Cathexis Northwest Press
Sundays are for Scalping
By: Jake Bailey
Shaved to the scalp, I free my head of its adornments, electro-chemo littering the floor in white speckled dandruff and brown wavy locks of paintbrush bristles. Born again, ass slapped screaming into the mirror. Exhaling, I run my bone-fingers over prickle dome, dust remnants to the ground in search of an end. It is much colder when one is stripped of discernible characteristics, when one is no longer recognizable beneath the razor’s edge. Lost in vacant expression, I slip back from screen, lose feeling in toe, leg, limb, a marionette aware of spidered web. They are no longer mine, these devices of locomotion. They are filled with angry bees furiously swarming in empty cavities, unable to move nests of flesh and bone, unable to send signals down the wire. Sinking to the floor, the body liquefies into gelatinous goo, oozing over ice-chilled tile and settling in the grime of the grid-like grout. I am not what I have always been, this puddle of freckled absence. The pool, that primordial film, gives rise to single-celled moments flashing in the inverse of the mind, images redacted and extracted from the buzzing locus of the still opening eye. Birthing a man, the cells give way, give rise to carnality lying naked on a bathmat, shivering beneath the drone of the fan. Coming to, I clothe myself in tattered plush, blanketing the body in appearance again, blanketing the self in the being of seem; but I am not who they say that I am, a bifurcated bald spot, a crown exposed.
Jake Bailey is a first-year graduate student in Antioch University’s MFA in Creative Writing program and considers himself a schizotypal confessionalist. He has forthcoming work in The Laurel Review and has been published in The Esthetic Apostle and Prairie Light Review. He is also an associate editor for Lunch Ticket and lives in Chicago with his girlfriend and three dogs. Interview with the Poet: Cathexis Northwest Press Well, first of all, thank you so much for doing this with us! We are thrilled to have you on our front page this month! Jake Bailey I am thrilled as well! This will be my first interview about my poetry and I'm excited to have this conversation. CNP Awesome! This is one of our favorite parts about running this press, giving due attention to poets who might not usually have the opportunity... Too often we only get to see the interviews with the big names. JB And while I appreciate those interviews--they're very insightful!--I think it's wonderful that your magazine is providing a platform for artists like myself (those who aren't well known quite yet). CNP This very well could be the first interview in a series of many! So, we wanted to talk a bit about your background before we discuss the poem itself... Your bio is refreshingly honest and gives the work a particular weight. If you're comfortable doing so, will you elaborate on what "Schizotypal Confessionalist" means to you? It is easy enough to assume a definition, but we're interested in what your definition looks like. JB Of course! Identifying as a schizotypal confessionalist, to me, simply means that I try to provide a first-person, phenomenological account of my experiences with Schizoaffective Disorder. In my everyday life, there are features of the conscious mind that I encounter which differ from what one might term "normal," whether that be hallucinatory phenomena, dissociations, or wild mood swings. My hope is that my poetry will not only shed light on these various facets of mind, but that it will also resonate with individuals having similar experiences. CNP Ah! And that begs a questions that we were going to save to the end, but we just can't wait! When others encounter your poems, specifically other folks coping with mental illness, what do you hope your poems will do for other people? JB Specifically for other individuals coping with mental illness, I hope that I can provide language, images, and turns of phrase that capture experiences that they, themselves, may have had as well. In doing so, I hope that my work can make them feel less alone, allowing them to know that their experiences are valid and a part of the varied tapestry of neurodiversity. CNP A noble cause. Some of our editors, as writers themselves, have struggled with mental illnesses of other varieties, and have found a release through art and poetry... It can be extraordinarily cathartic to be so self-reflective. I think what really struck us was the "confessionalist" part, this desire to put the mirror up as a way of coping, instead of using art as a way to distract or hide in the struggle. And I think this label comes out clearly in this particular poem, as it details a very particular moment in time. How old were you/was the speaker in this poem? JB The speaker of this poem--shades of myself--would be in their mid to late 20s (around the time of my first episode). CNP I ask because you mention in your bio that an event such as this is what drew you towards poetry--did you write at all or have any interest in the form before? JB Actually, I was in a PhD program in Philosophy here in the midwest. Prior to my hospitalization, I had been interested in poetry, but never taken the time to explore that aspect of myself. In high school, I dabbled in prose, but fell victim to the old adage of writing not being able to "pay the bills." However, during my first recovery, I encountered some of the poetic explorations of Martin Heidegger and came to his same conclusion: that poetry can be a more authentic exploration of the human experience than philosophy. Coming to this conclusion, I began devouring the poetry of Adrienne Rich and Wallace Stevens and haven't looked back since. CNP I will have to look into Heidegger's poetic explorations. I am a Philosophy student myself and have read other works by him. Thanks for the tip! And now you are in an MFA program. What is that experience like for you? JB More than anything, it's been empowering. Through my encounters with other poets and the wonderful faculty at Antioch, I've really zeroed in on my voice and found new and inventive ways to catalog my experiences. Prior to attending the program, I was on an island picking up floating remnants of poetry, dabbling here, dabbling there, but I have direction now and, for me, that's been really beneficial. Prior to my attendance, a lot of my work came off as "poemy," as I was trying to be something that I'm not; I tried too hard to emulate my forebearers as opposed to speaking my own truths. They've also been extraordinarily understanding of my mental health and my inability at times to keep up with work. Sometimes, as I'm sure we've all experienced, I just need a few days to collect myself prior to delving back into the material. While it's not for everyone, I highly recommend it for anyone on the fence. CNP That is wonderful to hear. I think most people I have talked to about MFA programs have been enthusiastic about it--but you speak to something