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Part 1: Schizo-Poetry: Fragments of the Mind

Schzio-Poetry Susanne Wawra Kevin NolanFollowing on from the series of poems for World Suicide Prevention Day I’m pleased to have an extended interview this week from musician and poet Kevin Nolan and artist and poet Susanne Wawra. Nolan and Wawra, both based in Dublin collaborated on the 30 poem book, Schizo-Poetry: Fragments of Mind, recently published by Shine, an organisation that addresses and highlights mental illness.

Kevin and Susanne have put a great deal of work into this interview and it reads beautifully, so many. many thanks to them for this. Enjoy!

Q. How did this project come about; it’s such a unique idea?

SUSANNE – On a sunny summer’s day in 2013, we met in a little neighbourhood cafe and were just chatting away about our writing when we agreed it would be interesting to do a collaboration. There and then, within a few hours, we came up with the whole concept for the book. Starting from the book title, over the unusual colour names that would be the titles of the poems as well as spelling out “Fragments of Mind” as an acrostic, to the photomontage on the cover. Our approaches, insights and ideas just fell into place. Since we both always carry a notebook, none of the initial intentions were lost and eager to make it happen, we followed through. The unique idea was having two poems with the same title aside each other in the book, one by myself, one by Kevin. Two interpretations of the same colour, two different takes on the two pages in front of the reader.

Q. The title is startling – what made you choose it?

KEVIN – Thank you! I can’t remember if it was Susanne or myself, but the title just popped out (almost without thinking) during the coffee shop conversation she spoke about earlier. That day, Monday July 22nd 2013 of which the book is dedicated to, was one where two people on exactly the same page artistically just synthesized ideas in a very visceral free way and the ideas just flooded out of both of us. It was a really natural collaboration. The book schema was almost subconsciously created, so asking me why we choose the title is almost like asking me to decode the meaning of a dream, a pretty much impossible task. Oddly with the title it’s almost like the signifier came before the signified, if you follow me.

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However, literally ‘Schizo’ is the Greek word for ‘division’ or ‘split’. This pertains to the poem titles. Each individual title is split into two poems, two perspectives, one by Susanne and one by myself. So in that way the title seemed very fitting for us. We knew ‘Schizo’ was a very loaded word but for our book we wanted to go back to its original Greek meaning, thus detaching ourselves from the popular misconceptions of the time. I feel that act in itself was in effect an expression intended to challenge mental health prejudice, understanding in some way that popular misconceptions come and go but the true meaning of ‘Schizo’ will remain. Both Susanne and I have had mental health difficulties and so the title and our intention for it also has a very personal underlying meaning and message for us.

The subtitle, ‘Fragments Of Mind’ spilled out of Susanne almost like automatic writing. However, on another level it was a very meditated idea as it perfectly explains the structures in the book, such is the mystery of the creative act I guess. I’m a bit of an acrostic fanatic so I immediately began thinking of ways to achieve one for our book and so came the unusual colour names.

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Q. How important is colour in your work and life and are either of you synesthetes?

SUSANNE – As a visual artist, colour holds an important position in my making. I like to work with different materials, i.e. newspaper, magazines, fabric, all of which give me a starting point for my pieces. Since I have moved to beginning from a given background of the everyday instead of a blank canvas, the colour of the material is a factor and I enter into a relationship with it. Whether I am painting or sewing on my work, colour is always one of the choices to make. At points, I restrict myself to black washes and the colour shines through from the background. One example is my mixed media series “Antilife Manics” – this title is an anagram of the “Financial Times” – in which the salmon pink newspaper serves both as background and foreground text.

In terms of the poetry in this book, I visualised the individual colour and started writing from there. It gave me a great impetus and I freely associated from the specific colour. Our book opens with ‘flavescent’, meaning ‘becoming yellow’. From this, I immediately associated sitting in the sun with my eyes closed. So to write the poem, I put myself into that situation, I went out to sit in the sun with the sun shining through my eyelids. Further into the poem, the yellow then solidifies and becomes paint, building a bridge between the poet and the painter in me.

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KEVIN – No I don’t have synesthesia. Colour for this book was paramount. When myself and Susanne started writing, the only thing we had was colour.

So for each poem we both started at the same place and then from there we pursued our own perspectives on the same subject, the same colour. The colours we chose are rarely used so to many readers they are reading these unusual colour terms for the first time, echoing Pound’s famous advice ‘make it new’. I think for me colour is really the binding substance which holds the work intact. It’s the common ground and it’s one of the things that unifies myself and Susanne’s poems throughout. I think in some sense there is a synaesthetic feeling or spirit that can be derived from the work though. In the sense that we are constantly associating each colour with the various other human sensations. In a way colour was an expression of freedom, in that by using colours we weren’t attached to any object any place or time or dogma, any person or history or people or explicit emotion. By using colour, it was abstract enough for us to follow our own poetic intuition very freely, but at the same time colour is very familiar and universally discernible. As for the importance of colour in my life, well it’s never really occurred to me except to say that colour is a spectrum and I think absolutely everything in existence from thoughts and emotions to evolution, from time to death to swizzle sticks, everything somehow oscillates within a spectrum of some description.

Look out for Part 2 on Wednesday….

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