Roy Wahlberg


…cannot sow, so I take it upon my paltry own
to speak where others cannot, for when
punishment takes the form of cruel sport
it can force a man far enough out of sort
to seek ways to verbally block and berate
the base and vexatious progress of the state!…
– "Crowns of Razor Wire"

Wait! – before you comment on my primitive (art brute?) use of couplets in that fragment, allow me to explain. When I began writing, it was exclusively a cathartic exercise, done solely for myself, and meant to release pain in a little less self-destructive manner than I was previously known for and accustomed. My use of "unheroic" couplets helped me pour it out at the speed and volume I needed to keep up with what came. Plus, you could rightly SAY/ (as do I) that my brain just seemed to work that WAY./ *hoot!*

Besides, no less an illuminary than Mary Oliver has stated, "…language is a vibrant, malleable, living material. In the writing of the poem, nothing, if it is done well and works to the desired effect, is wrong." Well, if we ignore how "well" it was done (please do!), it certainly worked as a salve for ME, and THAT was the desired effect. Touché!

I'd like to think that what poetry has been evolving toward is not the establishment of more rules, but ever greater freedom to write, each according to our own lights (and limitations) and what each poem asks of us. As in human relations, where love should reign over dogma and contracts, in poetry it should be beauty (whether affective or appealing to the intellect). Both are as hard to pin down in the abstract as a living, lively butterfly, but, similar to pornography, you know it when you see (or feel) it.

But I'm sure you'll be happy to know that tho I still write for the same reasons, I have at least learned to "compromise my standards" to fit modern trends and sensibilities. (Said tongue-in-cheek, I'm kidding, of course you're right, you're always right, sir, yes, sir – *grumble*) But I ask you – what am I now to do with all of those antediluvian coupled poems of mine?

Yes, I could modify them easily enough, but every loving parent cherishes her children just the way they are, and whether carrot-topped or end-rhymed, they were all the product of my own flesh and blood, my own sweat and tears. Each served hard time in the production-oven providing lifesaving services to me, and now they have the ongoing role of holding my memories, something which I am unable. Abandoning them now would be like turning away from the only solid evidence I have of a past I could be at least not ashamed of…wwaaaaaiitt a minute…. are you honestly saying that maybe I SHOULD be ashamed of a little couplet-ing? In that case, prepare to bare your senses to my erotic etchings, my forbidden dance, cruel Puritan! Prevailing wisdom isn't always best wisdom. (Sorry, but I get a bit defensive over my babies.)

Like every dedicated parent, I do feel inclined to come to the defense of my precious, previous poems, or, more pertinently, to the argument that to discard rhyme wholesale would be to discard much of beauty, to disparage our vast literary heritage, to throw away a major creative tool, and to try (futilely) to ignore a major part of our genetic, instinctual makeup. I'm prepared for this discussion – bring your anthropological and neurological evidence and I'll bring mine, so we can compare stacks. Well, all in another day's fodder…

Jeez, I got so distracted talking to you that I forgot to say what the "turning point" I mentioned earlier was. One of my favorite neuroscientists was Dr. Oliver Sacks. The book and movie "Awakenings" was about his breakthrough work with the use of dopamine agonists (like L-dopa) with "frozen" Parkinson's patients. At first they became wonderfully "cured", vitalized and active, but the effects soon ramped up into severe mania, so the med had to be withdrawn.

One Oliver Sacks' last books was titled "Musicophila", which is a very intense pleasurable response to, and therefore strong love for, certain genres of music. I've enjoyed the condition for some time, as it often arises from long-standing temporal lobe epilepsy (which actually modifies neural tissue) and then beginning seizure meds, or at least certain ones, and Dr. Sacks had specifically named lamotrigine (Lamictal) in his book. I'd been using Depakote for long time, but wanted to try a less sedating med, which, happily, Lamictal was. And lo! – here was a doctor that might let me, so I "innocently" asked him. He wasn't happy with the idea, but said he'd look into it.

And he sure did – this doctor cared enough to dive into his prodigious research resources, and found brand new research (that hadn't even been published yet!) on my specific bizarre form of epilepsy. He came back and said, "Guess what the drug of choice is for your type of seizure behavior – Lamictal." So he switched me right then and there, and it was an instant, direct hit! – bam! – right in my bull's-eye!

Neurologically, what I mean is that it's clearly tinkering with the intended targets: my dominant temporal lobe language center (the good, the bad, and the pit-bull ugly), and the three seizure foci in my limbic system, namely: hippocampus (memory processor), amygdala (emotion processor), and thalamus (collection point for all sensory input). All systems go? – I sure hope

With the very first dose, I was completely cured from a lifetime of severe anxiety and depression, and with them went my unruly companion ape. I feel positively reborn and sunrise dewy-fresh (yeah, well, don't slip, Grampa). In fact, it took me a long while to figure out exactly what it was that I was feeling, because I had never felt FREE before. And as to the problem where any time I'd try to speak, my brain would seize (literally), my mind would blank, and then either garbage or King Kong would get dumped or jump out, that is so completely gone, I feel like I could don a toga and address the Athenian Senate!

