Hope springs eternal in the poetry of Bill McKnight.

image of book vocer with silhouette and title

 

An interview with poet Bill McKnight

by Roberta McDonnell for Subliminal Spaces blog.

Belfast poet Bill McKnight has just published his second collection which goes by the intriguing title of PoetraitureAs I suggested in the collection’s Introduction which it was my humble duty and deep privilege to write, these poems paint a portrait in words. Those words are sometimes brief yet are so full of pure, distilled poignancy that you realise he could have written a whole book and not said it any better. His lines resonate and communicate in Bill’s authentic, unique voice, filled with insight, hope and humour.

Poetraiture builds to some extent upon themes of stigmatisation and emotional struggle indicative of the first collection Loud Silence, yet in this second volume there is an expansion and maturation of the poet’s attention and observations. He addresses, with great wit and wisdom, themes around modernity, consumerism, human disconnection and the challenges for us all of authenticity and of ‘being human’ as he puts it. In Soul for example, at the same time as a widow is laid to rest in a damp cemetery,

Downtown, shoppers set the tone, / and ‘jingle bells’ is what the tills are ringing.

 

I asked Bill what sparked off the impulse to write and compose poetry? ‘It just came out spontaneously’ he told me, and went on to explain that many poems emerged during a period of recovery after a mental health struggle. Poetry is a therapeutic resource, he argues, with much personal experience to back up that claim.

Bill says, ‘It seems to come from the unconscious…or I don’t know where it comes from, it just erupts. But it’s only when I look back at the poems later on and reflect on them that I start to understand what they mean…connecting the dots.’ He continues, ‘My poems are a gift, to myself and to others who might find encouragement in them. They’re like little adverts for people who, for one reason or another, might have a short attention span but a brief affirmation might stick with them. I’d love to see them up on posters around the place to help remind people there’s always hope, no matter how ill you are or have been.’

So, when I ask Bill what he feels the aim of his work is, he has already answered the question, but adds, ‘I want to connect with people and to inspire them with hope for recovery. My aim could be summarised as “Symbolising Hope”.’

On Being Published

Bill: ‘What does being published mean to me? Well, it means getting the message out. Encouraging openness. Letting people know that mental illness need not be the end of the road. I’ve known suffering and the pain of stigma but I also know the reality and joy of healing. My main intention is that people get help and inspiration and overall encouragement from my work.

I have a vision for community mental health with a lot of peer input. Ideally, if my literary work could sustain me financially, my hopes are to help the community in North Belfast, to devote my energies full-time to that work. My vision is for a community mental health resource that supports and affirms people, working at the same time to change hearts and minds in this separated and divided society. I’m interested in bringing people together through integrated programmes of mental health support and peer support.’

What / whom do you like to read?

‘I don’t have a favourite author though I used to like the wit and humour of Spike Milligan. I get so much from a wide range of literature, like psychological books, poetry and stories, in fact I’m currently exploring nursery rhymes, they have so much wisdom in a few short lines.’

What are you currently working on?

‘A humourous collection of poetry in the short-term. In the long-term I’ve ideas and some sketched out plans for a play. I’m also in a period of reflection, looking back over some of my past work and it deepens your insight, then it stirs my imagination and gives me more ideas, like a domino effect. It’s all about making connections…that’s my process…that’s how the creativity works.’

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who hope to publish?

‘Be yourself. Dare to be different. Embrace your unique imperfection. There may be nothing new under the sun but there are limitless ways of saying it and speaking truth. And another thing is: don’t be afraid of nerves or ashamed of being nervous. Face your fears and go past them.’

Wise words indeed. Authenticity is one of Bill’s trademarks. It may not have always been so, in fact he suggests it was not being true to himself that caused a lot of his earlier suffering .

The reason I was ill / was because I was not Bill.

 

I hope that demonstrates the intensity of the distilled wisdom and insight in Bill’s work. Catch up with Poetraiture for more inspiration, fun and food for thought. Bill’s first collection Loud Silence  is worth catching too.

Citations and image from Poetraiture ©Bill McKnight

Article ©Roberta McDonnell

 

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Rooting for Wild: A Tribute to Book and Film

2015/02/img_1475.jpgMay14 007

I love walking, especially in the Mourne Mountains with my husband Fintan. Reading about walking cheers me too, especially blogs like 30 ways of walking and Rebecca Solnit’s book Wanderlust, as I noted in early posts.

Imagine how delighted I was to find Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild . It is well worth catching up with for the intensity of experience and the magnificence of nature described by this great author. Her references to poetry and literature as inspirational resources resonate with me too, as I’ve mentioned before.

