An Essay about Prince from Colleen Wells and “Out of Chaos Comes Art” about Mental Health

art photo from Nick Lacke on Dribble

Bio: Colleen Wells writes poetry and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, magazines and journals. She is the author of Dinner with Doppelgangers – A True Story of Madness and Recovery and Animal Magnetism.

Out of Chaos Comes Art

Once dubbed manic-depression,
bipolar disorder is a potent malady,
that wreaks havoc, making the ordered
brain disorderly, a broken puzzle.

Of the psychiatric disorders
in the DSM-IV,
it is a machine gun.

Rapid-firing  tongues,
Sadness engulfed in inertia
psychosis destroying marriages,
leaving children
addled in fear.

A friend of mine who
shares the affliction
streaked through his yard
like a white, hot comet.

Lithium, Lorazepam, Loxapine,
Wellbutrin, Depakote, Haldol,
Mellaril, Seroquel, Abilify.

And don’t forget the Prozac.

I’ve swallowed them all
to regulate my moods.

Genetic or environmental factors?
The uncertainty belies the certainty
that without them, 
some of the greatest writing
would be missing:

Sylvia Plath
bled poetry in the blue hours
before dawn, then stuck
her head in the oven,

Two orphaned children,
left in her wake,
one to wonder,
another to follow suit.

Hemingway was silenced with a gun,
leaving behind his stark, limpid prose
and a family
to pick up the pieces
like gathered river rocks
that started as sand.

Narrative arcs,

“Dearly Beloved, we are Gathered here Today…
An Homage to a Legend   also on Nuvo.Net
By Colleen Wells

          At ten years old, two records I probably shouldn’t have been listening to found me: Dirty Mind and Controversy. I’m certain when I saw the cover of Dirty Mind, my little girl eyes got as big as flying saucers. My experience with that record left me yearning for more. At the time, I wasn’t aware Prince was a burgeoning star with other records from the late 1970s already blazing trails behind him. His debut album For You was released in 1978 followed by Prince in 1979. This misguided notion evinced an intimate setting on a stage I’d be on for the rest of my life because I felt as though I had discovered him before anyone else. 

           After church on Sundays, I faithfully listened to Casey Kasem announce the weekly top 40 hits. I wrote all of the song titles and artists down in a series of little black journals and endured every cheesy long-distance dedication, sometimes so heartfelt they made me cry, to get to the number one song. I was always rooting for a specific artist’s song to claim that coveted position.
        Once I placed the Dirty Mind album on my shitty record player, the kind that shuts like a small piece of luggage, sitting next to my Sea-Monkeys, everything changed. When I heard, “Uptown,” “When You Were Mine,” and “Head,” there was something sacred welling up inside me as if I were a plant discovering my own root system. Listening to Casey Kasem’s top 40 was a ritual I did after church, but this music I had tapped into was church.
        A few years later, in 1984, “When Doves Cry” hit #1. The song reached the top ten again, coming in at #8, after Prince died. In numerology, eight is a power number and Prince was into numerology and astrology. He put a ton of thought into his symbol which has elements of both, including a backwards seven, which is known to be spiritual. Gemini, the sign of the twins, is also incorporated as the male and female symbols. Prince, born on June 7, 1958, is a Gemini, a sign marking creative, imaginative, communicative types.
         Back then, in Noblesville, Indiana, my small hometown, I could count the number of black people who lived there on my fingers. It was the polar opposite of Prince’s Minneapolis, a major city and fertile ground for musicians and artists. What exactly had I discovered behind my bedroom door in 1980? First, I recognized the guitar was different. There was this thunk-plunk-funk sound as if he was not only playing guitar but getting ready to bitch slap the strings at the same time. It felt playful, experimental, and confident all at once. I knew, but in the moments of joyful listening I forgot that something unexpected was just around the corner, like being startled in a fun haunted house.
         I began to understand that when Prince was playing an instrument it was an extension of himself, emanating from his soul. I would later learn he could play twenty-seven instruments, some say as many as forty, with prolific genius. Even as a child, I felt like a puppet when I listened, the music pulling me by an invisible string, commanding movement. 
        Second, his rich, sexy voice was unusual. I knew he was using it in a manner I had never heard on Kasem’s lists. What I now understand to be range, and Prince had a wide one, explains why he could sound so animalistic. His transitions from hyena to lion were seamless. explains it this way: “Prince had the technique to reach G1, as his lowest note, and C7, as his highest note.” The site has a chart that illustrates how other notes which “aren’t necessarily a part of his vocal range, as they weren’t reached with reliable technique… makes Prince's vocal range a total of 5 octaves and 5 semitones. If we count questionable notes, it would be 6 octaves and 4 semitones.”
       As if his vocal calisthenics and mastery over his instruments weren’t enough, at the top of the trinity were his lyrics. While Dirty Mind and Controversy had albums preceding them, the two records were the perfect introduction to my lifelong relationship with Prince.

