'I put together a collection of poems, some written before my depression, and some after I’d recovered from it. A collection that I hoped was truer and braver than my earlier attempts at writing, and one that might touch on shared feelings, common experiences. I entered it for a competition, judged by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and to my surprise, it won.
Now don’t get me wrong, it was very exciting to see a little book of my poems published – to see my name on the cover. But the best thing by far was the response I got once it started to find its way into people’s hands. When people got in touch to say they really felt and understood what particular poems were trying to express, it reignited my belief in the power of poetry – to reach out and to speak to others, to strangers, simply by expressing a shared experience in a memorable way.
I wanted the poem to be about holding on – about keeping that shred of belief, even in the worst moments
In my poem ‘Hound’, I wanted to make use of the iconic image of depression as ‘the black dog’. But I wanted to show it in a different light – as an imaginary creature that can be defeated, and will come to be defeated, time and again. I wanted the poem to be about holding on – about keeping that shred of belief, even in the worst moments of clinical depression, that things will get better. Because they will, and they do.
I reckon poetry can sometimes be a way of imagining the very worst, even a way of facing up to it – using words as a kind of weapon. But I also think poetry shows us how to use words as a shield, to help protect us. If ‘Hound’ can offer even the slightest defence against the black dog, when it comes after me, you, or anyone else, then I’ll feel like the poem has done its job.
When it comes, and I know how it comes
from nowhere, out of night
like a shadow falling on streets,
how it waits by the door in silence –
a single black thought, its empty face –
don’t let it tie you down to the house,
don’t let it slope upstairs to spend
hours coiled next to your bed,
but force the thing out, make it trudge
for miles in cold and wind and sleet.
Have it follow you, the faithful pet
it pretends to be, this mutt
like a poor-man’s Cerberus,
tell it where to get off when it hangs
on with its coaxing look,
leave it tethered to a lamppost
and forget those pangs of guilt.
Know it’s no dog but a phantom,
fur so dark it gives back nothing,
see your hand pass through
its come-and-go presence,
air of self-satisfied deception,
just as the future bursts in on
the present, its big I am, and that
sulking hound goes to ground again.'