Resilience Spotlight: Charles Brooks III, Poet & Author

Posted on: September 9, 2012
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Watch Me Bounce Interview with Charles Brooks III, Poet and Author
 
 
WMB (Watch Me Bounce): Please tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
 
CB (Charles Brooks): I was born and grew up in Georgia. I am lucky to have great parents. Much of the support that’s pulled me through has come from them. No matter the trauma, good friends and family are cornerstones of recovery. I first noticed issues with depression/mania in my early teen years, and by the college years I had begun to self-medicate by using alcohol, which, for a while, seemed to curb the rollercoaster, but in reality only left me with an addictive and dangerous habit to break.
 
As I’ve matured, the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder have changed. At first, dark moods were the worst symptom. Later, paranoia and anxiety took the wheel. There’s anxiety, sleeplessness, chronic depression, racing thoughts – all while continually trying to keep both hands against the ever-straining doors that protect my sobriety.
 
For me, the best medication for my Bipolar Disorder has been the creation and success in poetry. I would never try to tell people how to deal with their own particular demon or suggest in any way that I have the answers. What I do is record the moment and give testament to what this great effort is in my life. In the case of Six Chapter of Swerve, you can read an actual play-by-play account of rapid mood cycling over a long weekend. The poem begins on Friday and ends early Monday morning. It’s literal. If you don’t suffer from any form of depression, the poem is a dreamy walk that touches down in spots to describe mundane tasks. If you know the language, you get the deeper meaning. Kid Cudi’s lyrics do the same thing. As a poet, the biggest challenge was to get the emotion across, the dips and raging highs, without sounding cliché or melodramatic.
 
In the process of seeing therapists, feeling like a test rat in the maze of Russian roulette choices that go with trying countless medications, 12 step groups, and personal epiphany, of course, I made mistakes. There is a littered trail of hurt feelings, neglected friendships, and lost loves. Whirling Metaphysics is a book that spans my life from 18 to 35 years of age. The Draw of Broken Eyes tells a specific story that began when I moved to Athens, Georgia in 2010. The two books are published together to give the reader the whole picture.
 
The writing process gave me something to focus on, something positive to obsess over. When John Gosslee Books picked up my work, we edited both books. (As of today we’re still editing lines for mass distribution.) There was a great deal of emotional turmoil from digging into those old days to better flesh out each line’s intent. Yet, if you’re going to tell the story, tell it with all the scars and sins.
 
 
Six Chapters of Swerve
 
(part 1)
 
Friday: Patsy Cline plays
on a red Corsa’s radio:
I go walkin’ after midnight.
Roaring around loose gravel turns,
whipping by dark shanties,
I’ m headed to a honky-tonk in Bethlehem.

Last week’s turmoil is tossed out
and flares up
like a discarded cigarette.
 
(part 2)

2:00am demands
my undivided attention.
The evening brings wraiths
and I whittle ghouls into phrase.

Boredom,
writing a line, maybe two,
in the eye of this typhoid fever
I feel my ill-healed wounds.
Does evening hear me?

Yes.

Like gypsy neurons
thoughts of salvation
and self-satisfaction argue
through loose association.
This is quiet too deep.
There is no resignation.

 

(part 3)

Saturday:
Morning is an awkward nap.
I’m nervous, tired,
trying to shine like chrome.
Trash burning smells too strong.
Noise is a tearing bear claw.
It’s one more, another walk out
into mist.
 
(part 4)

Noon is a humid sheen
graced by geraniums.
Craving focus I mend mother’s lawn.
Weeds are pulled with callused hands.
Heat crawls across flesh in sweat,
singeing shoulders.

Go, go, go!
With machines and bent back
I retaliate against the taste
of gun metal.

Deep breaths can’t catch
a pulse outside natural fact.
All I can do is choose to move.
This labor delays the
attraction to chaos.
 
(part 5)

Sunday:
Excessive energy is spent
pensive, stressed already
about another uninvited
week of calamity.
Panic is a midnight snack.

Wait.

One blink, a moody shift
and I’m Uncle Remus
in his reading chair;
one cool glass of water.
There’s no pressure.

Protection, this mnemonic smoke screen
is a parlor trick. I know
it isn’t going to be okay.
 
(part 6)

Monday: An unfriendly 4:34 am.
It’s late again.
Insomnia says
more time will make a difference.

If you’re up,
idling, my Corsa’s
doors are open.

Forget the lack of dreams
that this night is.

Get in!
We will drive, listen to Patsy Cline,
and drift
beside a ribbon
of bending willows.
 
 
 
 
 
WMB: What got you interested in resilience?
 