         Many of Prince’s early songs open with a story of an impending, scandalous hook-up. The very first time I heard those songs, I anxiously awaited what was going to happen next.
          “When I met you, baby, you were on your way to be wed. You were such a sexy thing. I loved the way you walked, the things you said,” the singer croons in “Head.” Those lyrics struck me, in part, because the Catholic church I attended every Sunday taught us to take the holy sacraments seriously. Prince was about to crash a wedding in a whole new way.
        The narrative in my head of Prince and me was blossoming. As a young girl crashing into early adolescence, I was more than aware of his sexual appeal, and I felt he was teaching me through his lyrics how one day I too could feel just as sexy and free. 
        Dressed in only high cut black underwear, a jacket with studs on one shoulder, and a bandana, it was easy to assume what the guy on the cover of my Dirty Mind album was singing about. He was about to do it with the woman in the song. In some sense, I wanted to be that woman. 
         If “Head” was an instruction manual for ways to view sex, “Uptown” was an anthem for how to be free to express who we are and harness the power of non-judgment, not just in terms of sexuality, but in attitude, style, and in one’s human essence in general.  And it was packaged as an invitation; I felt like I had been invited to a huge dance party in the streets, and even though the people would be different from me, I was still welcome.
      “Uptown,” with its upbeat tempo, helped reinforce the golden rule that we should love one another despite…despite what? Despite nothing else. There is no reason not to. This is the purity we are born with before we get polluted by what we are exposed to. “Now where I come from, we don’t let society tell us how it’s supposed to be. Our clothes, our hair, we don’t care. It’s all about being there.” I didn’t know where “there” was, but I wanted to arrive at that place, and the sooner, the better.
       My life as a kid pretty much sucked. I sometimes compare it to The Brady Bunch on a bad acid trip. Prince became my lifeline into the world of imagination. I learned to question things and not buy into fear and bias.
        In the album, Controversy, Prince wears a mauve jacket, again with silver studding on one shoulder, a white tuxedo style shirt, and a black tie and vest. His gorgeous doe-like eyes pop against all these accents and he looks serious, maybe even a little upset. Behind him is a hodge-podge of newsprint with headlines referencing some of the content on the album. There’s an attitude exuding from his countenance which was different from his image on Dirty Mind. The title song opens with the lines: “I just can’t believe all the things people say. Controversy. Am I black or white, am I straight or gay? Do I believe in God, do I believe in me? Controversy.”
       In just a few lines Prince hit on the most divisive identifiers of people—race, sexuality, and religion. I was too inexperienced to really understand how these themes were so deeply rooted and interwoven into our culture. If ever there was a song of the times in response to the signs of the times, “Controversy” would be it. Yet “Annie Christian,” another track on the album, would have a hauntingly more meaningful impact many years later.

        As an adult who adopted three black children, I became well versed in how racist some Americans can be. I awoke to a higher level of awareness on May 25, 2020, when in Minneapolis, the city where Prince lived and died, George Floyd, a citizen, was murdered by four police officers.
        When I was younger, I sensed the discord in the Annie Christian song: “Annie Christian was a whore always looking for some fun. Being good was such a bore, so she bought a gun, she killed John Lennon, shot him down cold. She tried to kill Reagan, everybody say gun control. Gun control!” At that time, all I knew was Annie Christian was not a good person. Now I recognize one interpretation of the song as the tale of what happens when individuals strive for some sort of recognition through killing.
       While the motivation for killing Floyd may not have been the same as the interpretation of those lyrics, a white cop killed a black man, and the video went viral. I could not comprehend what kind of Annie Christian lurked in the souls of Chauvin and the three other police officers responsible for George Floyd’s death. 
     Floyd’s death triggered memories of racist events that have occurred in the lives of my kids who are now young adults. From the time a soccer goalie said to my daughter, “Get out of here you little n***er” as she approached the net, to when my son, who wasn’t driving, was asked to get out of the car at a traffic stop while his white friend, the driver, was not. 
          Minneapolis, Prince’s beloved hometown, is forever stained by       George Floyd’s murder.  
         Prince was a fiercely independent individual and just the kind of visionary and citizen Minneapolis could use right about now. I wonder how he would have responded. His family’s roots are in the Louisiana slave trade. He spoke out about MTV’s policy of only playing videos by black musicians late at night. Part of his mission was to fight for artists to gain control over the rights to their music. He appeared with the word “slave” on his face and went by his symbol–the artist formerly known as Prince–in protest of such. He spoke out about chemtrails and other controversial issues before his untimely death. 
        According to Dan Piepenbring, who co-authored his memoir, The Beautiful Ones, Prince planned to use his scaled back microphone and piano tour in smaller venues to speak out against oppression and corruption. He would have responded publicly about the death of George Floyd. His song “Baltimore” was a rallying cry to end police brutality there after Freddie Gray died from injuries while in police custody.
       I wish we could hear what Prince would have had to say.
       Prince, who largely taught himself everything he knew about music, used his artistry to express what he wanted for himself and for the people. He wasn’t part of a broken-up boy band battling for more fame than the disenfranchised members, more hit songs or the procurement of one another’s girlfriends. He made music for the masses. He “wish[ed] there was no black and white he wish[ed] there were no rules,” and he definitely made up his own along the way. 

