Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Lost Parade

Earlier this year, I was invited to be a part of a community art project. This was the brainchild of Sheena Dean, a very talented local artist. Sheena lives with borderline personality disorder, and her condition often informs her art.

A range of volunteers were invited to get involved, from Minds, Twigs, every local organisation that deals with the mentally ill, basically. Participants were encouraged to come up with a costume that represented them or their illness in some way. I chose Henry VIII, because my manic patches tend towards the grandiose and the tyrannical, but also because he reflected other sides of my personality. I've given him Lucretia, my B. C. Rich Warbeast guitar, because Henry was a musician and apparently composed Greensleeves. He also looks over his shoulder in the photo, gazing at his own reflection. This is not vanity but introspection: checking past behaviour for signs of mania and depression. As I've said elsewhere here, vigilance is everything.

As will be seen, 15 people ended up getting involved, with a wide range of costumes. This would have been really hard to organise: everyone had to commit to turning up for several discussions, fittings, etc, and then the final photograph. Working with the mentally ill can be challenging, but the final image came out very well.

For my creative writing course, I have been given an assignment to choose an image and write about it. Naturally, I chose this one. I think it's great. So I had to choose a syllable and line count and write a poem. As usual, I couldn't stop there. I now have 7 poems about this photograph, and they are below.

The Lost Parade - Part 1

Free verse - unrhymed and irregular metre
Do you see us
From the corner of your eye,
When you look through us?
Do you know we're there,
Beside you but not of you,
Living on a tangent,
Living on a scrapheap,
Hidden between the cracks and the shadows?

Seek and you will find.
We are there,
Fireworks awaiting the caress of a spark,
Dressing in the costumes of a pantomime
Or a history book,
So that you may see us
As we see ourselves,
Not wrong but different,
Not mad but not conforming
Except to the camaraderie
Of the Lost Parade.

The Lost Parade - Part 2

Blank verse (unrhymed but regular syllabic metre), syllable count 11, line count 5
The sojourner, the pilgrim, thinks the rapture
Is on its way. She holds her Bible tightly
And reaches out to God, hand above her head.
He has helped her out before, and now, this time,
She hopes he will come back to help her again.

She turns her back to what she sees in the room:
Who can blame her? Zombies and vikings, and worse,
Punks and skinheads, wizards and cats, aliens
And the worst kind of royal tyrant, a king
Who killed his wives and fought with all of Europe.

Truly an interesting group of people.
The zombie, attacking capitalism,
Extends a rotting hand, but Madam Commerce,
Impervious and proud, is not threatened by
The flaccid violence of one already dead.

Greed will live forever, and on her laptop,
Ones and zeroes coalesce, to form themselves
Into purchase orders and Word documents,
Balances in off-shore tax haven accounts,
And the occasional game of solitaire.

She doesn't see the viking: he won't see her
As his eyes do not look at anything here.
He doesn't want to fight though: like Ikea,
His Scandinavian heritage has died.
Dressing like a warrior isn't enough.

The elderly artist paints his masterpiece,
But both he and it are turned from view, hidden.
But not to the extent of Wardrobe Woman,
Covered by a blanket in the brown cupboard.
Photograph me, sure, but please don't look at me!

Modest, too, is Shoulder Girl, the arm on show
But nothing else, her back to the camera,
Underneath the heaving table on her own.
If the mirror had been moved, reflecting her,
All would see that there is no reason to hide.

Even the Green Man, proud spirit of the woods,
Is hidden by his creation, lit by leaves,
Darkened by the branches of the woodland trees,
Venerating the life force that nature gives
But wishing he could get there in his wheelchair.

The wizard wishes his magic was stronger,
Strong enough to help the other people here,
For everyone, king or punk, cat or angel,
Is afflicted by some malady of mind,
Some taint of blood that's dominating their lives.

But magic doesn't work, even though it should,
And so the Lost Parade went off to their homes,
To take their meds, talk to their psychiatrists,
Listen to their voices, analyse their dreams
And carry on trying to pass as 'normal'.

