Today is Suicide Prevention Day. You might think, What’s that got to do with Poetry?
Quite a bit it turns out, for poet Jeremy Dixon, who recently won the Wales Book of the Year Poetry award.
Jeremy’s collection A Voice Coming from Then charts the homophobic bullying he experienced as a teenager and his subsequent suicide attempt, and recovery forging an identity for himself that rejected the negative image he had forced on him by the bullies. Along the way it is heartbreaking and hilarious and joyful.
Reading the poems in manuscript when Jeremy first submitted the collection I was sobbing uncontrollably within pages.
This is the precise response I sent to Jeremy whilst still mopping my tears.
Content warning notwithstanding, you may have to wait a while for a coherent answer, I’m already in tears and I’ve only got to Anne Sexton. Not feeling strong enough for this right now, but if they are all like this, it’s going to be an emphatic YES.
and not much later the same day
And then I had to go back and finish, and of COURSE it’s YES.
I don’t often weep over a MS, but as I know Jeremy a bit from publishing him before and meeting at events, it was probably tougher than reading these from a stranger. Which brings me to the vexed question of Content Warnings.
Jeremy has this to say on the subject in the introduction:
// a note on content warnings
For me content warnings really work. If I am not prepared then sometimes just seeing the word ‘suicide’ has an emotional effect.
And I get it, I really do, I have had a complete melt down from authors sending me (sometimes unsolicited, grrr) graphic distressing material without warning. Some of that is outrage that they think they can do that, at least in a bookshop you’ve chosen to pick the book up, in a MS there’s nothing to indicate what’s there until it’s too late. And I don’t voluntarily read things that are going to upset me, real life is quite sufficient, thanks. BUT it means I probably won’t pick up a book with a content warning on the cover. And other people may think twice too.
When we were recording the audiobook (voiced by the MAGNIFICENT Nigel Pilkington) we cautioned both Nigel and our sound engineer, Jess, that it was potentially an emotional listen, and Jess in particular just shrugged, and said ‘powerful, isn’t it,’ because we had warned her.
The book is peppered with statistics and there are resources at the end.
just one accepting adult
in a LGBTQ+ young person’s life
can reduce the risk
of suicide by 40%
The Trevor Project, 2019
I wanted to be make the book as safe as possible. So as part of that I decided on this, the structure of the poems as couplets so that there would be nothing about the structure or the forms of the poems that would throw people, and then tied to that was the use of statistics to give a kind of grounding to give an overview, to give it a different voice, a research voice, but they were still formatted in the same way as poems so that they’re like tiny, tiny little poems themselves.
Homophobia, bullying, cruelty, suicide attempts… hard, hard things to experience, hard to write about, but in Jeremy’s careful, compassionate hands, emotional, but rewarding, cathartic and inspiring.
As Andy Welch one of the judges of the Wales Book of the Year said during the announcement on Radio Wales,
It just took me aback completely. It was so shocking, but something so beautiful to come out of it.
And Jeremy at the launch of the book said this:
I wonder if [writng the book] is another form of potential protection… in some ways, it’s been a very healing process… once the poem’s written, and especially when it’s in a book, there’s another distancing. I think for me this relates to the book as an object. It’s like everything is contained in that book now, so I don’t need to carry it around with me anymore.
So if, like me, you shy away from a content warning, be encouraged, this is a generous kindly book that doesn’t want to steep you in trauma, it wants to share recovery and particular joy of looking back at a tough time and realising it really is the past, and that by writing about that past we can change our future.
The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) aims to prevent male suicide in the UK.
The Compassionate Friends offers many different kinds of support for bereaved families.
CRUSE Bereavement Care provides support
and counselling to those suffering from grief.
An international anti-bullying charity.
Welsh charity for people with serious mental illness and their carers.
Help for those who feel life is not worth living.
Offers suicidal adults free short-term stays in a safe and caring environment.
Offers support and advice to young people at risk of suicide.
Dedicated to reducing feelings of isolation and disconnection that can
lead to suicide.
The Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) supports all those bereaved or affected by suicide.
The world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organisation for LGBTQ+ youth.