      “When Doves Cry” hit number one on the music charts in early July, 1984 and ran for five weeks in that coveted spot. The MTV music video gave me a bird’s eye view of my hero emerging from a white claw-foot bathtub beckoning with his finger. It also included footage from the movie Purple Rain: Prince decked out in black from head to toe riding his motorcycle with Apollonia, his character’s love interest. I longed to be Apollonia and visualized that it was me riding on the back of his bike.
      As time went on, Apollonia played not only Prince’s love interest on screen, but off. When I had to select a saint’s name to receive the sacrament of confirmation, I chose her name. At first, I was kidding, then I was delighted to discover Apollonia is the patron saint of teeth! To this day I can say “Look Mom, no cavities!” 
      My family did not have cable television, but my best friend Susan’s family did. I would often get off the school bus at her house, eat Buddig meat and Cheez Whiz sandwiches on Wonder Bread, and fill up on the eye candy of MTV. She was bonkers for Duran Duran and had her own faux romance with the band’s front man, Simon Le Bon. If it makes me look like less of an idiot for choosing Prince’s girlfriend’s name, Susan’s confirmation name is Claire, chosen because actress and model, Claire Stansfield, was LeBon’s fiancée at the time. For a couple of teen girls who, prior to this, had Shawn Cassidy and before that Jimmy Osmond to consider, things sure were getting a lot more interesting.
      When the film Purple Rain was released later in July of 1984, I saw it over the next several weeks 17 times, and it was not easy for a 14-year-old kid to get into an R rated film back then. I was creative and I was dedicated. 

       The year was 1985, and I was going to see Prince and his Purple Rain tour in downtown Indianapolis at Market Square Arena. Apollonia 6 and Sheila E. were going to be with him. Unfortunately, he was rumored to have dated both of them. I had gotten tickets and a ride, but there were issues. I was going with my boyfriend and my best friend, Susan, but I wasn’t allowed to date. I was only 14. 
       Moreover, I had to come up with a reason why I was going to be gone so long, so I just told my parents I was going to stay at Susan’s and let her deal with deluding her dad as to where we were going. She told him we had to go to a classmate’s choir concert. It was as close to the truth as we were going to get.
        My boyfriend seemed nervous. He knew we weren’t allowed to go to the show, plus Susan and I can be a handful. He was also well aware of my near Prince obsession, which could sometimes be awkward.
       Inside MSA, we found our seats; I was in seat 4, section 16R, Row AA. Prince mesmerized me from the time he took to the stage, opening with “Let’s Go Crazy.” It was an explosive show, and he ended with a second encore, singing “Purple Rain.” At one point he was gyrating on the floor, just like in the movie. I loved how he grabbed the microphone like he was pissed at it. 

