Book Review: Please Hear What I’m Not Saying
is a battle I never agreed to fight.”
–Battle by Bethany Gordon, Please Hear What I’m Not Saying
It has been nearly a year since Isabelle Kenyon compiled and edited the poetry anthology Please Hear What I’m Not Saying and it is as relevant today as it was on the first day of publication. I wish that we didn’t have to say that mental illness was timeless, that somehow these illnesses would find cures so that people wouldn’t have to suffer from them. I wish that we would be able to look from the future into the past and wonder at how people survived these kinds of difficulties. Though all of my wishes won’t make that happen, the poets contained in this powerful anthology offer up their pain, confusion and their negotiation of a world that can be dismissive and cruel to them, as a testament to how they endure.
When I read Bethany Gordon’s opening line to Battle, it brought tears to my eyes. It touched me because a battle indicates the smaller part of a war, and there is no small part in battling mental illness. I feel this struggle. I felt her sentiment echo in my own mind as I considered my own very recent diagnosis. I do not want to fight a battle, not this one, here in the battlefield of my mind. But neither does Bethany or any of the other poets in this book. And still we are called to battle, given the choice to fight or give up. This choice is not always an easy one to make.
“This book is divided into sections – the idea is that the sections grow with positivity and that, by the end of the book, you will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Therefore, please feel free to dip in and out of sections, and if you begin to find the words too heavy, please do nip straight to the last sections for a breather!”
–Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, Isabelle Kenyon
Kenyon warns the reader, rightly so, in her opening letter that readers should exercise self care when reading this book. This is a warning well heeded. Early poems in this book are weighted with sorrow and confusion. I am brought through the eyes of experiences I cannot possibly imagine on my own in vivid detail. Sometimes I believe that poetry is the best vehicle for emotional imagery, as a reader it allows me space to construct things on my own and to reach deep for understanding that is sometimes too prescriptive in exposition. Poetry that tells the truth is often uncomfortable, unflinching and brave. These poems are all of that and more.
“hissing in your ears
interfering with your thoughts
filling you with fears
yet depression is snaking around you”
–The Sibilance of Depression by CR Smith, Please Hear What I’m Not Saying
CR Smith lets us into the place where depression goes to hide, like so many other mental illnesses. These are invisible to the naked eye. Sometimes, a tell tale sign will show on the surface, but it is rarely identified with a person’s struggle. Often, others see these different behaviors as strange or confusing. The hissing that Smith references here is something I understand. It fills in the crevices where no one can see and settles in as if it belongs there. The truth of the human experience is that we all have our struggles and most of them are invisible to others. I don’t know if the person standing next to me on the train is commuting without a care, or if they are holding themselves together with every ounce of courage to fight an anxiety attack because there are too many of us crammed into one car. If I take the time to consider this, in any situation, I find that my views toward others is changed. Smith makes me realize that as much as I know people have no idea what is truly going on in my mind, the opposite is true.
is getting out of bed, even though
it is past noon and everyone walking past
has seen that your curtains are still closed.”
–Invicted by SM. Jenkin, Please Hear What I’m Not Saying
As promised from the editor’s letter the book sheds light on positivity like the victories penned by Jenkin in Invicted. These help remind us that what is hard and what is important are often a matter of perspective. I love this poem because it tells me that I can celebrate my victories even if most would describe them as simple behaviors. What the world is to me, matters. How I function in that world matters. I matter and so do all of them. It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks, even though sometimes it feels like it does. No one else gets to write a narrative for me, unless I let them.
There are so many touching, disturbing, illuminating and brave poems in this anthology. I have only been able to highlight a few. I am reminded as I read that not everyone has a place or a talent for voice like this. I like to think that these poets speak not only for themselves, but for others, if only to let them know they are not alone. To that end, I encourage support of this anthology. Proceeds from sales go to Mind, the mental health charity. A runner up for the Saboteur Awards in 2018, this book can be purchased directly from Fly On the Wall Poetry Press as well as at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Watersones.
Main photo: Lexi Vranick (used with permission)