CB: I worked in social services for ten years after I graduated from Shorter College. For six of those I was a juvenile probation officer in the Department of Juvenile Justice. The last four were with the Department of Family and Children’s Services. I split my time at the latter between working with Foster Care and then Family Preservation. It was a challenging vocation. There were hard days and sad endings, but much more of those ten years was happy, even funny, with North Georgia flair.
 
The Gateman’s Hymn of Ignoracium, the epic that closes my book, is an account of the days I spent in Juvenile Court, watching cases file in and file out, seeing where cracks were in the system, how much ill went without punishment, blank stares – again, to focus that frustration and helplessness, I put my discontent into art. It’s a catharsis. I never intended to put the epic in the final version of my book, but people liked it. It stayed.
 
I saw kids grow up, go to college, have their own kids after enduring unspeakable tragedy in their youth. What amazed me most wasn’t the horror of the disenfranchised, but the obstacles one can overcome if a conscious choice is made to rise above present circumstance. I didn’t “save” anyone during those years of social work. That was not my role, but to be a part of positive change, I found that it helps if you stay close to the Spirit – whatever that is to you. For me, work was like active prayer.

 
 
 
WMB: What do you love most about what you do?
 
CB: I love my freelance writing gig. In the past I’ve also done SEO writing. Both these have been outlets that take me out of the world of poetry and into a new, challenging creative direction. Two years ago I added working outdoors into my career plan. I have always enjoyed the outdoors, and working with a landscaping company gives me the opportunity to make money and stay healthy at the same time. This connection to nature, its hold on me, is in my book. There’s something cleansing about sweating with the sun on your shoulders. It was the physical equivalent of the mental challenge it took to pull my poetry together.
 
In the Fall I’m making steps to move to Atlanta, Georgia and towards an MFA program. I’ll miss being outdoors so much, but I feel it’s best to move on at this phase of my literary career.
 
 

 

WMB: What are your (other) passions?
 
CB: Music is more inspiring to me in many ways than the written word. When I write about certain jazz musicians or reference a piece of music it’s because that’s what was playing in the moment. Music is an active, essential part of my creative process.
 
I really enjoy books in general. For about three years I worked for Barnes & Noble where I became an avid collector of first editions. With everything else going on in the last ten years, I moved away from that obsession, but now am beginning to find balance and develop a healthy relationship with fiction again. Right now I’m halfway through Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. I’m complimenting it with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.
 
Another passion of mine is running. On the recent landscape job, working outside at a fast pace has replaced running as a way to burn off excess energy, and ultimately balance my mood. Lately, however, I’ve felt the tug to get back in the gym or on the road.
 
Seeking knowledge is my ultimate passion. I enjoy learning. I am starved for it. A great deal of what I use in my poetry, the classical imagery and references, come from private study. College gave me a good foundation to know how to learn, helped me to find what interested me most, and taught me how to retain these things. I try to get my joy of learning into my work and through the fingertips into the lives of those who read what I try to capture in poetry.
 
 
 
WMB: What kinds of adversities have you faced in your past?
 
CB: Much of my struggle has come from overwhelming mood swings and what I’ve done to deal with them. It’s easy to get cocky. The minute you let your guard down the beast is back on you. In my case there are interlocking connections between my manic periods and alcohol/drug cravings. The insanity of it is that you know it won’t end well, but a temporary release is at least a release. I’ve been lucky enough to have support in my worst times and grow stronger every time I get a step farther from “one day at a time”.
 
I have a poem in the book that addresses alcoholism. It’s also one of the rare examples of me using any “fairytale” rhyme scheme. In Judas Noose Tavern I use a sing-song melody to describe a very bleak evolution. The road to dependence is brutal. When you get out, there’s a new sense of self, but a significant amount of innocence is lost. All experiences change us, tear us down or lift us up. Some tragedies leave a deep, shadowy ravine. Pain that’s self-inflicted is the hardest to overcome. Fate did not cause it. God did not lash out. I knew things were going sideways before it got truly hellish. I knew it yet I kept marching straight for the heart of a boozy maelstrom.

 
 
 
WMB: Has writing about your own adversity and resilience through poetry helped you? If so, how?
 

CB: Writing my book has allowed me to put down the dead weight of sorrow and regret I’ve carried around for too long. I believe that in most cases we are much harsher to ourselves than anyone else could be. Forgiving myself has been, and will continue to be, a real challenge. To this day I still seem to do more harm than good. Right now I’m working on my next book which is about how it feels to come out the other side of trauma, where guilt gives way to joy, light, and song. Those who read The Draw of Broken Eyes and Whirling Metaphysics can see where I’ve been. The new volume, Athena Departs, will be looking forward.

 
 
 
WMB: Thank you for your time, and for sharing your story.

 
 
Click here to buy the book online at Barnes & Noble .com.
 

 

 
Click here to read a review of the book by Fjords Review

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