I have been trying to write this for some time but kept getting apprehensive about it. Something happened which I cannot fully understand and which I would not wish to understand but it has changed my perspective greatly and has made me realise how important words are, not only to me but to all of us. The reasons why I have been apprehensive are probably at least partially due to self-consciousness on my part. I do not want people to think I am devaluing the power of what happened by bragging about it, this is not bragging. I need to share this because it proves beyond any doubt that writing is a very powerful tool for healing and for passing on positive messages about life and living. I do not want to appear to be anything other than humble about this, indeed it has humbled me somewhat, but since I was already checking my ego it has proved to be just one more realisation, albeit a very significant one.
On the 2nd of May 2012 my Mucker Lee Wharton hanged himself. Lee and I were very close we had known each other since primary school and remained firm friends right throughout our lives. I have so many memories of Lee and they are all good memories. He was a hugely popular guy and will be sorely missed in Craigavon. Part of this is about Death and about how I got over Lees death in particular but it is also about something around the nature of Cause and Effect. Strangely one of my favourite poems is called ‘Cause and Effect’ it is by The man Bukowski and while its subject matter is dark, it is particularly apt…
Cause And Effect
the best often die by their own hand
just to get away,
and those left behind
can never quite understand
would ever want to
When I heard of Lees death I was in Craigavon with my nephew Dean doing recording and I immediately left and went to Lees Mum and Dads house. I sat with Lees Mum for a couple of hours then I decided I needed to get out for a while and went for a long walk around Craigavon. I went to see my niece Nadine then walked some more. I went to places we used to knock about and listened to old rap tunes we used to listen to. I thought about Lee the whole time. I walked and ended up back at Lees Mum and Dads house. I went to see my mates Bernie and later Conor, they were as shocked as everyone, we’re a close knit lot down there, many of us having grown up together. I just kept walking for hours and thinking. It wasn’t a mad affair it was all very calculated, I knew what I was doing, I was preparing myself for the difficult time ahead.
In the middle of all this walking though I kept having this recurring thought and it was simple. I have to keep going. I cannot let this hit me too hard or it is going to kill me and I am not exaggerating about that, I mean it. I needed a way to control my emotions and once again there was poetry. Poetry has saved me more than once. It has helped me make sense of myself when it seemed impossible. As night approached I knew I had to get back to Belfast so I told everyone I would be back the next morning and I left.
On the train home I started writing. By the time I got home I continued and in the course of a few hours I had fifty odd poems. Most were like short tributes but some were pretty deep and very meaningful. I was making sense of death in real time. I was keeping nothing in and just letting the words go. I was also posting on Facebook and this helped to draw my friends and family and others affected by Lees death into my grieving, so in effect it was a collective grieving process. I needed this because I would not have been able to grieve alone else I would have cracked.
My knowledge of myself was also crucial as was the fact that I had already successfully gotten through very difficult times in the past including close family deaths. I know myself very well and I don’t harbour anything. Nothing is kept, everything that I think or feel comes out in my words be it good, bad or indifferent, it is said and I make no excuses for any of it. I don’t say things to try and make people like me I say what I feel at the time and have no apprehension abut who is listening or what they think. Self honesty has kept me alive, I would recommend it to anyone.
So I went through it all and some people would occasionally say “It hasn’t hit you yet!” If that is the case then it will never hit me. The fact is that I dealt with it while it was happening because I knew I could not allow myself to come consumed by it or I was a dead man.
I continued to write and any time I was down home I always went to visit Lees parents, which I still do. I have known them for a very long time, since I was a boy and I am proud that I have helped his Mum in particular who was struggling a bit in the month or so after his death.
My writing was much more focused than usual and very deep. I am a confessional writer, I always have been. Secrets can kill you, especially secrets of an emotional nature. A big part of the difficulty people have with themselves is trying to balance what they disclose and what they keep to themselves. A major problem that arises when attempting to keep this balance is the fact that a lot of the time we are afraid to share certain aspects because we worry that people won’t endear themselves to us if we disclose too much. While this may appear wise it is actually just bottling. Bad energy must be released and dispelled just as much as good energy. If you have ever experienced any kind of emotional trauma, however insignificant it may seem, you MUST face it and understand it and accept it, only then can you be free of it.
