A few years ago, I went through a period where I could not write.
I was severely depressed for over a year and lived in a kind of waking agony. And because sadness is about the absence of what you love and value, I could not write.
If I sat down to write, psychological pain as physiological pain manifested miserably in my chest, like a kind of broken atrophy — strongly enough that it warranted erasing anything I had written. It felt uncannily like the pangs one feels when their heart has been broken — when the mind seeps into the body in literal envisage. Once writing became less painful, this is what it spoke to me:
That lifted insight
Unable to forgive it:
Form, only scowling
Hopelessly unable to
I thought that writing had betrayed me. I was so angry at it. For the first time in my life, I had nothing to say. It was as if this misery had left me brainless, but not mute. Without the one, you turn into both.
At that time, I thought I had died, that my writing had died, but it was my writing ego that had died. Before that, I had always tried to write poems that were as clever or as intelligent as I could make them. I needed to be the cleverest person in the room.
In The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, Bhanu Kapil, asks the question, “How will you begin?” This seems like a simple question to answer. But I had to find an entirely new way to answer it to begin writing again.
I was inside this absence. There was this dark space—this cloud that obscured any profound writing. I thought this space was dark, because it was vast. It was this perfect nothingness.
Eventually I decided to try to write from this darkness—and I found that when I did that it was luminous. So now I write from unknowningness—this luminous darkness. Once writing from this space was a transcendent, almost mystical experience—it was almost like “God” was speaking to me. Most of the time it is a feeling of reaching into the back of my head for a sign—usually a feeling accompanied by an image of light—that a line or poem is acceptable to be written.
This is not about the poems being good or not. The quality of the poems does not matter. It is only about telling the truth.
Only when I did this was I able to write again.