	Fast Forward to January 2017, roughly 30 years after Paisley Park opened, Susan and I went to Prince’s beloved home in Chanhassen, Minnesota. The hulking 65,000 square foot structure looked like a cross between the headquarters for a high-tech company and living quarters for a contemporary cult. The exterior was white with a round dome at the top of one of the building’s wings. It seemed mysterious and endless.
      In 1987 when he moved in, it would have offered more privacy, but the area is now built up with office parks and residential areas nearby. I can’t picture him riding his motorcycle nude in the early dawn hours as he is said to have done there.
	Inside an entryway, we gathered with our cheerful tour guide who led us past a wall of gold and platinum albums to a grand foyer where the ceiling looked like it joined with the clouds. I felt an odd pull to a central part of the floor and stood shrouded in energy. That’s when the guide told us his ashes were housed straight above us. I moved silently aside and turned away when the tears came. 
	I felt pockets of energy throughout Paisley Park. There was a heavy contemplative feeling in his office, less so throughout the more museum-like areas such as where his cars are on display, or various exhibits related to epochs of his career. I paused at a display of one of his custom-made outfits. He was so small and yet so fiercely mighty.
	There are music studios inside Paisley Park. In fact, recording at home and having the ability to jam with friends was a major goal of Prince’s when he had Paisley Park constructed.
It was in the largest studio where I had my meltdown. We were ushered into the huge room with gleaming floors and beefy sound equipment. There were partitioned mini sound studios in the corners where Prince could collaborate with others, but those musicians could be in their own studio within the large space. I was overwhelmed, and felt he was in the room standing next to me. Had he really jammed with both Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder in this studio?
         I walked to a corner and wept.

        Because he had such an impact on me throughout my life, when Prince died I compartmentalized my grief. When I learned of the tragedy, I was unable to cry. Shock lasted for a while. In fact, my sister-in-law, Betty, lives not too far from Minneapolis. I asked her for the local newspapers recounting his death. Knowing how well he was loved there, I decided that would be the first news I would digest. And yet, once the papers arrived in the mail, it seemed too official; I did not open the envelopes. To this day, I have not read the Minneapolis papers outlining what was lost on April 21, 2016.
       Prince’s discography consists of thirty-nine albums. He was nominated for 38 Grammys and brought home seven. There is said to also be enough music in his vault to release a yearly album for 100 years according to the New York Daily News. In that way, his music really does live on.
       It’s been over six years since his death. Prince would have celebrated his 64th birthday on June 7. It’s still hard to fathom he is gone. I know I’m not alone. No musical icon I know of in recent history has been grieved so expressively as Prince. From the Forum in Los Angeles to the Eiffel Tower, cities across the world lit buildings purple for Prince. Niagra Falls turned purple. A Delta flight from LA to Minneapolis bathed the cabin in purple light, and countless billboards sprung up around the country paying homage to Prince. Closer to home, the Indianapolis Power and Light Company went purple, and so did the South Bend river lights. 
	I like to hope the opening lines from “Let’s Go Crazy,” of one of his most beloved songs are prophetic:
Dearly Beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word, Life
It means forever, and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The afterworld
A world of never ending happiness
Where you can always see the sun, day, or night

Articles from Kevin Crowe: Transformation Through Love

Transformation Through Love.

From the moment I mastered the written word, books have been my constant companions. As a child, my reading was promiscuous, like an addiction and with little discrimination. Whether it be the adventures of David Balfour in Stevenson’s “Kidnapped”, the science fiction of Jules Verne, Tennyson’s verse tales of King Arthur or the discovery of philosophy when I came across a copy of Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, I always had a book with me, in the same way some children carry around a football. I can’t claim to have understood everything I read, but I got enough from even the most difficult books to make the reading worthwhile. Many of the writers I discovered as a child and in my early teens have remained friends who continue to nourish me, help me through difficult periods and share my good times.

There are three writers in particular I continue to re-read and refer to, writers that have helped inform my own ideas and literary efforts. Each time I return to them, I gain more insight into their work and, more importantly, into the world around me and ways I respond to that world. Their influence has been aesthetic, political, physical and spiritual. All three are from the 19th century, though the first began his literary career in the late 18th century. Over the decades, I have seen ever more similarities, as well as differences, between them. All three of them shine a light on the darkest areas of human experience and imagination, helping provide a transformative path to the salvation that love brings.

The first was a poet, mystic and artist. He is probably most famous for writing the words to the song known as “Jerusalem”, though I suspect he would be appalled at the jingoistic use to which his politically radical, if not revolutionary, words have been put. “Jerusalem”, which is the opening section of his much longer poem “Milton”, is a call for people to rise up against the oppressors and their “dark satanic mills”, using the imagery of bows, arrows, spears, chariots and swords. It is as far away from the Women’s Institute and the Last Night of the Proms as it is possible for a poem to be.

This visionary was William Blake who was thought mad in his day, had visions that inspired much of his art and poetry and was once charged with treason. He hated hypocrisy, he argued that everyone should have the means to enable them to live their lives free of unnecessary constraints whether from the state or the church. He was a Christian who despised what he saw in churches, he was a revolutionary who initially supported the French and American revolutions but opposed the excesses of both, he was a moralist who in his poem “Garden of Love” – and elsewhere – railed against the restrictive “thou shalt not” morality of church and state.

