The Unquiet Mind of the Tortured Poet


The physical body is a strange thing. It is a wreck if you do not love its posture to death. ‘What will become of me if I am not loved?’ the physical body asks itself. The mirror becomes the looking glass. The reflection becomes a figment of the imagination when you can find nothing comforting in it. Yet the tortured poet finds beauty and elegance in everything. They take care to find something attractive in everything from birds, nature, and paradise to war. This is not by accident. This is just a posture of a South African female poet and writer. When I think of alcoholism, sorrow and depression I think of Hemingway driving ambulances during the Second World War. When I think of paranoia, female depression, suffering, and bisexuality I think of Virginia Woolf and the affair she had with Vita Sackville-West. When I think of Simone de Beauvoir I think of the physical relationships she had with her students outside of the classroom. I do not think that sorrow ever leaves you especially if you experienced it in childhood. I believe it will manifest itself later on in adulthood but most importantly as you grow older it borders on the ripening of adult flesh on the surface, while harvesting a tender feminine or masculine stem that will frightfully defy all logic. The more I read the more I come to the conclusion that the more we learn about the environment we find ourselves, the more we experience physically, viscerally, emotionally, mentally in the sexual landscape that surrounds us. We do not change. It’s the minutia that we pass through that changes and must be investigated. We must turn inwards. Ghosts and starvation go hand-in-hand like the mysterious nature of sex and poetry and I say this because human love will not last a lifetime. Our appearance will change infinitely as time goes by. Husbands and children will not last a lifetime. But what does that have to do with the unquiet mind of the tortured poet? Everything. It is not the writer I want to talk about but the poet. Here I thought I would begin to talk about love in its most basic terms. The spiritual plane of it that levels all of us as we come into the world and pass onto eternity. The poet destroys reality but whether or not this leaves scars behind is not their problem. They want to be haunted. They want their poetry to haunt.

Here are some life events, people found in the unquiet imagination of a thinker, intellectual, philosopher, activist, that a female poet from Africa envisions. Reading poetry is a sensation that is fluid. It is nourishing this thin activity. It reminds of our survival. Our survival that is found in our blood, and the ladders of our genes. Survival is also found in the unquiet mind of the tortured poet. Death is just another location. To be oblivious to someone is like being in an alternate universe (paralysis). How do you communicate with this person, people that you love if you can’t embrace them, talk to them and it torments you. I think you give them a signal. When you’re in love it is almost like an illness, this stupor, this nameless disturbance. And the poet writes, but what do other people do who aren’t poets? They let life happen to them. They find that concentrated quiet word ‘love’ beneath them, complicated, and unnatural to them. The body of a woman is art. The body of a man is art. Art has both physical and spiritual dimensions to it like an empty mountain, the rural countryside, unbroken communication, old men and women reliving their childhood through flashbacks, memories and dreams and their own grandchildren,

There’s alchemy in daily prayer when you release that element of the weariness of the world. Humanity when you witness the profound harm that human beings can cause to others, their folk, their tribe and their people. The female poet says, ‘Beautiful boy, who are you (you meant an awful to me at one time and then we had a bad falling out)’. The canvas was propped up like trees. Here books taste like the sea, sea light falls through the pages, it tastes as if I’m coming up for air, doing laps in a swimming pool princely blue. It has that image of waiting in the wings, the silhouette of forgiveness, and a portrait of the selfish, hungry me, that half-living thing I worship. With books there’s the fastening of the mother tongue, an endless stream of consciousness fascination and catapulted wonder framework, memory work, the walking wounded, scars like stigmata, freedom of imagination in the method-actor’s abandoning all rules of engagement on the stage. Books honour tradition. They say, ‘Here is the heritage. Here is the exit route you have been following all of your life before anything wounds you any further.’ Do men also have to struggle with equality, is there a nausea to solidarity? The apparitions in the poet’s unquiet mind struggles with identifying romantic illusion and the glare of the appearance of the emotional.

Putting on my ‘information science’ hat: I love Hemingway. What writer out there doesn’t? What tortured poet doesn’t? I’ve been fascinated with his life and his women, his circle of friends, In Love and War and that he used to be a journalist. I do like American writers but not as much as like books written by people who write about themselves. My favourite book that I go to all the time is ‘A Moveable Feast’. I ration it. It’s a short book so I know it is not going to take me a long time to read it. I know what it meant to be homesick, hungry, a poor, starving artist whose only known survival kit was ‘family’ because I’ve lived my whole twenties like that. His close-knit circle of friends and his wife who had a baby on the way. He would sit in a French cafe and eat onion soup with big chunks of bread and drink coffee and think and think, watch the world go by, observe everything around him. His life was simple. He was a very complex, complicated man and so were his stories. He lived it. He wrote it. Some of his stories were exquisite masterpieces that were very simply written and so he became a legend. His writing was a brightening force in the world. (Why do so many writers like drinking coffee? I love drinking coffee because in between those gulps there are interludes filled with phenomena that make me think.)

