as the poet struggles with ambivalence towards the double edge sword of madness, as in “Flying”:

I could not believe it
Something must be wrong
In fact, everything
Was horribly wrong;
Except, there was no denying
I was in the air
And flying (34)

Strozier uses metaphor well, likening madness to a strange gift, to a secret power, or to a cruel but powerful muse:

Confusion left my mind
How can I live without her?
She was cruel and unkind
But she made my pen purr (“Freeverse,” 12)

There are poems which view insanity an open door, inviting the reader in, such as “Waking Dreams,” which moves from struggle against the “world of dreams” to an acceptance of an alternative reality. Using line width and an increase to doublespacing to slow the poem down in the second half, Strozier changes the voice and structure to lead the reader along:

Here,

Follow me

This is the place

Beyond the abysses

I see clearly through fogs

Where backwater channels

Struggling against time

And cosmic forces

Desire not sleep (10)

The poems are always conscious of rhythm, creating meaning through sound, sibilance, and visual representation of emotional stress:

Whipping through the hollows
Screaming for recognition
In my heart
In my weary heart in my weary heart
And your tired eyes and your tired eyes
I can see in the storm (“Scream,” 11)

Some of the poetry is subtly humorous, such as the cleverly written “The Graveyard,” a poem written in 69 rhyming, heroic couplets. At first glance this looks like an anachronistic, and chaotic wandering in the clichéd landscape of Ancient Greek mythology, but a careful reading reveals a modern journey. Like Joyce’s Ulysses, the piece is tracks wanderings very much set in today’s world, including the corridors of a hospital, complete with Bob Marley, Quenton Tarantino, and the ageless quest for meaning, amidst Persephone, a labyrinth and Minotaur (metaphors perhaps for insanity as pursuer and seductress):

Here’s a lunatic; yet, perhaps only truth survives; for, where are your words?
This is one more question: evil truth; are humans a thing of God’s words…?

Down icy waters I drown, driven mad by sounds
And, freezing cold, now my heart, ever-slower pounds (32)

At times the mythology, humour and even rhythm threaten the impact and honesty of the poem, as in “Hey! Mr. Blind, One Eyed Giant, Nobody Tricked Me Too!” where the metaphors are just too heavily mixed, falling over one another before the image has time to become clear in the reader’s mind. The rhythmic words too might work in an outloud reading, but taken on the page are overly heavy and place a distance between the reader, and the poet:

I; a soul breathing life like a holy wholly woken wooly mastidon
Immaculately emancipated (bit emaciated) en-masse from immense, amassed
massy mass
“Let the game begin-egad!”
I whispered out to Nobody, in particular.(18)

Nevertheless, these are unique and original poems. They require a thoughtful reading, but will repay the reader with an original and inventive insight, not only into the struggle of mental illness, but also to the often hidden pleasure and joy, of both schizophrenia itself, and the creative process. Ultimately, although there is much pain and trauma in these poems, the poet smiles “at the secret” he holds. It’s one he bravely shares with the reader.

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