Zine Review: ‘Poems from Inside’ by Nicole Lacey

“A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.” — Dylan Thomas

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the walk in clinic at my local hospital. I was facing a long wait so I pulled the mini sketchbook from my bag and began to sketch the corner of the corridor. This is just a chance to practise linework I told myself. It doesn’t have to mean anything.

‘Poems from inside’ by Nicole Lacey is a zine full of scenes from a psychiatric unit, incorporated with poetry describing how being on the inside of an inpatient stay feels. ‘Poems from inside’ begins with a newsprint style, hostage letter title below a black and white photo of a hospital corridor. Light spills out between the door panels as though the zine is lit from within. As I turned the pages I found myself inside the blank spaces of the ward. I was greeted by a sketch of the poet, arriving with arms outstretched: is this gesture of a welcome hug or a warning? The ward is depicted in linework, small details are included but all the people are removed, all the depth and any drab standard NHS issue colour is absent in the artwork. This could be any mental health unit anywhere; the unit I was in, the unit the poet is in right now, the unit that looms large in our horror as we encounter more and more mental health unit scandals. To me, this zine conveys the under stimulation of staring at the same four walls and finding no human warmth in the staff moving past.

The narrative in the poems move through those first disorienting days of the ward routine, pause to be with the women — who represent the only vitality and life within the ward — and out, into the garden, into nothingness. I recognised so much of my own experience in this zine. It packed a punch but wasn’t doing so in a gratuitous manner; I could connect with the care taken to include real moments of pain without cheapening them. There is a flow to the poetry, it reads aloud beautifully and the arrangement of rhyme in plain language brings back familiar themes, deepening them as the zine progresses. There are eight pages of text and the last page has just fourteen, devastating, words. There isn’t a single word that I’d call surplus to requirements, this read like a poem crafted with purpose.

A zine is an object in itself and this little zine is a 16-page booklet made of a fine grain white paper with pale brown linen finish paper for the hand-assembled collage. I think this zine would make a lovely gift of solidarity and having done bibliotherapy sessions on an acute mental health ward, I would not hesitate to bring it along to a session for starting conversation about being unseen. I was left with a lot of the emotion within this zine. The snowy white pages at the end gave me a moment to sit and to process what came up for me. The blank page also offered me a challenge: have I stopped looking too?

‘Poems from inside’ is a contribution to reality; the reality of being held in a psychiatric unit and the longing for a sign that things will change. I know it will be a gem in my own little mad zine collection and I’m very grateful that Nicole Lacey put her insides into it. You can find Nicole Lacey at LaceyDesignsArt on Etsy.

About Heather Cobb: Heather has been involved in Wellness Recovery Action Plan Facilitation, peer bibliotherapy and co producing group work in community and NHS settings. Heather draws on her own  experience of bipolar and a dissociative post traumatic disorder as well as dialogic and narrative ideas she has learned from others. She enjoys dog walking, art and having a lie down in a darkened room with a cold flannel on her forehead.

About Nicole Lacey: I’m an artist, my Instagram is @lacey_art_. I’ve been under section since December and writing and drawing about the experience is getting me through and giving me hope.