His symbolic work “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” contains the core of his belief system. The last section, “A Song of Liberty”, ends with the following:

Let the Priests of the Raven of dawn no longer, in deadly black, with hoarse note curse the sons of joy. Nor his accepted brethren – whom, tyrant, he calls free – lay the bound or build the roof. Nor pale religious letchery call that virginity that wishes but acts not!

For every thing that lives is Holy.”

Note the universality of that final sentence: every thing is holy. That means the wasp who stings us, the snake who bites us, the mosquito who drinks our blood are all holy. It means the neighbour who keeps us awake with loud music is holy. It means the queer-bashers who left me needing hospital treatment are holy. It means even the worst tyrants in history are holy.

Clearly, there is nothing holy about murder or oppression or genocide or tyranny: these are evils that have no place in this  world or – assuming there is one – the next. Yet, according to Blake, those who commit these offences are holy. What on earth is going on here?

Blake is, I think, reinterpreting the traditional doctrine of Original Sin, which argues we are all born sinful. Blake is saying we are all born holy and without sin, and that it is through our interaction with the world and human-made rules that we become unholy. But he also suggests this state of holiness can be reclaimed through our transformation into free, unfettered beings who are no longer bound by the restrictive political and sexual morality of church and state.

But Blake is saying more than this. In “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” he also writes:

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to human existence.

In Blake’s view, we can’t have one without the other: we can’t know love without also knowing hate and vice versa. In “Songs of Innocence and Experience”, many of the poems in one have their counterpart in the other. For example, “The Lamb” in “Songs of Innocence” with its nursery rhyme metre can be contrasted with “The Tyger” in “Songs of Experience” with its heavy, industrial and pounding rhythm. In “The Tyger”, Blake asks:

Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Blake makes even clearer the necessary co-existence of these contraries in “The Marriage of Heaven & Hell”, when he writes:

Opposition is true Friendship.

The Victorian novelist, Charles Dickens, provides us with clues regarding the way these contraries can work together and how transformation can occur.

Unlike Blake, Dickens was immensely popular in his lifetime, and has remained so ever since. But like Blake, he had a social conscience and campaigned for social change, often putting his money where his mouth was, helping to set up and finance a home for unmarried mothers, funding educational programmes for the underprivileged and speaking out against the workhouse, child labour, the treatment of factory workers and torture camouflaged as education. He did this on speaking tours, in articles and essays, but above all in his truly wonderful novels. He was often writing from personal experience: his father had been in debtors’ prison and as a child he had to work in a factory to support his parents and siblings.

One of the many seams that work their way through his novels is that of transformation, particularly that of flawed characters, such as the convict Magwitch in “Great Expectations”, the miser Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” and the dissolute Sidney Carton in “A Tale of Two Cities”.

The last paragraph of “A Tale of Two Cities”, in which the narrator imagines Carton’s final words before the guillotine, is one of the most famous endings in literature:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

Why does the hedonistic, self indulgent and selfish Carton give his life to save that of his doppelganger, Charles Darnay? Not only do the respectable Darnay and the degenerate Carton share the same features, they also love the same woman, Lucie Manette. Knowing that she will never choose him, Carton promises to do all he can to further the relationship between her and his lookalike. So when Darnay returns to France, is arrested as an aristocrat and sentenced to the guillotine, Carton enters the prison in disguise and takes his place.

Carton, Darnay and Lucie can be seen as examples of the contraries described by Blake. Without Carton, Darnay would have been executed and Lucie would have lost her lover. Without Lucie, Carton would not have known love and without Darnay would not have found a way to express it. They are all essential for the salvation of the others

It is love that leads Carton to his transformation from an idle reprobate who thinks only of himself to a social creature who understands there are things more important than his own pleasure, indeed more important than his own life. Love in one form or another is at the core of any such transformation.

The unloved miser Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” is transformed after being reminded of the love he had as a young man, being shown the love that makes the poverty-stricken Cratchit family happy and witnessing the joy on offer at his nephew’s Christmas party.

In “Great Expectations”, the convict Magwitch never forgets the kindness, a form of love, shown to him by the child Pip, and it is this that leads him to use his money to make Pip a gentleman. Indeed, it is the convict’s love of Pip as the son he never had that leads to Pip’s realisation of the pain he has caused to the gentle and forgiving Joe Gargery.