In other words, the way I've perceived and interacted with the world my entire life has now been redefined, and it's going to take some time to become reacquainted, especially as in: who am I now? what kinds of mistakes will I make now? will I stop getting thrown in the hole so often? what are my strengths, if any? Yeah, I should have told you at the onset that I'm really no longer certain of whereof I write, speak or feel – just that the volume and velocity have been turned WAY up. The engineer on this locomotive has lost his bearings and maybe gone loco, so the ride may get a little rough. Sharp corner coming, hang on!

Whoa! – a new track, and a new tone: the real magnitude of my assigned task is starting to sink in. My relationship to poetry. Well, writing is my entire life, and has been for many years. What I really mean is that I would not be alive today were it not for all the voices of unborn poems calling to me for life from the very same oblivion into which I myself wanted to plunge. Oh, how I have resented the ephemeral yet heavy hand of obligation I felt toward things that were so vanishingly remote, yet still somehow able to hold me back from the full and final release I longed for. Poetry left me very conflicted; Life (poetry) and Death (freedom) wrestled as equal contenders inside, with me as the prize, and I couldn't even decide whose side I was on:


I don't want to die just yet –
not with so many poems
still in me, crying to get out
sensing something's up
jostling for the exits
clamboring for the door
looking for the lifeboats
diving overboard.

I'm certain now, tho, that the restraining hand that held me back is none other than Love, which, along with gravity, are the only two tractive forces outside the quantum world known capable of invisibly holding objects and hearts together across far distances. Oh, I don't mean love for me or for life, but of my unconquerable, unbreakable love of poetry. Gossamer threads of tenfold tensile strength, indeed. This is – a profound – realization for me. Yes, yes, I am in Love, the Love of a mother for her children – that strong, no question, that is precisely it, the weird but wonderful situation.

But there is also truth in saying: "the things you love try to kill you". Poetry is dangerous for me; I'm too permeable – what I'm writing enters and pierces me to the very quick; I'm too soluble – I dissolve instantly and completely into the tableau in my mind's eye before a single independent word emerges, then object and subject become alloyed, and the image begins describing itself to itself in acute involution. I simply feel far too much, too exquisitely for a thousand iron hearts to bear, far less one which feels fashioned from tears.

To know the agony of the worm
as it squirms on hot pavement
in the unabated fury of the sun.

Block it off; turn it away; shut it down! In these moments, in all moments, I wish to see and feel no more, but the Clockwork gods have sewn my senses wide open, so the torrent keeps coming, on and on, and the words keep flowing, in crescendo and diminuendo, till in exhaustion and exasperation, I rip the latest tickertape strip from the machine (before me lies a new poem – looking up at me – and smiling – (aww – damn, I LOVE this sh*t…!)

Still, I stop, staring, stunned, imobilized in a close equivalent of postpartum depression – but then, as if from a nearby room, come children's' voices – faint, insistent whisperings and whimperings – sometimes muffled screams – are they of joy or terror? – and I know that it's on me alone to know, to reveal, and so that familiar insistent swelling pressure begins to build again, life takes on purpose again, and I must go, go, go! Such it has gone – and so it will go – but for how long, I wonder? Say, was this something you ate? –


A poet, among the most courageous of creatures,
must sit in the midst of her own and others' feelings
facing them, naming them, taming them
just enough that they lay along her lines
and accept the bridle of redefinition
to replace fear with delight
and meaning.

Years ago, I read a literary review of Christy Nolan, and his book, "Dam Burst of Dreams". Spasticity had taken the use of his body, including speech, so when a typewriter came into his life (yeah, that long ago), language began exploding out of him, thru it. I felt a real resonance with many of the things said of him: "He plummeted into language like an avalanche, as if were his one escape route from death – which, of course, it was." "He has to write, and the writing is destroying him." "I lived with the secret sorrow that one day the idea would slay the container."


Roy Wahlberg. Born: 11/20/1951. Life sentence: 1976 . His brain later determined to have been so ravaged by early-life disease, even hydrocephalus surgery was denied as pointless. Ultimately, though, magical "compensations" emerged from his brain deterioration and epilepsy treatment: the "Grandma Moses Effect" of late-life artistic drive, musicophilia, hypergraphia, and compulsive versification. With autism, aphasia (verbal deficits), and attention/memory scores of 5-7%, Wahlberg feels continuity of existence only while writing. To him, it is life itself.