Cutting Up Depression

or how poetry came along to rearrange the pieces of the future

Last week Devin pointed me in the direction of this wiki article on Cut-up Technique. It came at a time when I had started to excavate my depression.

Part of the depression (what originally alerted me to the fact something was terribly wrong, and ongoing wrong, rather than just oscillating in and out of wrong) was my rapidly deteriorating memory. Combine that with an inability to focus and a disordering of the way my brain functioned it’s been a long slide into not being able to write. Add to that mix an absolute gutting of my confidence and it’s become a pretty lethal pill.

But I want to write.

Writing has always been my antidepressant.

To not be able to write compounds the problem.

The Techtonics of Depression

This time I see my depression like layers of earth, each one with its own characteristics and stories compacted between what came before and after. I can see where it started. I can see how over time I haven’t got better, I’ve just normalised how I felt. And with each knock back and each knock down I’ve sunk lower, normalised it and then sunk lower again.

Inside me are strata of misery and disappointment and hopelessness and bleakness and a pervading sense of being utterly lost and alone: this layer here, where the boy first refused to go to school in 2012; this one here where the school shunted us into Distance Education and called it help; here where I turned up every day to help with Distance Education, hating every minute of it; this one here where I suffered through glandular fever several months out from my 40th birthday; the one here, where the boy dropped out of school a second time after 10 weeks of being caught at school everyday and the privilege of driving hours a day to get there and thousands of dollars down the toilet; the one here, where it hit I was going to be imprisoned in my house forever with no hope of achieving anything I ever wanted to do, to watch dreams die; this one here were I came to see how I was already disappearing, becoming invisible to the suburban landscape; this one here where no matter how much others cared for me, I had stopped caring for myself.

On Cutting Into the Future

Conceptualising the last two years of depression, as one might see a core sample of earth, and with almost two weeks of gingko and positive thinking under my belt, I went in search of possible texts that I could put together to create a cut-up poem. It wasn’t exactly writing, but it was interacting with words in a creative 1I found a personal account of depression, “An Open Letter to Depression” at 20-nothings and the Oxford University of Natural History’s article, ‘How Do Fossils Form‘. I copied and pasted them into individual Word documents, tweaked the font and line spacing so the sentences ran into each other when they were folded in half. This made what I was about to create more ‘fold-up’ than ‘cut-up’.photo 2I then cut each article in half and taped them together. Immediately phrases bleed out of the jumble. Others slowly unearthed in the process of blanking out words and sentences, like a geological dig, brushing dirt from fossils. At the end of blotting out, I came across the title.

photo 3With the poem transposed from the page to the screen and assembled into lines, I moved a few up or down, cut out more words, made consistent (where possible) the tense and other mechanics for readability. And “An Open Letter on How Fossils Form When Conditions Beneficially Interact” was born.

William S. Burroughs, one of the main proponents of the cut-up technique suggested cut-ups may be effective as a form of divination saying, “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.” Sitting here on the cusp of being well again, I like that and how it adds another frame, another filter to the poem.

The future is one I fashion for myself, above and beyond of the bedrock of depression I’ve been trapped in.

An Open Letter On How Fossils Form When Conditions Beneficially Interact
With thanks to Meghan and Oxford University of Natural History

Just because depression is ‘gone’
means nothing.
Sometimes sleeping feels like slipping.
Happiness and well-being rot away.
The animal dies and its body sinks.
Skeletons fall from the ocean above.

Buried, explains how life may die.

The skeleton thickens as sediment,
added to depressions of life.
A story dissolves,
and a mould preserving the shape
of the original brilliant visions
crystallise inside happy pills

none of its internal features have
a reason to stay alive.
medicine and therapy,
worn away
by wind and rain
and minds.

Release Day: No Need To Reply

It’s been a little over three years since I last embarked on a brand new publishing project (From Stage Door Shadows). It’s been 18 months since I last published a book through eMergent (The Machine Who Was Also A Boy). So today breaks quite a few droughts.

It’s somewhat fitting that my 13th publication is my first solo work.

Thank you to every who helped along the way–from those who got their hands dirty in the text or trained eagle eyes on the graphic design, to those who cheered from the sidelines. Even though this is a solo collection, it as always, feels like a team effort.

I hope you enjoy No Need to Reply.

“I used to think there was an unexpected freedom in unread letters. To know at the end of writing I’d be the only one intimate with the contents. Now I think it’s the worst kind of invisibility…that I’m disappearing slowly with each word.”

No Need To Reply new1Experimental in style, structure and form, the eight stories explore the pain and euphoria of finding your voice. From a man confronting the price of a lie and a woman wrestling with the legacy of her mortality, to a young girl lost in a war of misunderstandings, the collection delves into conversations that define the struggle to be heard.



No Need To Reply
It Could Be
Holding On
Wishing, Happily Ever After

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Buy the chapbook
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New Collection Announced: No Need To Reply

I’ve been hinting around the social media traps for a while that something was in the mill with a collection. Anyone who follows my author page would have noted a new cover banner yesterday preceding today’s announcement!