The word “love” covers a whole spectrum of meanings. The ancient Greeks had at least seven words for different types of love, including Eros – sexual and romantic love, Xenia – the offering of hospitality to strangers, Philia – the companionable love between friends, Storge –  family love such as a parent for a child and Agape which has multiple meanings including what Thomas Aquinas describes as “to will the good of another”. The one thing all these have in common is they involve the individual putting others before themselves.

The ancient Greeks also had a word for self love: Philautia, without which I would suggest we cannot love others. To explore this I will look at the work of Oscar Wilde.

Wilde was a literary polymath who was equally at home writing fiction, poetry, plays, children’s stories and essays. His love for another man, which combined elements of Eros and Philia, led to him being imprisoned and almost certainly led to his premature death. In modern parlance, he was punished for being gay.

In his wide-ranging and still relevant essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”, Wilde argues that only Socialism can provide the conditions for every individual to be able to live life to the full as a free person, and that Christianity has a role in achieving this providing it looks to the words of Christ rather than the dogma of denominations. He argues, as contemporary Liberation Theology does, that Christ was attracted to people on the edge, to the oppressed, the despised, the marginalised, and that he had little time for the wealthy, the arrogant, the hypocrite. He then writes the following:

‘Know thyself!’ was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, ‘Be thyself’ shall be written. And the message of Christ to man was simply ‘Be thyself.’

There is a logical progression here: before we can be ourselves we have to know who we are, as human beings capable of both love and hate, friendship and enmity, selflessness and selfishness. But above all we have to recognise ourselves as, to use Blake’s word, “holy”. In other words we have to love ourselves. Once we recognise this, we can then be ourselves by choosing to emphasise what is good in our personalities, in the process transforming ourselves by attempting to return to our original sinless form.

We can also see here the way that Blake’s contraries or opposites work together: Socialism in whatever form is a collectivist ideology in which the individual subsumes their own desires to the needs of the group, yet it is this collectivism that Wilde sees as essential for individual liberation.

Wilde is often dismissed as a dandy, as someone who is concerned only with his own selfish pleasures. Yet, despite his own protestations, he is one of our most moral writers. In his novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, it is not Gray’s self-love that is the cause of his downfall, but his lack of self-awareness. Gray’s dissolute behaviour, ultimately resulting in his death, is a way of him running away from his conscience, his awareness of his own guilt. The very existence of the Picture is a way of Gray hiding from himself. What we see in Gray isn’t Philautia or self-love, but self-hate.

We also see in the starkest of ways how opposites rely on each other: while Gray remains beautiful and youthful, the Picture becomes ever older and uglier. Gray’s attempts to destroy the Picture result in not only the destruction of his own beauty, but his death.

We can contrast Dorian Gray with Lord Goring in “An Ideal Husband”, a satirical play that attacks Victorian hypocrisy, particularly sexual hypocrisy. It is from Lord Goring’s mouth that we hear Wilde’s famous aphorism “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”. Many commentators have suggested that Lord Goring is a fictionalised version of Wilde himself and Goring, who knows and loves himself so well, believes in the importance of forgiveness.

Indeed, forgiveness is a theme found in all three writers. If it is withheld, then both parties are damaged. But forgiveness is only meaningful if we acknowledge what needs forgiving. In “A Poison Tree”, Blake writes:

I was angry with my friend;

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

In other words, he got rid of his anger by naming and by forgiving whatever and whoever caused it. Contrast this with the rest of the poem, where Blake treats his enemy differently by withholding forgiveness, leading to his anger being the seed from which the Poison Tree grows.

In “Jerusalem” (the long mystical poem, not the song), he makes clear just how important forgiveness is and how damaging it is to withhold it. He writes about creating:

A Tent & Tabernacle of  Mutual Forgiveness

and refers to Jerusalem as:

O point of mutual forgiveness between Enemies!

To withhold such mutual forgiveness is:

…to become One Great Satan

Inslaved to the most powerful Selfhood: to murder the Divine Humanity.

Dickens too sees the importance of forgiveness and the dangers of seeking revenge. In “Great Expectations”, Miss Haversham’s refusal to forgive the man who deserted her on what was supposed to be their wedding day condemns her to a life of misery in the darkness, surrounded by rotting wedding cake and rats: a life in Hell. Not only that, but her attempt to reek revenge on the whole male gender by raising Estella to be heartless, leads to her ward experiencing her own Hell by rejecting Pip’s love and entering a loveless marriage of domestic abuse.

I know all too well how these issues can affect a person’s life. I was born into a Catholic family 16 years before male homosexual behaviour was decriminalised in England and Wales and 30 years before the same happened in Scotland. Growing up and gradually becoming aware of being gay at a time when my sexuality was considered both a crime and a mental illness and condemned by my church as a sin inevitably had an effect on my self-esteem. I lost my faith and I spent many years attempting to be straight – or, as I thought of it, “normal”. I hated myself, believing it was only my own weaknesses that were responsible for my inability to change my sexuality.

