Poejazzi Guest Blog: Naomi Woddis, “Living Large – Poetry and Mental States”

I began this with a fantasy that I was going to sit down and write something about poets, the famous and infamous, fractured and brilliant. Broken, aloof, passionate creatures who did not obey the rules of normal behavior but I had no idea where to start. The last thing I wanted to do was write about my own flickering mental state.
I put a shout-out on Twitter and my friend, the super-talented Kim-Leng Hills , got back to me quicker than a heartbeat. Kim’s response to me was so refreshingly straightforward and, like Kim herself, devoid of any self-pity despite the escalating challenges she has had to face, I could only respond in kind. Below is an interweaving of what place writing has in our lives.
When I was growing up poetry was something found in dusty hardback books, that was until I saw the film ‘Stevie’ about the poet Stevie Smith. It was the first time I heard her poem ‘Not Waving but Drowning’ and the lines I was much too far out all my life/ And not waving but drowning’ took the breath from my chest.
I don’t know if I had a particularly difficult childhood but there were ruptures in my family and my parents divorced when I was eleven. This left an indelible mark and it was hard to find any words to express the loss and confusion I felt, that was until I heard Smith’s poem. It was then that I realised that poetry could touch lives and break them open. It could translate the mess of human experience in to something resonant and vital. I did not realise that the way I felt was the beginning of a life long struggle with intermittent depression. Writing, like love, is one of the most effective cures I know for this most perplexing mental state.
Kim’s childhood was not without it’s trials.
“I had a bit of an abnormal childhood which lead me to be like this, but my way of coping with things was to go into another world and write stories and poems. When I was about 15, I had a nervous breakdown and spent the next 3 years under psychiatric and psychological therapy, often being taken away from school or home.
I began a degree and, this time, I was under another 2 years of investigations by different hospitals for a number of physical illnesses. When I was told I had a very weak heart that needed monitoring, it terrified me and so I re-wrote the Tao Te Ching because that was the closest thing I had to my grandmother, whom I could never speak to, but I had a lot of her Taoist amulets and memories of praying to Buddha with her.
Anyway body who knows Kim will know what a prolific and original artist she is. The creative force in her is unstoppable and, even when dealing with illness, she continues to make art and music.
“My way of communicating to my parents to tell them what was going on with me was to write a 7 page poem that I slid under their door. I wrote poems on everything, I etched it into my desk, my bed, wrote it on my walls, ceiling. Writing, illustrating and making music were my methods of communicating. Writing, to me, is a free-flowing release, like water. In the same way that I make music, I just let it form then and there. To me, that is the most relaxing and therapeutic way to work.”
I can often feel overwhelmed by my own feelings and when I had a breakdown some years ago this sense of not being able to contain myself was very strong. Writing Morning Pages allowed me to decant some of the intense anxiety I was experiencing on to paper. I wonder how many of us poets and songwriters, novelists and spoken word artists come to writing through private journaling.
Many years have passed since I first fell in love with a poem. We poets live large, our feelings often bigger than the space we occupy and we share the knowledge of an irrefutable truth – life’s less without words in it.


About Charlotte Morgan Nwokenna

Editor and Public Relations Officer
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One Response to Poejazzi Guest Blog: Naomi Woddis, “Living Large – Poetry and Mental States”

  1. Simon Mole says:

    great blogging Naomi – refreshing to see mental health discussed so openly and honestly. Also, loved the poem you read at keats house last time around – hopefully see you there next time around if not before 🙂

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