Let it just wither away: (Whom do you love, whose writing do you keep on going back too religiously? Don’t think about copying them, their style is their style and they have their own technique. Copy them in secret. Take words out that stand out for you. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about a lot of imaginative things. He has inspired a lot of my newer work. I would never dream of copying him because he was truly a master at what he did but I’ve begun to look at a bigger picture and all the details that God is included in. Rainer, he never lectured on his opinion on religion or God but that is not something that I want to do. When people inspire you they want to hear ‘the outspoken you’, ‘your voice’.) All my teachers and mentors have helped me along this far. All my English teachers especially. But you must if you can speak in other languages write in your mother tongue because we don’t have enough mother tongue languages in our side of the world. In Africa.

There is only Moses in the Wilderness: So all I see is young artists and they ask me how they can publish their work, how they can become better writers? It has nothing to do with becoming better at it. They are already there. You have to be committed to your craft. You have to take vows. There’s a sacred contract between a writer and a book. Some of us become so wounded in the process of rejection (we see it as abandonment) that we never go back to what we’ve been called to do in the first place. We forget we are poets and that being tormented and unseen at the same time is part of the seam of the process. We are writers. We are struggling iconoclasts. We are all part of the iconoclastic-family. We are futurists. We are sculptors. We’re already there. We just needed the elegant mathematics to help us along. Sometimes we neglect ‘the gift’. There’s a kind of alchemy in your head when you begin to write. It has its own machinery, its own wheels and all it asks of us is this? Write anything. It might not be perfectly edited. Just don’t censor yourself. You need grit. It is going to take you far wanderer like Moses in the wilderness. All compositions that are aligned for art’s sake and in hardship, trial and despair, that desperation, sly in the voice and mind of the cuckoo-living-wasteland of the tortured poet is mine. Mine for the taking. Breath-taking as impoverished courage might seem to be sometimes it is worth it. It is not just the festival of it that amuses me, pours itself into me, the physical me, it is all the elements. Greatness lies in the peace it gives me.

Read much. Read everything you can get your hands on because it won’t just inspire you, it will inspire your imagination and your subconsciousness. Perhaps silence is the best answer, (guardian angels have swords and humanity has silence). Don’t spend all your time thinking of all the negativity in the world. Laugh. Smile. Become aware of just how much you have to be grateful for, for every lesson is a breathing lesson, a celestial navigation on this patchwork planet (all of my favourite reads by Anne Tyler).

Just think of what came before is now gone. Past is past. Intellectual thinkers, ego, psyche, that psychological framework. Well now there is only personal space, future living and soul retrieval, consciousness travelling across the globe. What I believed to be before as truth has become knowledge. And isn’t knowledge powerful? Knowledge of the present situations taking place all over the world mostly conflict, mostly war, mostly brutality from man against man and vulnerable women and children caught in the middle.

I remember great poets, and I recognise that I am getting older, more set in my ways, moving forward towards something impenetrable, invincible and that I’m protected in this mysterious world, projecting myself forward into a future not filled with spiritual poverty, or wealth that is known as prosperity and being grounded by the gravity of Mother Earth, joy (Beethoven, Tchaikovsky), the Russian writers (Nabokov’s Lolita which wounded me, and that taught me that we learn from our scars, we are not our scars, we are not our wounds, it is just part of our personal journey, our psyche, the teeth sunken into my personality), and Kubrick. So Abigail George has become A. George.

Failure can hurt. Young girls who think they will be goddesses forever can hurt you just like publishers with their neatly typed (by their secretaries who wear their hair in chignons) rejection letters (forgive them for they know not what they do), other writers who have won more prizes than you have, who have the world eating out of their hands (forgive them for they know not what they do)? Do you understand that? Do you understand compulsion? Do you understand the complexities now in the mind of the poet and that there is an unstoppable fine line, a psychological thread that borders the finesse of the writer and the instinct of the poet? And then there are films which are at the very fabric of our human nature. They’re like a flame. They reverberate with a kind of poignancy. Meanwhile poetry is like an invisible woman while films are the art form of this century and I have to confess that I miss it, I miss the medium. So the poets come, the greats come and they guide me on this journey, this route like Saints when they come marching through my consciousness like child soldiers. Unnatural, disturbing, an avalanche of them, an avalanche of thoughts of Anna Kavan’s ice or asylum piece. No light. Only night. The night of an insomniac. And if I have to examine the unquiet mind of the poet I would say that it is included in all of that I have mentioned above.

Despair is painful when it comes to rewriting drafts of poetry and it is easy to feel disillusioned. It is easy to become a Buddhist monk in a second but keep at it. Don’t retreat. It’s easy to become distracted by other people’s insults but still you must keep at it. Because believe you me you will reach a stage where what you are writing as a poet, that is which is hardwired to your brain, that which is authentic, will suddenly become brilliant on the page and someone will take knowledge away with them from something that you thought was nothingness. It is powerful to be honest. There are not a lot of honest people left in this world. And then possibilities will be endless. One person will become two and so forth and so forth.