When I eventually came out and was able to live openly and honestly, life began to have meaning. Not even the horror of queer-s putting me in hospital nor the experience of being sacked for being gay, followed by a temporary period of homelessness could alter that. Yet I still could not forgive the world, and particularly the Catholic church, for what it had done to me.

Until that is I met people of faith in my voluntary work for a local lesbian and gay helpline and a local HIV/AIDS support group, and later in my paid work as an HIV/AIDS worker. I met an Anglican deacon who later became one of the first women in Britain ordained as a priest who provided non-judgemental support and care for gay men with AIDS and a Methodist preacher who, along with others, helped set up a group for Christians who wanted to change attitudes within their denominations.

But above all, I fell in love with Simon, an Anglican priest who refused to hide me away and with whom I still share my life, 32 years later. Armed with the example of these and others, I went to a Catholic Mass for the first time in 20 years.

So there I was, at Mass after so long away. I had told no-one, not even Simon: I didn’t want to commit myself to anything, just yet. As soon as the choir began singing the first hymn and the procession of priests and servers, complete with swinging thurible, made its way to the altar, I

knew I was in the right place.

In his sermon, the priest described going to the wedding of a friend, one who was divorced and getting remarried. When his friend expressed pleasant surprise at the priest’s presence, he had told him – and he now told the whole congregation – that we should not judge the lifestyles of others, that we should not condemn others just because they lived their lives differently. It was as if he were speaking directly to me, telling me: it’s okay to be gay and to be here. That was the moment this cradle Catholic knew he would be returning home permanently.

We are all flawed, we have all done and said things that we are ashamed of, and will probably continue to do so until the end of our lives on this earth. We are all a mixture of good and evil, of reason and energy, of the unholy and the holy. If we recognise this, we can avoid the fate of Dorian Grey and, like Ebenezer Scrooge and Sidney Carton, we can, through love in all its myriad meanings, transform ourselves some of the time into the holy beings Blake described.

Kevin Crowe Biography:

Kevin was born in Manchester in 1951. He has been a Dylan fan since the mid 1960s, first saw him live in 1969 at the Isle of Wight Festival and has been to numerous concerts since.

Before going to university as a mature student, he worked in various factories and bars. After getting his degree, he worked in social care for many years (including ten years working with people with HIV/AIDS), before moving to the Scottish Highlands with his husband in 1999 to open a bookshop and restaurant.

Kevin has over the years had fiction, poetry and non-fiction published in many magazines, anthologies and in recent years online. He has read his work at many locations, including the Scottish Parliament, Glasgow’s Aye Write Festival, Ullapool Book Festival and John O’ Groats Book Festival. In 2020, he had his collection of short stories “No Home In This World” published by Manchester independent publisher Fly-On-The-Wall Press, the title coming from a song written by Woody Guthrie. Also in 2020, he was appointed as editor of the award-winning Highlands LGBT+ magazine “UnDividingLines”.

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Ann Kathryn Kelly

with Ann Kelly:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Ann: My earliest memory of seeing my writing potential was fifth grade. My teacher told our class about the Vermont Governor’s writing contest and asked for volunteers. We only needed to write two pages, and the topic was wide open. This was 1980 and I imagined how it might be in the year 2000 which, at the time, seemed light years away like something you’d see on Star Trek with Captain Kirk and the gang. In my essay, I saw a world where space-age kids no longer needed a school lunch program and would instead swallow a red pill the size of a Tic-Tac to get all their nutrients … which of course meant no more God-awful lunches in the cafeteria with things like Tuna Wiggle. I won second place in the state contest. I’m pretty sure that started my lure to the written word.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Ann: I’m assuming you mean, who are my biggest influences in poetry? Well, first off, I should say that I’ve come to realize with these Fevers of the Mind interviews that you usually do your Q&As with experienced poets. Full transparency: I’m not a poet. (Laughs nervously.) So, first off, thank you for even entertaining the possibility of chatting with me. A friend on Twitter knew I’d recently started writing poetry which is why she suggested I look at your journal’s website. I have much more experience with creative nonfiction and I’ve been writing essays and memoir exclusively for years. But, I’ve always admired poetry: the lyric language and economy of words. I knew it could help me with my CNF writing and decided to take my first poetry class in April of this year, a six-week course with Cleaver Magazine. I loved it! I came out of the class with a number of poems in different forms: sonnet, villanelle, prose poem, haibun, and more.

