Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Art Of the Migraine, Gabbing and Amy Clampitt

Luckily I don’t have migraines that often but when I do they are the Premier League kind, with strange auras and sensations. Expanding black dots, heightened colours, flashing zigzags of light, tingling in lips and hands, a feeling that I am on board a rocking ship. I have the full Monty. As a child I would be laid up for days and have the strategic bucket placed beside the bed which was a sure sign that my mother took me seriously and that vomiting was in the offing. The taking of medicines or painkillers was frowned upon and the mantra of either ‘working it off’ or ‘sleeping it off’ held sway. This was not just my mother’s way of thinking but was held in common by most working class mothers of the day. You only got medicine if it was within the range of ‘home-cures’ or you were deemed exceptionally sick.

Now there is a full range of pills and potions to dose yourself up with and I am happy to use any that work. Whilst a feverfew sandwich may help I am afraid a hefty dose of paracetemol or other such stuff is infinitely more effective. I have observed my migraines for a while now and have discovered that if you can mentally stand back and observe yourself having one it is a mind trick that seems to help. Many famous people have suffered from migraines; Lewis Carroll, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Woolf, Cervantes, Van Gogh, Monet, Sigmund Freud, Frederic Nietzsche, Elvis Presley. Some have attributed Van Gogh’s bright swirling colours and Monet’s impressionistic approach to the experience of migraine auras. I fancy such thinking may simply be down to people wanting to think that migraine auras can in some way feed into the creative mind. Others have even seen the skewed world of Alice in Wonderland as in part a reflection of the strange visual distortions Carroll may have experienced. It is an interesting thought but there is no real evidence to support it, however I have noticed that life when a migraine aura takes over can become strangely weird around the edges so who can say what may have occurred inside Carroll’s mind.

De-constructing the migraine, as I call it for want of a better name, at least allows me to think in that part of my brain set aside from the throbbing and general pain. Pretending to observe and describe pain has been an old technique to manage pain for centuries but of course I am all in favour of drugs, the observation in my case is something to do whilst they work and it can take up to two or three days before the pain subsides. I am typing now with one half of the key board almost totally blacked out and small points of light dancing round the edges of the darkness, it looks like a sparse firework display at a impecunious vilage celebration on a black moonless night. Of course staring at a monitor may not help but in the end it gets boring closing your eyes and lying down, despite the fact I am capable of amusing myself for hours by just thinking. However with a migraine just thinking about anything else seems to require so much energy that you give up and decide to just observe it. Amy Clampitt has a poem called Anatomy of a Migraine, unfortunately I couldn’t find a copy of it but it is in her Selected Works by Faber. I know Helen Ivory also has a poem in her last collection , ‘Dog in the Sky’ about a severe headache, comparing it to a kite. Perhaps if I keep watching more closely I’ll get a poem out of this migraine.

Meanwhile an interesting post on the blog Squared ( 3rd Feb 2010) by Anne Berkeley who I have the pleasure of working with in The Joy of Six

It is about the gab between poems at readings and its function, necessity or art. You can read my response there. Gab is tricky; to gab or not to gab that is the question. The quiet dignity of the non-gabber who just reads their poems in an assured and authoritative way (Paul Durcan for instance) or the delight of the roguish and entrancing gabber (Michael Donaghy) who read equally well and had great poems too. A matter of taste, a matter essentially of how good the poems are. No amount of gab can make a bad poem good but sometimes it cam make a mediocre poem just a little more entrancing, the glitz of great window dressing can sometimes disguise the quality of the clothes. No gab, if badly handled, can leave you feeling read ‘at’ rather than ‘to’ and can appear a little arrogant as if the audience isn’t worth the poet bothering with or taking account of. Often it depends on the audience; a die-hard poetry reading audience (somehow that suddenly conjured up an image of Bruce Willis listening to poetry in his vest…. I am blaming it on the migraine) can go along with the non-gab approach. An audience composed of those who would not usually come to a poetry reading and who read very little poetry may be made more comfortable and be able to feel they can access poems more readily by a poet who is happy to engage with them and give some poems a leg-up by a little explanation.

I am now off to lie down in a darkened room and watch all the pretty lights swirl around even when I close my eyes.

As I couldn’t find Anatomy of a Migraine by Amy Clampitt here is another great poem of hers Nothing Stays Put. It is good to remember that Clampitt did not gain any great recognition until she was well over fifty, so hurray for the late bloomers.

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