we all saw in your poem: it is very much 'you', it is a clear, strong, voice that shows not only in diction and pacing, but in the form of the poem. In subtle ways the poem feels very brave to me. Not simply in content, but also in the form. The enjambments in the beginning that end two lines with the isolated "I" for example. Is form a thing you actively think about or is it something the poem shows you as you write it? JB For me, it's often times the poem that shows me the way. When I begin writing, it normally comes out as a block of text and then I engage in a kind of dialogue with the piece to see how it wants to come into being. In a very Platonic sense, I function as more of a midwife than anything else--sometimes even more than being a poet--I help birth what wants to be said. CNP I love that idea; midwifing the poem--it allows this other side of engagement from the writer that doesn't get much attention. Of course the writer "engages" with their work, but this gives me images of a sculptor, chiseling away at the piece. And the Platonic idea; like a dialogue with the poem itself. The poem as conversation, not with an audience necessarily, but with the work. JB I think that's something that often gets missed and I'm glad that you brought it up. We engage in conversations with writing all the time and it's of critical importance to listen. CNP I am curious about one particular image in this poem: the slipping "back from the screen". I was a bit unsure how to read it--I initially thought of a television screen, as in a flurry of information/stimulus bombarding the subject. But then I also thought of the screen in the physical sense of a divider between patients. Care to elucidate me? JB The screen, for me, is the nexus of perception, the external world, and the internal world. In episodes of dissociation, people often talk about the experience of receding from what we might call "the real." In doing so, there is such a level of distantiation that the only thing left is the mind. One is entirely divorced from their body and surroundings. This makes it difficult to participate in reality, whether that be driving, talking, eating, or carrying on a conversation. This seems to be a particularly salient experience of individuals manifesting a flat affect (as I have been known to have at various times). CNP I see, I'm glad I asked. So it is not so much a physical object the speaker is slipping away from, but perhaps something like a particular "lens". The divider between the outside and the inside. JB Precisely. If we think of the mind in old school philosophy terms as a monad, this is like a monad with the windows removed. CNP Fascinating. I can't wait to read through the poem again with that in mind. This will be great for the readers as well, since this interview will be far down the page from the poem--in theory they will have read the poem without this insight first... unless they are cheating and reading the notes before the poem! I was struck by a comparison image while reading your poem--this poem clearly takes place in a particular space, and your images are tangible enough to place the reader directly there. But I couldn't help but see both a hospitalization setting alongside a military bootcamp. The removal of the hair, the loss of the individual, the rebirth. It got me thinking about how odd it is that while one is stigmatized and the other glorified, the baptismal act between them is so similar. And it occurred to me that both of these images are things most people only know from the media--movies or television. And I think thats a piece of the power of this "confessionalist" side of your writing--bringing a moment like this to life, tangibly, viscerally, and emotionally. JB I'm very glad that all of that came through in the language of the poem. While the setting is not explicitly disclosed aside from a few descriptors, the moment that I had in mind was when I shaved my head during a very extreme episode of dissociation, one where I could no longer recognize myself in the mirror anymore. In shaving my head, I was removing one of the formerly discernible characteristics of myself to mirror what was happening internally. Throughout my life, I've often shaved my head during periods of extreme depression or psychosis. In fact, this is one of the signs that my loved ones and psychiatrist know to look out for regarding my stability at any given time. In many ways, as you noted, it is an act of rebirth and the line "but I am not who they say that I am" signifies that a false mask of well being is not always an accurate portrayal of what's going on in a schismed mind. CNP That really gives a new layer to the title... These moments can come on suddenly, they are certainly not something someone (yourself, or your loved ones) could mark down on a calendar, and yet it is "Sundays" that are for scalping. Another great tidbit for the next read-through! JB Yes, and I think there's some significance to Sundays as well, a kind of new beginning for the week and the self. There are also religious overtones regarding rebirth or resurrection. CNP Religious themes as well as the theme of rebirth--which, I must say, my favorite instance of the many in this poem is the "ass-slapped screaming into the mirror" image, it is so distinct from the baptismal image I usually associate with being born again...and yet both images seem to conjure a baby to my head. It really took my mind for a spin on the first read, and made me laugh out loud. Unfortunately we have to wrap this up, so I will end by asking one final question: What has poetry done for you so far as healing is concerned? You touched on that briefly in your cover letter, and we're curious to hear a little more about what role poetry has had in your life. JB For me, poetry saved me. When I first got out of the hospital, I kept a little journal where I tried--as a philosopher--to capture what I was going through and it was extremely difficult to capture the nuances of illness from what amounts to a medical perspective. If I was alone with my thoughts in this way, it could be very dangerous. In writing poetry about these experiences, I've been able to heal insofar as I've been able to temporarily dwell in painful moments without living inside of them. And that's really a part of the healing process, to be able to visit incidents instead of allowing them to consume one's life. I can only hope that, as much as poetry has allowed me to heal, that my work can (in some small part) aid in others' recovery as well. CNP That's wonderful to hear. Lets hope if anyone reading this, or your work, is going through anything similar that they may find the tools to help them on their journey. Jake, thank you so much for contributing to our October issue and doing this interview with us! We wish you the best of luck on your endeavors and can't wait to read more of your poetry. JB Of course! Thank you for allowing me this opportunity and for providing a wonderful home for me work.