Next Thursday, the 16th October, NO NEED TO REPLY will make its way out into the wild. It will be available as a pay-what-you-want eBook and a limited edition, numbered and signed chapbook.

The release coincides with the publication of one of the stories, ‘Olives’, on Ink, Sweat and Tears. The collection is the first part of a rolling collaborative project.

“I used to think there was an unexpected freedom in unread letters. To know at the end of writing I’d be the only one intimate with the contents. Now I think it’s the worst kind of invisibility…that I’m disappearing slowly with each word.”

No Need To Reply new1Experimental in style, structure and form, the eight stories explore the pain and euphoria of finding your voice. From a man confronting the price of a lie and a woman wrestling with the legacy of her mortality, to a young girl lost in a war of misunderstandings, the collection delves into conversations that define the struggle to be heard.


“24″ – The Complete Story List

in collaboration with Claire Jansen

5313696612_f064cd9bec_oThree days before Christmas Amber lands in Australia to celebrate the festive season with Ben. But he’s not expecting her or the news she brings. Her presence sends radial fractures into Ben’s life and those close to him, from his sister to his lover and beyond.

Told across a single day, through the eyes of five characters, ’24’, delves into the complexities of the relationships closest to our hearts.

“24″ – 06:00

“24″ – 08:00

“24″ – 10:00

“24″ – 12:00

“24″ – 14:00

“24″ – 16:00

“24″ – 18:00

“24″ – 20:00

“24″ – 22:00

“24″ – 00:00

“24″ – 02:00

“24″ – 04:00

Image: Walt Stoneburner Time – 12:35 via Flickr

“24″ – 02:00

The deserted streets with their festive lights, the 80’s music marathon on the radio and the warm wind whistling through the windows gave the night a surreal edge on the way home. Amber slept on Ben’s shoulder in the back seat and I wondered again, the wisdom in taking her home and not to hospital given the state she was in. Tiredness furred the edges of my thoughts and I struggled to keep focused.

“Remember the vibrator Aunty Sue gave Mum for Christmas,” I said and turned Springsteen down.

“Mum said how funny she was for sending her a torch without a light,” Ben said. I laughed and the tension of the last twelve hours washed away. “I was certain there was a way to make it work.” His sounded present but he was lost to something out in the dark street. “I’m going to make this work, Leesie.” He looked into the rear vision mirror and our eyes met. “No more fuck ups. Amber needs me.”

I nodded and we drove with the radio filling the silence.

The closer we got to The Old’s the sharper the salty tang in the air became. Then the ocean was there, sprawled before us, flat and peaceful under the crescent-bowl moon.

“I was thinking,” I said, turning into The Old’s street. “We were going up to the beach house on Boxing Day. You and Amber should go up instead.”

Ben didn’t answer and we sat in the driveway with the car idling and the lights fading in and out of colour in the front window.

“You always preferred that mode,” Ben said eventually. He unclipped his seat belt and gently laid Amber’s head against the seat. “Lights to bore yourself by.”

“Better than your brain melt setting.” Our words were hollow. I cut the engine and said, “I’m going in to make a coffee. Then I’d better go home.”

“Hey.” He followed me up the driveway, alone. “Thank you. You didn’t have to stay.”

“Yes, I did.” I hugged him tight and even though he was half a foot taller, he felt insubstantial in my arms, like the small, gangly boy who begged me to take him swimming.

“I wish I could say everything was going to be all right.”

“She doesn’t want to go home. She said she wants to stay here. With me.”

“No one has to decide anything tonight.” I yawned and let him go. “I’ll go in and sort the bed.”

Inside, I stopped at the Christmas tree. Tomorrow, while Ben and Amber slept, I’d come back and pull it down, give them the opportunity to put it up together. Ben needed to make memories because too soon it would be all he had of Amber.

I was about to walk past when I saw the empty vodka bottle on its side near the coffee table; a ring of hot pink around the neck when I picked it up. Ben was at the front door with Amber in his arms and I hurried to his room.

“Put Amber in my old room,” I called from the end of the hallway and closed his bedroom door. “It smells of vomit in here.”

I needed to think quickly so he wouldn’t need to know there was a naked girl passed out in the middle of his bed.

The final part of 24 will be available here at 4am.

“24″ – 22:00

Ben’s stomach churned double-time when he saw the flashing Christmas lights in the front window. The scratches on his cheek started throbbing again. Beer reflux burbled up his throat as he fumbled and dropped the key. The door opened as he tried to get it in the lock again.

“You’re a shit, Ben.”

“And hello to you too, Annalise.”

“I’ve been waiting since 2pm.”

“I forgot, okay. I got a last minute contract.”

He pushed past her ignoring the newly festive lounge room.

“She’s gone,” Annalise called down the hallway after him.

