A Game of Truth and Dare

The Week of Felix Poetry Festival, 31.5.-1.6., Belgium

/ by Els Moors

Yesterday I received a handful of poems by post. Apparently, a long time ago, after a poetry reading, I had talked to someone who was also writing at that time. He contacted me again recently through Messenger, and referred to our conversation of years ago. He told me that he had stopped writing for a while, and that he was admitted to a day care centre to take care of his psychological problems. He was 27 and soon to be discharged from the day care centre, to live with his mother because he was broke. But he was happy that he was feeling better and he was writing and drawing again. He showed me one of his pencil drawings. I liked one of them very much, showing a man with a huge mouth that covered his head. The man in the drawing held a tiny branch with some leaves in his hand that hung around his neck, like a doctor's stethoscope. We made a deal. He would offer me the drawing, and I would read and comment on his poems in return. I read the poems and they dazzled me. Just like the drawing, they seemed to come directly from the depths of his troubles, but there was not an inch of self-pity, or regret, or depression to be found in them. They collected astonishingly simple observations of his months and years of struggle with the world, drugs, and with growing up. Very few other people were present in the poems, and those who were present, were mostly girls. He had known and befriended a girl in the hospital he was treated at who, like him, suffered from depression, and by the end of the poem she killed herself. The poem describes the games they had played at the institution, the fun they had had. There was so much life and death in the work, and so much tempered strength in his sentences and words and images. A clear voice was bravely speaking, and it baffled me. The only things I didn't understand were the remarks he made now and then about God, Jesus and religion. I told him of my lack of understanding and asked if he could enlighten me more about this rather unpoetic struggle with a god he – as a poet – didn’t really believe in, at least that's how it felt to me. He answered that, during his most severe periods of mental illness, God and Jesus had been the core of the psychotic dreams that had threatened him. Writing about them was semi-dangerous: he could easily relapse. When I suggested that in that case it might be better to stop writing about them altogether and write more about the girls, he sent me a smiley. It glowed lovingly in the dark. I remembered at that point a poet whom I had loved and admired with all my heart, who told me that he believed it was impossible to be a poet and not to be pious too, in some way or another. Maybe every poem was essentially written for a god, a god that had to be killed and erased for the same reasons, with every new poem that had to be written, like a game of truth or dare.

Els Moors

(Poperinge, 1976) is a Flemish poet and novelist. In January 2018 she became Poet Laureate of Belgium, a post lasting two years. Her poetry debut Er hangt een hoge lucht boven ons (There is a tall sky above us; 2006) was nominated for the C. Buddingh’-Prize and was awarded the prestigious Herman de Coninck Prize for best poetry debut. Her second collection of poetry, Liederen van een kapseizend paard (Songs of a capsizing horse), was published in 2013 and won the J.C. Bloem Prize.