The Lost Parade - Part 3

Blank verse with syllabic metre, syllable count - 7, line count - 3, with much use of 'enjambment' (putting in unexpected line breaks to give a sense of tension)
The minister strokes the sky,
But doesn't reach the face of
God. Maybe he isn't there

In the skies. Maybe he is
In all of us. Maybe he
Isn't anywhere at all.

The zombie doesn't care, he
Wants to suck the brains of the
Businesswoman because rich

Meat tastes better. Maybe the
Brains of the rich taste like swan.
The alien almost chokes,

Wrapped like a Quality Street,
Breath misting the inside of
Her green plastic mask. Let's hope

The photographer does his
Job soon, or we'll have a death
On our hands. How we suffer

For our art. How we suffer
For our minds, when those minds
Turn against us and make us

Turn against those we love, turn
Away from the light and pass
Into a life of shadow.

But somehow, fifteen people
Who did suffer for their minds
Were brought together for art.

And like any veterans,
They compared war stories: the
Manic patch of ninety eight,

The PTSD issues
When a car backfires. He
Lost his leg on Ulster's streets.

And communities were formed,
A band of the dispossessed,
A Lost Parade of subjects

Proudly without a king, for
Though Henry was there he wore
No crown and lived like a serf.

The Lost Parade - Part 4

Rondeau redoublé - a formal French poetic form popular in the 13th - 15th centuries. It has five four-line stanzas and one five-line stanza where only two rhymes are allowed in a rhyme scheme of ABAB - BABA (repeat). The first line of the first stanza is the last line of the second stanza, the second line of the first is the last line of the third, etc, and the first half of the first line of the first stanza is the whole of the last line of the last stanza. It is in iambic pentameter, which is an example of accentual-syllabic verse. Very limiting and quite tricky!
The Lost Parade have gathered in their cell.
The painter turns his canvas into art.
The zombie shows a window into hell.
The laptop is turned on but doesn't start.

The Christian prays to God with all her heart,
She stands so very high while others fell.
And merged as one while others fell apart
The Lost Parade have gathered in their cell.

The wizard cocks his head to hear the bell
Telling when the incantations start.
And with the secret craft he'll never tell
The painter turns his canvas into art.

The punk sticks out his buttocks like a tart:
His glue bag has a most distinctive smell
And pulsing like his misbegotten heart
The zombie shows a window into hell.

He reaches out a hand, but just as well,
His palsied reach at least exceeds his grasp.
The businesswoman switches on her Dell.
The laptop is turned on but doesn't start.

The scene is set: the photo makes it art.
The speck of dirt inside the oyster's shell
Becomes a pearl, and everybody's parts
Are mingled like the water in the well.
The Lost Parade have gathered.

The Lost Parade - Part 5

Senryu / Haiku
Fifteen of the lost
Dress in their best disguises
So they might be found.

The Lost Parade - Part 6

This is a butterfly cinquain. Syllablic metre with an ascending and then descending pattern of syllables, so the first line has 2, the second 4, then 6, 8, 2, 8, 6, 4, 2. Number of accents also goes up and down in a 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 4, 3, 2, 1 pattern.
The Lost
Parade like stars
Dressed to the nines like Cher,
But she's dressed for the premiere
And they
Are mostly dressed for the film set,
Wearing costumes not frocks,
Giving themselves
To art.

The Lost Parade - Part 7
Bussokusekika - Japanese form similar to a haiku (but much older). It is in a 5-7-5-7-7-7 syllable configuration. This type of verse is named after 21 verses that were discovered in a statue of Buddha's foot, writen by monks at some uncertain time. This form was popular up to about 800 AD but fell into disuse afterwards.
Now the Lost Parade
Are lost no more. They are now
Immortalised in
Poetry and celluloid,
Heroes of Post Modern art,
Hanging on the wall of fame.

The photograph is
on permanent display in the Post Modern gallery, Swindon.


  1. Wow, some amazing pieces of poetry have come from the whole experience, along with all the other benefits to all involved. I hope others will follow the example and try a similar project.

    This collection of poems and its accompanying photograph are genius, and i would urg you to approach someone about publishing them, it would especially be useful to anyone doing an article on mental health issues, groups working with those affected as well as a whole host of literary groups,your careful yet poignant handling of a sensitive subject,in all it's honesty is a true blessing that should be shared with a much wider audience. Best Wishes.