Is This Scary?
by Jacob Scheier
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Pub Date 13 Apr 2021 | Archive Date 08 Jan 2021
A challenging exploration of mental illness and disability from Governor General’s Award winner Jacob Scheier.
Is This Scary? digs deep into internal landscapes of suffering, including depression and anxiety, chronic physical ailment, and rare neurological malady. With its many eccentric songs and odes to medications and medical procedures, this book is full of both levity and unapologetic lament. Pushing back against societal stigma, Is This Scary? unflinchingly addresses experiences of psychiatric institutionalization and suicidality, without either romanticizing or pathologizing them. Scheier rejects much of the mainstream cultural views of mental illness, subverting the biochemical model by emphasizing the radical subjectivity of mental suffering. While the poems render the difficulty of communicating pain to others, they defiantly celebrate its expression and evocation through visceral lyricism.
Scheier also challenges our culture’s desire to be inspired by stories of “triumphing” over illness and disability. Nothing is overcome here, the journey from illness to wellness is one of narrative and aesthetic disruption. The perpetually incomplete search for self and home is ultimately at the heart of this book: along with being a person with disabilities, the poet-speaker identifies as a Diaspora-Jew, engaging exile as a chronic state of being that isn’t intended to be resolved, but rather explored, expressed, and honored.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 15 members
Thanks to Net Galley for the advanced copy of this book.
I was drawn to “Is This Scary?” first by the title and cover design, and then to the concept of a poetry collection about experiencing both mental illness and physical ailments, as well as the treatment of the two.
In that sense, I really enjoyed this collection. I did quite a bit of googling about the different treatments and medications depicted in Scheier’s writing, and I thought it was clever how he wove in specific references to each of them. I feel like I learned a lot! I do appreciate that Scheier’s poems are honest and make no attempt to glorify living with mental illness as I’ve seen others do, but rather, he offers a look into how difficult, overwhelming, and cyclical it can feel. As someone who experiences a different kind of mental illness, I think he captured those struggles and how they come and go very well.
My personal favourites from the collection were “To My Friends Who Did Not Visit Me in the Mental Hospital,” “Circular Labyrinth,” “Self-Parenting,” “Song to the Suicides,” as well as “And Then Job Answered God from inside the Whirlwind They Were Both Caught inside of.” In these poems, I was struck by the format, and by the unique connection between mental illness and things I had not thought of. For example, the idea of those cyclical feelings being like trapped in a labyrinth stood out to me. Additionally, I’m always a big fan when authors link biblical references with their poems.
While there were a lot of poems that held me and I found myself thinking about afterwards, oppositely, I did not find his poems related to love to be memorable to me. The imagery and metaphors were not as strong as those found in other works.
Overall, I would give this collection 3.5/5 and I would be interested in reading more from Scheier in the future.
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