He stopped and put a hand on the wall, but didn’t turn around. “What the fuck do you mean, she’s gone?”

“Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“It’s not that late,” he said and Annalise followed him into the kitchen and watched him slump into a seat. “I’ve been walking around trying to get my head together, all right? It’s been a fucking awful day.”

“Awful for who, Ben?” Before he could reply Annalise pulled out her phone.

“You could have called her. Or me!”

“I assumed she would be sleeping off jetlag. I’m home now aren’t I? I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“You never do.”

“Fuck you, Annalise.” He stood and the chair fell backward. “Forty-eight hours ago I had no idea this cluster fuck coming my way. Amber emailed from Changi airport with her flight details after three months of radio silence. Bet she didn’t tell you that, huh? She dropped off the face of the earth. No warning. No explanation.”

“What’s she supposed to do, apologise for getting cancer?”

“She could have told me. I was in love with her.” He sat on the edge of the table and dropped his head. His voice was quieter when he spoke. “I mean, still love her. She’s everything I ever wanted. And now she’s here and she’s dying.”

“So you left your dying girlfriend here and went to the pub.”

“I was at work. A few beers this arvo. I’ve been wandering around, trying to get my head straight. I didn’t ask for this.”

“You can’t do the ‘poor me’ act Ben. You’re a two-timing bastard. Look at your face.”

He put his hand to his cheek. “Helena was an accident, a one-night stand who just hung around. If I had known she was a psycho bitch—”

“You really are a piece of work.”

“And you are a sanctimonious, judgmental bitch who has no appreciation for the fact other people’s lives get fucked up sometimes.” The words slammed into the laminate doors and dropped like dead birds between them.

Annalise started to shake, hands clenched by her side. “Ben. You screw up and wail that it’s not your fault. You wail and you wait for Mum and Dad to pick up the pieces. Give you—”

“I was made redundant. Like that was my fault.” He snatched Annalise’s car keys off the bench. “And I didn’t give Amber cancer.”

Annalise blocked the door. “You can’t drive anywhere.”

He jammed the keys in her hand. “No, but you can.”

The next part of 24 will be available here at 12am.

“24″ – 18:00

Mae-Lyn fucked like a ninja with a terminal case of hiccups. The first time we got horizontal all I could think was: do I sound like that? Do I sound like anything? And I couldn’t get off because I started cataloguing the various noises and sounds all the other girls I’d been with made and had to blame my lack of performance on beer. I got over it after that.

She lay on her side, sucking a durrie, tattooed body slick and aglow in the golden light. I wanted to spend what was left of the day lost in the artwork on her body, forgetting how I’d screwed up yet another exam.

Then my phone rang.

“That’s one persistent fucker, Will,” Mae-Lyn said and reached across to tap the ash into the bourbon can on the bedside table. “Answer it before I make it do the reverse transformer.”

I slid out and rummaged through my satchel. H flashed on the screen.

“It’s poor little Helena, isn’t it?”

I didn’t reply. I refused to talk about Helena in Mae-Lyn’s bedroom.

“Answer it? Can’t stand her ringing every five minutes for the rest of the fucking night.”

“Hello,” I said, trying to sound casual as I sat on the floor, back against the bed.

“Why the fuck doesn’t anyone ever answer their phone? I’ve been calling for two fucking hours.” A different kind of hysterical pulled at her words and I braced for what came next.

I didn’t expect loud, tearing sobs.

“Hey, hey… Helena?” I picked out ‘Ben’ and ‘cancer’ from the mess that was her simultaneously crying and talking. “Ben’s got cancer? Shit, Helena.”

“Skank… London… she’s got.”

Then it hit me. “Ben dumped you?”

From the howls on the other end of the phone I knew I was right. I wanted to say, told you so. But I didn’t.

Mae-Lyn slipped her arms around me, hands migrating south.

“Hang up,” she whispered into my other ear. “She’ll have found someone else and forgotten about it all before the weekend’s over.”

I wanted to deny the truth in Mae-Lyn’s words but her lips were on my neck, then back on my earlobe and I lost all ability to decipher Helena’s yammering sobs.

Eventually Helen said, “Ohmigod, I’m sorry, Will. Ben’s making me insane. I’ve been a shit. Can you come home? Please.”

And like draining bath water the crazy went out of Helena. She hiccupped half-sobbed breathes and waited for an answer. I squirmed out of Mae-Lyn’s hold.

“Okay, but I’m in the city. It’ll take me a bit to get home.”

“That’s okay,” she said brightening, “just as long as I know you’re coming.”

I dragged on my sleep pants and t-shirt and laced up my trainers as Mae-Lyn’s seething recriminations silently burnt into my back.

“Liar,” she said finally. “You haven’t told her about us, have you?”

I ignored the baiting.

“You wanna hear why you haven’t told her?”

“I’ll see you at band practice.”

I was almost out her door when she called out, “When are you gonna admit you’re in love with Helena?”

The next part of 24 willl be available here at 8pm.