Sometimes I don’t understand life but I know I must make sense of the pride that people have, the racism that they keep close to their hearts, their egos, their narcissistic identities, flesh and blood. Humanity needs these personal experiences to become more and more elevated, as they move closer and closer to their true home which is to recover their harmonic spirit, release the woundedness of the past and accept that the physical body is just that, a vessel and sometimes an empty one at that because we are living with so many material possessions around us, beautiful and valuable things in ‘many rooms of mansions’. Perhaps that is why so many of us feel loneliness, despair, hardship, suffering and we sometimes feel that we deserve an award for the role that we play in this world-drama.

And so we come to the summing up, the words of shamanic wisdom.

I believe in gratitude, abundance, blessings, and angels above on the astral-plane and on the earth-plane, foundations, goals and dreams.

Because without dreaming, without writing poetry, without the unseen and tortured consciousness we would have no dreams, no visionaries, no awareness, only introverted leaders, the internal struggle within all of us that either instructs us in a pure direction or corrects us to go to a higher level, connects us with others. Humanity is made up of love, some of it is unconditional, some parts of it is inherited, and love is not just a ritual, a relic, or an ornament. How else do you explain how far we have come, our journeys, and our paths that have coincided with historical events that have changed the course of humanity?

Winter is the most perfect time to rest. There’s a lightness and a being in the air. Now there is only time for ‘botanical drawings of observations’, a palace, the throne room, metaphors, and for growing older, the illustration of a dark horse of a man growing dimmer and dimmer. Childhood transformations have come and gone taking bedtime stories, Disney and chipped teeth with them. Family history, imagination, the wilderness. When the world feels apocalyptic. When your mind’s eye sits through silences. The day your parents told you they were both going to separate or divorce and you felt like an interloper. I was the chosen one in summer, spring, winter and autumn. The tortured poet says, ‘I was the self-losing tree with its beautiful leaves. The abundance of moths betrayed by the light. I am the sonnet, the pleasurable food chain, the preparation of the sheltered golden roast in the oven, and I am a refuge from progress, regions of green feasts for the eyes. I am a swimmer in a public domain. Love is my life-belt. It gives me self-preservation.’ ‘Poetry,’ says the tortured poet, ‘gives me a drowning helplessness, sustains me, and fuses my cheap pleasures that I get out of fashioning solitude. And when I entangle myself in the oppression of intimacy, and the proportions of misery that sometimes come with it I must carry on secretly with my life work in order for the feminine not to be altered but to be praised, worshiped confidently, to make her pure and significant and the fundamental masculine to be esteemed. Not distorted, displaced, or limited in any way by dark behavior or a masked disguise.’

As much as it is begun to be said, Africa is a country. A continent marked by both black, and white. An energetic, depressed, traumatic continent where you can make abstract drawings of people just by observing them. And for those who like alien and hallucinatory prose I only have two words for you. Go back. Go back to gossip (what will you find there you might be asking yourself. You’ll find illuminating words.) Go back to poetry, talk to your children, your spouse, even the frailty of the elderly, the infirm, the noise of your young, boisterous family and there you will find the same thing. You can’t erase language because language crowds everything out. You can’t erase touch because touch crowds everything out. You can’t erase the unseen, the unquiet mind of the tortured poet because it drowns everything out.

Something is beginning to shift inside me. And so I must begin to speak to the one that I love, about the one that I love, the unseen, the unquiet, and the tortured. I am often left with this question of where my home is. I know where my battlefields are and my playing grounds but where is home. My home is where the sea meets the shore’s feast and the river’s mouth. It is in my lap and arms in my hands like black water or blackstrap molasses. I’m poured into Hollywood’s grave where the shallows swim into J. D. Salinger (into you). The roses are lovely this time of year. Everest is listening. Pound’s second Alba. You’re no stranger to legend. When I look at you, any photograph of you, it’s like some power switch has gone off inside of me. Parachutes fall from the skies and a wilderness history rises up out of darkness and history. What I will remember of you is this? The elixir of the waves of your dark hair. You tiger. All the details of you. Your rough magic trivia. Once upon a time you were my poetry. (Can torment be poetry in and of itself? I think so). I walked tall and pretty my high and pale September friend. Once I followed the bittersweet blueprint of angels but now I feel like yellow sunlight and a field of stars dead to the imagination. Of other poets and I am left missing you (again I speak of the torment of the poet here. The torment which is unspecified and indefinable). Anguish fills my heart. Words do as paper dolls do. They’re nothing but pretense. There is no substance to a paper doll. What can curb its dangerously mysterious anxiousness, its depression that it develops into, and what can it exchange for the solidity and substance, hours of contradictions of life? How can it grasp anything of life, the simplicity, the sadness, duplicity and the happiness of childhood?

Pain has a muscle multiplied. An adolescent’s moodiness, defensiveness, and the hours for them only consists of a schizophrenic harmony whether they are sad, or happy, or pensive, or have a longing rising up with them and it is only a poet with their unquiet mind who can understand the depths of the isolation and rejection that sometimes this young adult feels on the periphery of an adult world that he or she does not yet fully comprehend or can understand.

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