Messages Written on Envelope Backs: Ayelet McKenzie, Dempsey & Windle
Ayelet McKenzie has lived in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, for 32 years. She has published two pamphlet collections, and two previous full collections, The Patient is Disappointing and Courting the Asylum. Her latest collection, Messages Written on Envelope Backs, explores an alternative to conventional “normality” with original imagery. The collection opens with a fascinating series of pen portraits of the overlooked people the poet has met. They all have a dreamy, unexpected side:
She smelt of sweat, a faint urine and lilies,
wore old clothes
with wild winged eyebrows and knotty hair.
Battered and trusted
like an old teddy bear,
she shambled through life
in her shabby jeans and T-shirt.
Crazy as heck,
with her ring-a-ding-ding ponytail
and face full of curiosity and good humour.
There are direct references to mental health experiences that expose a lack of empathy in the psychiatric ward:
I go to see my psychiatrist,
who is petite and slight
with wrinkled woollen tights
and hair down to her waist,
she looks like a little girl.
Prescribes tablets that make me fat.
she thinks I am mad.
The poem ‘Psychiatric Inmates’ also implies a ‘dark’ side: sedation. The effects of medication don’t allow for the human need to have some physical contact. Food has a symbolic significance; it is a comfort, it is ‘self-medicating’ and is meant to be savoured in bed, taking your time. This ‘wasting’ of time challenges bustling modern life, and points to an alternative vision. This is expressed in McKenzie’s precise imagery and in the slow rhythm of her short, evolving lines:
she dropped her purse
and the coins spilled out;
scattered – and rolled away
as if they didn’t matter.
And he stood there laughing,
The sun laughed too
and it was beautiful.
In Messages Written on Envelope Backs there is a ruthless ‘reality’ to acknowledge beneath a surreal or dreamy view “where dry stone walls/cut into land and section it” (‘View’). Nevertheless, the poet keeps on “hoping you will come and track me down” (‘Lost Love’).