Strange Places

where imagination takes us and invents us

by Daniela Elza, Jun 21 2011

Last Thursday I helped co-host Twisted Poets with Bonnie Nish. The two features that read that night came from Bowen Island. One of them, Jude Neale, was a new voice to me. I was not sure what to think of a book exploring living with bipolar illness. Only to be pleasantly surprised, both by Jude’s voice and her poems from her new book Only the Fallen Can See, published this year by Leaf Press.

Jude inhabits her work well. It is offered in a voice that captures and invites you to listen. There is no exhaustion in these poems, despite the material they deal with.

“How does the dangerous night
accumulate in the mouth?”

Struggling with bipolar illness will give you an extra dose of exhaustion from and with life. Yet these poems are lean, pared down to their essentials.

“to this bed
I am silenced

by my reflection
in the many-eyed mirror”

It is not easy to hold my attention for the duration of a 20 minute reading. I tend to drift and get distracted if the reader is not there, if the words do not turn into a speckless window I can see through. My attention was held, I laughed and listened to the end.

Jude writes about bipolar disorder, drug haze, family ties with humour and grace. In the same breath that she makes you laugh, she holds your head to the edge of this despair and grief that “pools under the tongue.” Jude’s struggle is not tucked away in the closet. It is out, it troubles.

“Chunks of me
break off. Don’t leave

me on the edge
of this knife—

I am not sure whose blood
I’ll draw.”

I managed to read the book in one sitting (which was another surprise for me). I read half of it in one direction. The other half—back to front. Of course, with a few breaks in between to exhale deeply. Jude relates that at first she documented her experience in journals. She wrote about what she was going through at the time. The poems came later out of that writing. Through stripping down to essences.

“Though it has been years,
I remember the first time we kissed.
You came like a breath
under water.
I stitched you to me
with the green threads
of my primal need.”

The forward to the book is by Phillip W. Long, MD, DPH FRCP, Jude’s psychiatrist of seventeen years. He says: “Jude continued to write throughout her illness, giving a unique glimpse into the mind of a poet navigating the heights of mania and the depths of depression.”

The book is also a celebration and a testimony to overcoming. Amidst the marks and scars, is the strength of the human spirit to find humour, irony, and beauty in it all. Humour—that sure sign that some kind of healing has happened. To understand your predicament and still be able to sing about it.

“We sing ourselves back
and become once again whole.”

*****

“thank you for bringing to attention this woman’s amazing work. She owns what she does in that her voice is truly one she fought for! Jude we all celebrate your work. You show that it is possible to make something beautiful from something difficult.”
Bonnie Nish, Pandora’s Collective

“These poems follow a fractured trajectory that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit against despair. Beautiful, poignant, raw and powerful, Jude’s poetry is of a woman unbroken by her illness.”
Phillip W. Long, MD

” For anyone who has been lost in a fog of drugged numbness or who has simply been dispirited, Jude Neale’s pertinent imagery offers comfort and sustenance.”
Audrey Grescoe, author of “Giants, Colossal Trees of Pacific North America” (Roberts Rinehart, 1997).

“Fresh, mesmerizing, original and exuberant (but with a necessarily haunted and dark side), these are such emotionally stunning poems that I recommend them very highly to your attention. Jude has a great sense of rhythm too, but then she’s a classically trained mezzo-soprano. She also has an uncanny way of allowing her unconscious to toss up images whose random ‘illogic’ enchants.”
Elisabeth Harvor  “The Long Cold Green Evenings of Spring”, “An Open Door In The Landscape”

“From Jude Neale’s enticing titles to her clarifying punch lines, her poems snag the reader back to savour her words again and again. Her delightful and unique images convey much of life through complex layers of meaning.”
Bernice Lever “Never a Straight Line”, “Generation”

“When Jude reads her poetry onstage, people listen, laugh, and cry all at the same time. She sparkles!”
Carol Cram, Artistic Director, Write on Bowen: A Festival of Readers and Writers on Bowen Island