Then I wrote a poem in the middle of it all, a poem called ‘With Dignity’ and posted it on Facebook on the 11th of May 2012.
Whether it’s a torch or a
burden or a human shaped
mood, carry it with dignity.
Only you are responsible for the
depth of those eyes and only
you can switch between carousels.
Night will come again, of that you
can be sure, so make yourself a spell
and hold out your hands to the departed.
We are between places here
if you didn’t already know that
you should know that now and smile,
Fear will make a victim of you,
only a solid thinking process can
enlighten your previously stolen days.
You are not alone, there are copies of
you ready to help with every need, ready
to cope when your strength fails you,
so stand up, put your hands out and
let go, someone beautiful will be there
and we will carry each other, with dignity.
In December two days before the All Ireland Slam, I had a comedy gig in The Pavilion. It was here I met Paula Reynolds and her Dad John. Paula is originally from near Dublin but has been living in Belfast. I only spoke to them very briefly before and after my set and that was that really although she had clicked like on my Facebook Fanpage. She had been reading my poems and would like the odd one but on the 12th of May 2012 she sent me an e-mail thanking me for posting the poem ‘With Dignity’.
She had read the poem before going to sleep and had a visit in her dream from her late sister in law and she said this gave her “perspective, answers and company”. I was astounded. Surely this was just a poem was it not? A Poem? No I don’t think it was a poem, I now believe this piece is an incantation.
As Paula said herself it is partly her own open-mindedness and I believe this but it seems that my poem was a catalyst for her to experience what she did. Many people will dismiss this as nonsense but it will be obvious that anyone who does this is closed minded and they will be unlikely to experience anything spiritual. It must also be remembered that you do not need to be religious to have a spiritual experience. The modern age has taken the spirituality out of people so I feel privileged to have penned something so deeply significant.
Gone are the days of playing around with words, this is serious business. I was able to form words so close to the associated emotion that another human being had a spiritual experience. I feel immensely privileged that Paula shared this knowledge with me and I will be forever grateful to her for it. Since this has happened a friend of mine has shared this poem with others and she told that the same thing seems to have happened in three distinct cases. People read it and get hit by it. I don’t know how to take it all in, still.
I feel privileged that I wrote it but I don’t feel empowered by it, not in the sense that it gives me a feeling of greatness. I now have a large degree of control over myself that I was unable to muster in the past, due to chemicals and an inability to understand myself I was extremely self-destructive. Something happened in mid 2009 which I can only describe as a click, something went off and everything changed. I got up and began changing my life from that point on and especially in 2011 I made massive changes in my perspective and my approach to life.
My ability to deal with Lees death is the culmination of years of work. I often describe it as “Doing a job on myself” and that is in effect what happened but I don’t want or expect praise for it because it literally was a click and I was not in control of that or if I was it was completely sub-conscious. It appears I am tough and not in the bravado-esque sense, there’s something in me that seems to be resilient to the point of distraction. I am single minded and can do things if I focus and I do focus, especially when it comes to writing.
I wrote a book in 12 days once. In February 2011 I decided upon a theme worked out that I would split it into 6 sections of 10-12 poems per section and began. 12 days later I had finished it. Obviously it needs work. I have not looked at it in just over a year but that shows how comfortable I am with language. I wrote another book and ended up discarding all but 4 or 5 of the poems in it because it was based upon a state of confusion. I have also finished my second book which is called “City” and will be going to Publishers soon. If you are of an insecure disposition you will think that I am boasting right now about how brilliant I am. What I am doing is explaining how I have been able to overcome struggles in life that used to cripple me and that would cripple many people and I have done it by teaching myself how to love language and the associated emotions. I am very comfortable in myself now, very contented and I am able to help people due to my contentedness. I am also full of gratitude and I believe a lack of gratitude is what is wrong with our world and the people in it.
If you can write you should hone that skill. If you have children you should teach them how to write, teach them early how to express themselves and they will grow to be comfortable with who they are. This is very important. Writing is emotion. It is expression. Language is life.
I would like to thank anyone who has ever read my work because without you I would not be whole. Paula’s ability to understand the interpretation of my poem has created a huge sense of achievement in me, it is by far the greatest thing I have yet achieved as a human being. I will continue to write and to push the spiritual and emotional boundaries of this soul you call Séamus Fox. Thank you for reading this and thank you for being whoever you are and whoever you wish to be.