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Tied in with her extreme hike (like most walkers) Strayed found herself on an inner journey as well. Though I’m no real hiker, sticking to a few hours or maybe a day and certainly no camping rough, I too find a form of therapy and restoration in walking. It’s the rhythm of the tramp, the exercise, the fresh air, the daylight, the space to breathe and think and feel.

We caught the movie recently too and I commend Reese Witherspoon- she did a wonderful job and really got the emotion across as well as the gruelling physicality of the role. Wild certainly deserves some Oscars – I’m rooting for Wild.

Journal Me Mindful

Rumi quote: The wound is the place where the light enters you.

Hi Folks, welcome and apologies for the haphazard (in fact almost absent) nature of posting over the past few months. I have been on a challenging journey to do with Health and WellBeing. Yet, now that recovery is dawning (in the distant horizon but there nonetheless), I am coming to realise that it has also been a voyage of discovery, in fact a re-discovery of the amazing benefits of mindfulness meditation. The feelings of connectedness, calmness and of being back on track have given me a tremendous lift and I owe this turnaround to several sources.

Firstly, a doctor here in Belfast at the Synergy Clinic, who takes an integrative approach, has helped me in a massive way with information, reassurance and naturopathic prescribing. Taking charge of your own health is a very empowering experience.

Next, the Chopra Centre 21 day meditation series, currently ongoing, is a welcome resource and I am currently at Day 8, finding the mantras and messages meaningful and the practice greatly calming. Their journaling resource section is a welcome addition and I print out my journal entry every day. It is a useful resource and well worth reading back over for extra motivation and inspiration.  Here’s the link to the current meditation series.

https://chopracentermeditation.com/

 

Then I found the book Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, which is full of the most up-to-date, enlightening information and instruction and together with the CD, offers an 8 week course in mindfulness meditation. This is most promising to me and I plan to build it into my new found daily practice after I complete the Chopra Centre 21 days. cover of the book Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman

 

I would thoroughly recommend them all and wish everyone well on your journey of life.

 

 

 

Opening Image citation http://www.openhandweb.org/rumi_%20wound%20_light_enters

Debating Diagnosis and DSM-5 : Guest Post on Mental Health Chat

Guest Post on Mental Health Chat

Debating Diagnosis and DSM-5

 

The new ‘psychiatry bible’ DSM-5 has come under a lot of fire since it’s recent launch. One vociferous critic is Duke University’s Professor Allen Frances, himself a renowned psychiatrist who helped shape the (some say more valid) previous versions DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR.

 

image of two volumes of DSM

DSM-5 and its predecessor DSM-IV-TR

Mental Health is a broad church and psychiatry only one faction within it, but it cannot be denied it is a major faction, with a very strong voice, perhaps the strongest to date. There are, nevertheless, many other voices – psychology, nursing, social work, therapists of various persuasions, neuroscientists, social scientists and most importantly, service users. There have, undoubtedly, been major advances in the understanding of mental suffering, mental health and well-being emerging from all of these camps, including psychiatry. The perhaps unexpected flak that has recently been directed at psychiatry as a body of knowledge has been generated by concern over what has been termed ‘hyper-inflated diagnosis’ and the seemingly relentless drive to medicalise every aspect of human life, including ‘normal’ sadness and grief (Frances 2013). Diagnosis is at the centre of the debate.

There is no doubt that people suffer. There is also no doubt that patterns can be identified in the forms that suffering may take. Furthermore, people often need a name for suffering, as a way of finding some understanding and therefore possible solutions. So diagnosis may well have a positive role to play in the future of mental health care and promotion, provided there are adequate and effective responses available. But does diagnosis really call forth effective treatments? Some would argue that the answer is No, not at all. The question “What does help?” will underpin my contributions here to the Mental Health Chat blog. Suggestions, points for discussion and leads to relevant studies will also be most welcome in the comments section. For now, here’s a link to the recent Maudsley debate [click on “48th Maudsley Debate: Diagnosis: Enabling or Labelling?”] on the issue of diagnosis. Those in favour [Prof Norman Sartorius and Prof Anthony David] talk about diagnoses as heuristic tools to guide research and practice, while those against [Dr Felicity Callard and Dr Pat Bracken] argue that diagnosis is a sticky label with little to offer therapeutically and too many social sequelae to be considered useful.

What do you think? What is your personal or professional experience? What are the alternatives?

Thanks for looking in, Roberta McDonnell

link and citation for DSM image: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/DSM-5

Mental Health Chat 

is an online open access community with a weekly mental health twitter chat every Wednesday at 8:00 PM GMT / 3:00 PM ET / 12:00 PT. The hashtag for the twitter chat @MHchat is #MHchat  Mental Health Chat is dedicated to promoting and advancing the interdisciplinary understanding of mental health and mental illness.

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