Thursday, October 1, 2009

[I, Afterlife]: a response to Kristin Prevallet

Sometime - not that long ago - I couldn't sleep. I'd wander streets of Manhattan and try to figure it out. I knew what I needed. It was everywhere.
This is about poetry.

Not sleeping affected work, affected play, disaffected me. I wanted joy. Insomnia is anti-joy. I'd learned that taking an antidepressant soothed my insomnia. Was a happy morning bugle after a good night's sleep.

Still about poetry.
Sometime not that long ago I didn't have health insurance. In a country that is medicated, overmedicated, unscrupulously and wickedly medicated, I couldn't get a 50 mg-a-day pill. So as I walked this city - which does sleep - don't believe the hype. I felt I was in a glass booth. I felt insane. People who could take a pill were everywhere. Pills were all around. But I lived in glass.

Hang on, poetry.

I understand antidepressants treat depression and that insomnia is a signal of same. I understand more than I am going to say here. Because this is:

About poetry. This is about I, Afterlife, by Kristin Prevallet, a 60-page essay, in handy paperback format that slips into a pocket, slips out of a pocket for worthy meditation on the text.

Prevallet's father killed himself. He was medicated, questionably so, on Paxil. Not long after starting the pills, he started his car, drove to a parking lot, used his gun.

Her grief, this essay, is about the unspeakable; the unbearable. In attaching words to sorrow, this essay is a vessel into which we can pour memory. Why does this essay receive my endless nights, and not other parts of my story? My insomnia lies in the distances of grief, the spaces between suffering. Prevallet understands distances which create the sense of glass. "Language fills in the desire to alter time," she writes. That'll have to do for a reason.

Prevallet writes, "If the body of the text has suffering as its root, then language will take a fragmented, torn-apart form as if it too is suffering. Poetry that seeks this kind of engagement with language is positioned to absorb the brokenness with grief."

And so there are parts to this essay. Poems. The fractured nature of poetic language allows equivalencies of Prevallet's fracture. Drawings. Plain, gray squares, as if by Rothko, age six. Young but still Rothko. Captions are from the police report. "I responded and took photos and evidence (after coroner arrived)." Prose. The flow of language is useful for the elders who need to instruct through storytelling. Prevallet, an elder, tells us a story about a man and a mountain and a dream. That kind of story. "This story, about a man who meets the ghost of who he wants to be, has already been told, over and over." That's good news.

Elegy. "The elegiac burden is the poem expressing, through the form is takes on the page, the broken minds which have shaped it." Sums it up, doesn't it. The parts of this essay. The shapes of grieving. The acclimation to loss.

I finally got my pills. Slowly came to earth, a good place to be on, not over, not under. Life with its many distances is good. Good. I'm always some distance, close or apart, from events, the usual, childhood, which collude to trigger my unsleeping state; it's been a battle that's shaped my life: insomnia; childhood; all that. Prevallet is likely to remain at an unguessable distance from her sadness.

"As a political position, I hold onto my grief." As a political position, hold onto this book.

[I, Afterlife] [Essay in Mourning Times] by Kristin Prevallet, Essay Press.
photo: The Conveyer Belt ( : A Fashion and Lifestyle Journal


  1. I will get this book. My wife is part of a group called Paxil Progress which advocates

    A: trying to avoid Paxil
    B: trying to spread the word that it is extremely important to taper extremely gradually (like --a year or two to come down) when trying to kick Paxil.

    There are many people who were not previously suicidal who ended their lives after taking and/or trying to kick this drug. My wife is having a difficult time quitting (she has tapered) it and feels she is much the worse for her encounter with Paxil.

  2. I knew a family on the west coast who lost their teenage son. He'd was prescribed an antidepressant because it was a less expensive option (the medical system formulary). He ended up dead, and it was pretty clear the meds. were a strong part of all that. They sued and all that. It was devestating.