I read it all in one go. But the impression it made was deep. First, she was brought up in Chorley where I lived for my first 18 years on the planet. So this is the first published work I’ve read that names the psycho-geographic territory I thought only my own. Yet here it is in all its harrowing northern grit. I closed the last page just as I passed Wigan which was drenched in cold sheeting rain and dark grey August skies.
Second, she had laid out her memories of this northern town, and the writing is as stark and raw as a piece of self lacerated liver: painful, exhilarating, sometimes both at the same time – certainly never boring. Reviewers are murmuring of a new ‘voice’ and all that is great. She can become even more the iconic Instagram poet/writer who happens also to be a model- and black. Not many models become authors. Her presence in a Penguin book is significant for those looking for someone who almost gets the codes of life that are not yet cracked.
I know plenty of people who may be helped, and even inspired, by Yrsa’s story. She’s shone a torch into that dark inner ‘hole’ inside – ‘the terrible’- and told the story simply. In this tangled web are- sexual identity, mental crises, anger, puzzlement, inability to maintain healthy relationships, since the broken ones are all she knows. But also in this is her resilience, to see her take whatever criticism and applause comes with being lionised in media cliques. The ‘terrible’ goes by many names, but it is “a wall of smoke, always getting in the way, obscuring everything.” There are echoes of Push by Sapphire, another guts-and-all memoir that was the source for the film ‘Precious'(2009).
Daley-Ward does not explain or elaborate. Life for Yrsa comes in episodic spurts, snapshots that sear into the mind: chasing a unicorn, realising she likes girls more than men, being forced to accept secondary status in life due to skin colour, not knowing her real dad, and when getting close to someone, making a run for it. From pain grows peculiar flowers; this struggle gives the words a unique shape.There’s a good deal of typographical kinetics on the page- with some phrases presented upside down, and a playfulness with clipped phrasing and point of view. It’s slim writing, all bones and no flesh. Yet, it triggered feelings I have too about growing up in a small town where no one understands you, where you have to die the real you just to survive the torrent of abuse, where you are distorted out of shape by the well-meaning pressure to conform. Oh, and how a small town loves a scapegoat. Who can ever forget Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’?
Daley-Ward finds that at the core of yourself is ‘the terrible’ waiting for you, wherever you go, wherever you are- there it is! That particular passage stands out for its gear change into a more sustained, but still abrupt, flow. The courage to publish a memoir that tells these uncomfortable truths about family drama puts the author in a new more balanced relationship to the pain. This may well be the actual purpose of a memoir. “Look for yourself because it never helps to hear from anyone else,” she writes, but some people may need help getting to that hard-won equilibrium.
The point is that she found her ‘storytelling’ voice through poems such as ‘Bone’ and this is the magic salve against the onslaught of ‘the terrible.’ Yrsa took off on a flight to South Africa, and was asked to read a poem on open-mike about family discord, and she thought ‘I could do that’. This is the access point; through poetry and memoir, she now owns the story. And so might anyone own their own story – if they write it.
But first we need to understand what the hell happened? That takes a while. Another option is to study your natal chart….
This brings us to astrology and the impact of Pluto – one of whose aliases might be ‘the terrible’. This is what struck me while reading. It is that dark place where light attempts to shine, but fades quickly. It transforms us at the core and cannot ever be ignored. Where it is placed in a chart has rich meaning. Without knowing Yrsa’s chart details, it is hard to say if made a writer of her. But it put her on the edge for sure. Online there are varying birth years for her- both 1984 and 1989. Whichever is accurate, she falls within the Pluto in Scorpio generation; Pluto was in its own hell-house of the depths of frozen emotion where it rules supreme. So it is red hot intense. But wherever it manifests, especially if it is on an angle, or in opposition, or square to other planets, it can trigger events that swing from feeling empowered, to being robbed of power, to channeling your core being, and and re-birthing in another country.
Just as an example, when Pluto was in my sign, Sagittarius, from 1995 to 2008, I felt the urgent need to move across the world to live, not once, not even twice -but three times! The decisions came from a place deeper than the gut. I could not explain to others why I packed up and restarted in different countries. I just did it. Pluto ” acts to strip away what is unnecessary and superficial.” In her meditation on the nature of fate, Liz Greene goes deeper, comparing this energy to the Medusa, who turned those who gazed at her to stone, and who can “only be beheaded through the power of the reflected image, for to stare at her is to be overwhelmed by one’s own darkness.” Writing a memoir – and indeed studying your natal chart- is like using this mirror to see what otherwise might kill you.
The romantic and decadent poets knew that. Poet, Charles Baudelaire said that “Strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty” – it must have at least a single flaw. Beauty as well can cause distress. I remember feeling that when I got close to someone beautiful, I turned to stone – it was too painful to look them in the eye. Strangeness, horror, and the uncanny, the impossible, collapsing inwards, all have a reason to be there. They are part of the multi-faceted picture. The difficult, the awkward and depressing feelings in our lives, as tough as they may be, sharpen those edges that make the gem glisten brighter. It makes us realise finally, that in our own lives that the ‘terrible’ may create havoc, but deserves our awe and wonder; and how without it, life would lack salt, there would be no contrast, no poetry, no ability to see unicorns in the back yard. Writing is the perfect tool for dealing with ‘the terrible’ as then you can gain distance.
But I find also solace in astrology, not to explain away, but just to acknowledge and accept some of these complex feelings. In a chart, there are other redeeming, sweetening, softening factors besides Pluto, that lessen this blow to the gut. It is not all darkness and disgrace.
The focus here has been on Pluto, which delivers a book of truth, but there are also the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Chiron to consider, plus a whole host of other astrological information to ruminate upon.
It all needs unravelling, and a serious inward gaze.
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© Kieron Devlin, August, 2018
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