Last Wednesday, I hosted a very special event at Foyles’ Bookshop in London; the launch of the poetry anthology ‘E ghty* Four’ published by Verve Poetry Press in support of the charity the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). Why E ghty Four? (* the ‘i’ signifies a life lost)
E ghty Four is the number of men in the UK who take their own lives every week; twelve a day, one every two hours, 4,368 a year. More women experience depression, more women take anti-depressants, but men are four times more likely to end their life. It is a national epidemic, which is not confined to this country – the US for example has 129 suicides a day, half of which are carried out with a firearm.
Helen Calcutt did a beautiful thing in editing the anthology. Her brother Matthew took his own life, and I know the book was a way of both trying to understand, as well as deal with the grief. Her father David movingly said that the grief never leaves you, along with the guilt. I am lucky, in that my own son was suicidal for a time but didn’t go any further, but my own guilt at his depression and self-harm must be nothing to David’s. In her introduction to the book, Helen wrote:
‘There’s this idea that the personal blow of death, or a trauma, can’t be relatable. And with society’s insufferable ignorance to human vulnerability, (especially male vulnerability) it’s difficult to see how this could ever change. But I feel it can, if we stop the bullshit. If we accept the reality of the human condition – that it’s diverse, beautiful, troubled, elated, mish-mash of a being – and if we live by its natural demands, we can influence what is considered normal behaviour.’
(You can read more about the book from Helen on Verve Poetry Press blog here)
The evening began with Helen, Salena Godden, Anthony Anaxagorou (who kindly stepped in at the last moment), and myself sharing our experiences; Salena spoke about how she has tried to comprehend her father’s suicide by writing about it in different ways over the years; one of which was conveyed in her memoir ‘Springfield Road’. Anthony spoke of his work in schools and prisons and the aspects of masculinity that hinder openness and dialogue about mental health.
We then had wonderful readings from the following poets who appear in the book, and on the blog: Anthony Anaxagorou, David Calcutt, Louisa Campbell, Rishi Dastidar, Michelle Diaz, Salena Godden, Shaun Hill, Martin Hayes, Hannah Linden (who also read Susie Violetti’s poem), Jane Lovell, Mario Petrucci, Victoria Richards, Richard Skinner, and Caroline Smith.
You can buy a copy of 84 from Verve Poetry Press here: proceeds go to helping CALM’s vital campaigns and frontline services.
Below is Helen’s poem from the book, ‘Now My Brother Has Died’; a book dedicated to Matthew. It is a fitting tribute and an important book.
Helen is a poet, essayist, choreographer and dance artist. Her poetry and criticism has featured in over forty publications including The Guardian, South Bank Poetry, The Huffington Post, Wild Court, and The Brooklyn Review, with award-winning essays in the Wales Arts Review and Boundless. Her debut pamphlet ‘Sudden rainfall’ was published by Perdika Press in 2014. It was a Poetry Book Society Choice. Her full-length collection, ‘Unable Mother‘, described as ‘both a violent and tender grapple with our cosy notions of motherhood’ (Robert Peake) was published by V. Press in September 2018. Helen is curator and editor of ‘Eighty-Four’ a poetry anthology on the subject of male suicide, grief, and hope. It was published by Verve Poetry Press in January 2019. She is a visiting lecturer in Creative Writing at Loughborough University.
Now My Brother Has Died
the flowers have opened. Somehow the sound of a river
is moving in my head.
Somehow the startled flowers.
Or is it blood? Heart,
the ephemeral mouth
opening and closing. How dare it grant me
this steady life. The strength of it.
I want a stillness, still I
go on, like the soul of a river, living loud with
other rivers, longing to be murdered flowers
and for the sudden resurrection of a hanging
How dare this life
make me want the things I’d die to love,
but river-bound, never could.
Not since “For Nick” by Frieda Hughes have I read a poem about a sibling suicide that left me in deep thought about the fragility of people and how mental health in 2019 is still taboo. That foreword by Helen in the anthology brought tears to my eyes and how brave and exemplary are the Calcutt family for this gift and insight. All that is good in poetry is represented in the act of this book, the quality of the work, the feelings conjured. I hope this wins the Sabotage Award but it has won the respect of people which is far far more important. Respect to PP for putting out a feature on this essential book for these times and any time for that matter.
Nice words Antony, thanks
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