© 2018 by Cat Woodward

A Death Ritual

A Death Ritual’ charts my progress through a prolonged period of severe depression and out again, a process which I came to call ‘coming back to life’. In particular, it deals with the social struggles that this illness presented me with. The sequence is an attempted imitation of C A Conrad. I chose Conrad because I felt drawn to his magical-poetical principles of ritual healing, and because I identify my own writing with his often aggressive and confronting style.

 

This experiment prompted me to renegotiate the space between me, the writing subject, and the poem, using direct address to clear a way back out of the poem so that I could exist alongside it and not by dint of it (as I’d cornered myself into thinking). I concentrated on the dynamic role of the poem in my life and its relation to my self, which had to be dissected and put back together again in a new order. The revelation was ridiculously simple: not everything is leading up to the poem; the poem is part of life but is not itself life, and will not serve to validate a life. After an initial grieving, I rescued my voice (lost to depression) by cultivating detachment followed by a consensual return to the poem, all guided by Conrad's distinct poetic voice.

 

This has been the most difficult project so far, not just because of the subject matter, but also in terms of production. Conrad’s style was so very hard for me to access, the poems went through many iterations as I broke them up for parts and mixed them back together again, trying to channel whatever needed channeling, trying to summon myself as Conrad does. It wasn’t until I stopped trying so hard that I felt I was able to achieve anything. This isn’t to say that I nailed Conrad’s style (I don’t think I did at all), but that the project of imitation and the project of coming back to myself were so intertwined that my struggling with my illness was the same as my struggling with the poems.

This project of imitation was accompanied by depersonalisation anxiety, an effect I hadn’t considered at the outset and which I hadn’t taken seriously until it happened. In my frustrated struggling to sound like Conrad I felt that I (and not just my poetry) was a vague and unsatisfactory shadow of someone else. For a moment I thought I didn’t exist, but this point was a nadir that I passed through. The result wasn’t absorption of/by Conrad’s voice; I think that through Conrad’s voice I realised the existence of my own. This kind of emotional, spiritual, poetic healing that Conrad promotes is, I think, an exercise in adding more of oneself to the world.

Excerpts from the sequence to come, watch this space.