After workshopping my pieces in class, I submitted them to journals over the spring and already I have three published poems to my name. In fact, I’ve gotten much faster acceptances for my poetry than I’ve ever gotten for my CNF essays. I’ve waited sometimes for almost a year to hear back from journals on some of those pieces.

I love how poetry elevates a piece of writing with lyric imagery. I also admire how poems establish a connection between writer and reader quickly because of the form’s shorter footprint. As a CNF writer, I can spend 3,000 words getting my points across, if I want. That’s the challenge I love with poetry: nailing that writer-reader connection off the bat and capturing pivotal moments in spare but beautifully layered language.

Well, I’ve gone off on a tangent and didn’t answer your question. I’d love to list influential poets, but I’m early in my learning stage.  

Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Ann: Aside from my fifth grade example, I think I knew it by the time I was in tenth grade. I wanted to study journalism, but the university I attended didn’t offer that so I graduated with a degree in English Literature. I’ve since made a career of writing in the corporate world, starting out as a copywriter for a software company before moving into various marketing communications and public relations roles.

Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?

Ann: I give a lot of credit to a developmental editor I’ve worked with—Naomi Kimbell—who reviewed my memoir manuscript and gave me this just really tremendous feedback. She was able to balance pushing me to dig deeper, while understanding and honoring the intention of what I wanted to do with my manuscript. She helped me see arcs and metaphors I hadn’t seen, and my manuscript is absolutely stronger for it.

Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work?

Ann: I lived just outside Philadelphia from birth until second grade, then my family moved to the middle of nowhere up nine miles of dirt roads in rural Vermont to fulfill a dream of country living my mother had. After college, I moved to the Seacoast region of New Hampshire, with a stint living in downtown Boston when I worked for an advertising agency as a copywriter. I’ve written one or two essays about my rural childhood, and it’s also in my memoir manuscript, but my writing is not heavily influenced by place.

As for travel, my job has sent me to a bunch of U.S. cities for work conferences, and a few places overseas. In fact, I was at a work conference in Barcelona just before Spain closed its borders in the spring of 2020 with the pandemic. I’ve also traveled to quite a few countries for fun. I’ve been through Europe, parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and India, as far east as Hong Kong, and into South America. I’ve even been to the Arctic Circle and into the Sahara desert. I’ve written a few essays about some of my travels.

Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?

Ann: Tough question! Well, I’m hoping my most meaningful work will be my memoir if and when it is published. I wrote the manuscript to share with readers that a devastating diagnosis is not always a death sentence, even when it involves a bleeding brain tumor. If my memoir helps just a handful of people facing a scary diagnosis find strength or hope in my story, then it will be worth the years I’ve spent writing it and researching certain aspects and workshopping it a gazillion times with critique partners. I’m also proud of all of my CNF essays and flash nonfiction pieces. One essay was particularly difficult to write, but I think it’s beautiful. It’s called “The Color of Heartache” and was published in The Coachella Review:

Q7: Favorite activities to relax?

Ann: I’ve really gotten into flower gardening, and I’m up to seven garden beds now. Pretty big ones, I might add! It has transformed the outside of my house, and I now have a ton of birds and butterflies. When I started trying poetry this spring, my gardens were the obvious choice to dip my toe in and see what resulted. My gardens serving as muse sounds like a cliché … but it’s true!

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?


I find it haunting that Anne Sexton’s poem “Yellow,” though written in the early 1970s I think, could just as easily have been written about everything the world has endured in 2020 and into 2021.

When they turn the sun
on again I’ll plant children
under it, I’ll light up my soul
with a match and let it sing. I’ll
take my mother and soap her up, I’ll
take my bones and polish them, I’ll
vacuum up my stale hair, I’ll
pay all my neighbors’ bad debts, I’ll
write a poem called Yellow and put
my lips down to drink it up, I’ll
feed myself spoonfuls of heat and
everyone will be home playing with
their wings and the planet will
shudder with all those smiles and
there will be no poison anywhere, no plague
in the sky and there will be mother-broth
for all the people and we will
never die, not one of us, we’ll go on
won’t we?

Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?


As I mentioned, I took my first poetry class in April of this year, and I’m thrilled that three of my poems from that class have already been published! I have a few more poems on submission from that class. I also have a number of CNF essays on my website that I’ve excerpted from my memoir. My plan is to query my manuscript this autumn.

American sonnet: Kingdom Come

Prose poem: Puff

American sonnet: Abode

More writing on my website: