History of Present Complaint (2021)
By WordPress favorite HLR
Published by Close To The Bone Publishing
After a while, when you’ve spent a lot of time reading poetry online, it’s a damn challenge to find that which sticks. When it does, you know you’ve got a keeper.
Before 2019 and the events described therein, I had been exposed to HLR’s work via Hijacked Amygdala, a Writing Collective . All the miscreants of that collective had gone off the deep end in some form or fashion, and without exception, all of them were bloody good writers irrespective of mental status.
Maybe some wouldn’t find that impressive. I thought it was bloody spectacular.
Sure, it’s easy for some ‘nutter’ to write a bunch of crap on a loo roll and call it art, and who knows? They might win the Booker or the Turner, depending on whim.
But true ability isn’t as easily honed. When you’re plunging in the deep end, the last thing you’re usually able to do, is be a coherent human being.
And while many an artist has produced their finest works when stoned, smashed, mentally impaired, simply mad, it’s more common these days to find well-coiffed Indian youngsters with mesmerizing faces and rich parents, on the poetry best seller list.
HLR is none of the above. In a way it doesn’t matter who she is, except that it really does.
HLR is a mysterious, slightly gorgeous, utterly deviant and exceptionally talented writer and I’d bet my horse on her any day.
From my first encounter with her writing, I was addicted. It isn’t the lesbian in me either, before you ask, but her raw, guttural truth and the ability she has to write like nobody else I’ve read who is still living.
I could easily wax lyrical here, and compare HLR to Plath, Bukowski, Childish, Sexton, or a raft of other notable poets you’d know the names of, and nod approvingly. But that’s not going to cut it.
HLR isn’t a prescription bottle, you can’t take a little blue pill with a cold glass of water and understand her. You have to throw her out of the window, every little pill, and watch where she falls. It’s in her fall, you find her deepest truth.
This couldn’t be exemplified more so than in her debut collection of poetry, History of Present Complaint.
This book is horrifying. Nothing less. I read it in one sitting (perfect length for a kick you in the mouth kind of read that leaves you sweating). To say HLR doesn’t pull back almost makes me laugh maniacally. She doesn’t just not pull back, she’s the fucking ringmaster to this and she’s wields the whip very, very acutely.
So, if you’re faint of heart, naw, don’t go there. Put the dangerous book down and walk the hell away.
This isn’t a gentle read and nobody is apologizing for that. No chance mate.
Let’s get the basics over with:
This is a collection of guttural cries from the unraveling depths of a human being who I happen to know is a really, really good human being and it’s a wonder she’s still with us but a very, very good thing.
This is written by someone who is more naturally gifted at writing than 99.9 percent of poets out there today.
This isn’t something you can forget and you’d better not try.
I’ve worked on #metoo anthologies, and I can’t say I have ever been as disquieted, which I know is a funny old-fashioned term, but so apropos for an age-long disease of society – that is RAPE.
Maybe we need to take the uncomfortable and taboo or pushed under the sofa truths out of their jars now and wake people the fuck UP.
This isn’t the kind of review where you quote ‘clever’ lines and pat the invisible author on the head for accomplishing such great feats.
This author stands with you whilst you read, she’s looking you in the eye, you’re trying to read the book but you’re acutely aware of her staring. It’s a bit like being caught looking through family photos without permission. Yeah, maybe you don’t have the right. Except she’s written this and she’s put it out there, which takes some MONUMENTAL GUTS and you find yourself tongue tied (which you never get, because you’re a verbose so-and-so) in the presence of this. Because it isn’t okay and it isn’t fixed and it’s not safe, and it’s lying on your lap beating its life blood all the way down to the beige carpet.
Dare I be personal and say I can relate intensely to a lot of this. Having lived in the UK before, there are nuances and details that stand out like sign posts pointing to the uncanny ability HLR has for evoking a moment, an era, a time in a person’s life.
And I’ve been her age, I’ve experienced some of the same things, but could I have succinctly and with eloquence and grit, put something like this together? Not in this life time.
HLR is an old soul for every one of her youthful years. She’s actually completely hilarious too, as all very, very clever people tend to be, she’s got that sardonic wit down to a tee and it serves its bilious undertone very well against the horror of the psych ward.
I’m not going to take a quote and put it in isolation to the rest, because this creature she’s whole and she deserves to stay that way. Read all of her or just go away. But don’t, whatever you do, be vanilla.
HLR could possibly be one of the most exciting poets of her generation, and yeah that sounds hackneyed but it’s so close it burns.
She’s not a squeaky clean, healthy, well adjusted young woman. Her dad died. She was really young and she lost her dad. Anyone who says that’s not a huge thing, gets the first kick in the face from me. She’s bipolar, although that’s just an outdated, generalized description that’s overused, but it causes her some massive trouble when awful things happen and she’s trying to cope. She’s an old soul with yellowed finger tips from chain smoking who does her bloody best in a dysfunctional world with a really heavy dose of horror thrown in, just because it can. She’s seen your labels and she’s raised you.
I have read quite a few collections of ‘my time spent in a Psych unit’ and this doesn’t evoke any of them. It’s a story written in blood, with very little distance between the actual moment of it happening and you reading the recollecting. If that doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck rise, very little is going to. But like any macabre rendition, it’s also desperately funny and horrifically detailed, guaranteed to dispel any notions of safety.
At times I felt I was reading inside HLR’s brain, the popcorn seizures of her descent and rise, like I inherited the mad vibe and lost my footing. It is this nearness of experience that makes HLR’s writing so genius, yeah, I said it, and I mean it. She’s got ‘that’ ability to crawl into your amygdala and take up residence. It’s pretty disturbing and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Maybe I will quote:
“I will never come back from this
Don’t say that
It’s true. I will never come back from this. If, with the benefit of hindsight, I had the choice between dying in the street and hypothermia and poisoning and those 12 hours in hospital, I’d choose the former, without a doubt. They really hurt me.”
I feel bad for quoting. I feel like I’m wearing a severed piece of a soul on my arm as a handbag by quoting. And yet, it might help you understand the method here. There is no method. You are free of method. This is real writing. It doesn’t need a fucking method. Look around. Use your words. Now THAT’S something.
We lament that art in its myriad of forms, is stale, lacking, aloof. And the purity of this collection is its lack of pretention, self-consciousness and formula. As if you had been there yourself. And there’s a bloody lake of value to that because it’s real, and it pulls you by the throat into the vortex that is trauma and refuses to politely lead you by the hand.
If we are ever going to change, if we are ever going to understand and stop not really giving a shit about sexual violence and mental health and other really important things, then we have to be like this. We have to.
As long as we hide behind formula, ego, methodology, then we may as well keep the same manuscript and just keep changing the name.
“It was real. It was real. It was real to you.”
Should poetry be this visceral? Absolutely.
Should women expose their experiences this blatantly? God yes.
“North London. Edmonton. On a Tuesday afternoon, you are sixteen and psychotic and should be at school.”
All that and more. All that and MORE.
I want something real, don’t you?
History of Present Complaint is real. I wish it weren’t. I really do. Because HLR went through this and that bothers me, a lot. But she got up and she wrote this and that’s what she did then and that’s not all she is by any measure, and you’re going to see that in the coming years, I’m damn certain of it.
Sometimes the ones who wanted to die the most, are the ones who can describe living the best.
In fact, I think I should say … I told you so.
They were the liars.
Get your copy here.