“I opened up to a therapist just once. I was a kid. I got into a fight. The doctor asked me question after question, got me so scrambled up. Next thing I know, I was shanghaied upstate to a nitwit school.”
— Frank Reynolds, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
I sent off another four poems today. The experience was somewhat uncomfortable, because the publication was soliciting works for an issue themed around mentally ill authors. Ostensibly, this is to raise awareness and counter social stigmas, but it is kind of like holding a typing contest to raise awareness of carpal tunnel syndrome. Mental illness is the norm for creative types, which is doubly true for poets. There is even a term for this phenomenon, the Sylvia Plath effect. A collection of poems by the mentally ill will therefore read very much like any other chapbook — or should, at least.
The obvious concern is that the run-of-the-mill stuff by poets with genuine disorders will be overshadowed by bombastic ‘crazy person writing’ penned by people with a bad case of the Mondays who identify with mental illness as an alternative to having actual talent. You see a lot of that when searching for outsider art on eBay, where being ‘outside of the artistic establishment’ is all too often equated with a suburban artist’s quirky inability to paint at a Kindergarten level. There is an authentic degree of schizophrenic near-incoherence that qualifies as the outsider work of the deeply disturbed, but artists like these have a difficult time connecting with mainstream audiences, whose threshold for art appreciation of this sort frequently borders on mere freak show voyeurism. Seriously, how many Wesley Willis albums do you own?
Mostly, it feels strange to use my disorder as an identifier in this way, seeing as how writing is what makes me feel perfectly normal.