"I wake and sleep language. It has always been so. I had been brought up to memorise very long Bible passages, and when I left home and was supporting myself so that I could continue my education, I fought off loneliness and fear by reciting. In the funeral parlour I whispered Donne to the embalming fluids and Marvell to the corpses. Later, I found that Tennyson's 'Lady of Shalott' had a soothing, because rythmic, effect on the mentally disturbed. Among the disturbed I numbered myself at that time.
The healing power of art is not a rhetorical fantasy. Fighting to keep language, language became my sanity and my strength. It still is, and I know of no pain that art cannot assuage. For some, music, for some, pictures, for me, primarily, poetry, whether found in poems or in prose, cuts through noise and hurt, opens the wound to clean it, and then gradually teaches it to heal itself. Wounds need to be taught to heal themselves.
The psyche and the spirit do not share the instinct of the damaged body. Healing is not automatically triggered nor is danger usually avoided. Since we put ourselves in the way of hurt it seems logical to put ourselves in the way of healing. Art has more work to do than ever before but it can do that work. In a self-destructive society like our own, is it unsurprising that art as a healing force is despised."
Page 156, 'Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery', Jeanette Winterson
Photo: Saleem's notebook, from his days in the Wayanad forests.