Of Chaos and Courting Poetry

From the trenches of clinical depression handed by peer pressure, academic rigidity and no breathing space for creativity, student and young writer, Mary Nell Portero, shares a collection of forty voices in her debut journey in verse, ‘Love, Lunacy and Other Voices from the Night’, to help other introvert teenagers find solace through their struggle with depression. Penned from the fathoms of her own real-life battle, she speaks of the phase through the medium of her most trusted companion — poetry.

Far from the feigned sanity of the world’s audible noise, far from the keen blind eyes and frolic of the day, and far from the cheers of sunshine they waited for one another at the lonesome bends of the night to catch and be caught off guard and to pull the other into oneself. Sleep was an unwelcome guest as the ink dripping onto the paper caught the rhythm of her bleeding, chaotic soul. The long night takes leave for a trice and she looks back at what is left behind. Forty poems from the trenches of a turbulent depression stare back at her. An introvert teenager’s journey from confusion, confrontation, befriending and falling in with to executing a slow and difficult resurrection from depression, Mary Nell Portero’s Love, Lunacy and Other Voices from the Night is a companion, guide and passionate witness to a daring, often ignored, awfully underestimated, real life battle within the mind.

Despite continuous efforts coming from various fronts, depression is still a widely misinterpreted and taboo subject to discuss with most the Indian parents. The situation worsens as educational institutions too offer no particular relief to the problem. Witnessing one of the highest rates of suicides among youngsters, it is high time that the nation’s educational and societal circles wake up to find a panacea to the issue. It is at this juncture that young poet Mary Nell Portero has come out with her collection. Describing her work as compiled as much for creating awareness as for creative expression, Nell describes depression as a phase “where every companion counts”. It is with this firm belief that she brings out the work that stands witness to her own struggle, with an aim to offer companionship and serve as a confidante to every teenager who might be going through a similar conflict.

Penned during the early months of 2017 towards the end of her first year in college, Love, Lunacy and Other Voices from the Night offers an insight into how the phase is often underestimated and neglected. Through her own experience, Nell finds that the growing levels of depression among youngsters in it is a proof of much more than what we are often ready to see. She firmly asserts that her gradual but evident slip into the phase in itself was triggered by the constant pressure that many introverts face in the light of their not being able to fit into the normal loudness and frolic of their peers. Also, lack of academic flexibility leading to students being put into watertight compartments of academic pursuits unless they can afford high-end education, relentless impositions and expectations to be ‘perfect’ for societal standards and a continuous fear of being left all alone in a void is what pushes most teenagers to the brink of clinical depression. Further, unlike cases of physical illness, the survivors of mental disturbances such as depression are not often taken seriously in educational institutions. Speaking of her own instance, Nell confesses that colleges don’t give attendance concessions to students who claim to have been in a phase of clinical depression. This along with the stigma associated with the issue leads to lesser students seeking out help during the phase. Confessing of her own numerous suicidal waves during the phase, Nell admits that these factors are not just viewed as external influences but a questioning of their own identities by most teenagers. The problem therefore becomes not just a question of what others think of them but it transcends into an identity crisis that the teenager finds themselves trapped in. The solution too, therefore, must be with the aim to create a more liberal and inclusive space for every adolescent, instilling in them the confidence that being oneself is more important than being anything else.

From this chaos too something original is born. Courting poetry for the first time, Love, Lunacy and Other Voices from the Night is Anusha Sreekant’s first publication since her debut novella The Drunkard was brought out in 2014. The Drunkard was later re-released on her page on the online writing platform Launchora, on readers’ request. The collection is also her first work under her pseudonym, which she adopted in honour of her late mentor, Mary Nell Portero. The preface to the collection is penned by eminent academician, Dr. Karunakaran B Shaji. The work is being brought out by Blue Rose Publishers and has been made available on various online platforms.

Nell is a student of Arts and Education at the Regional Institute of Education, Mysore and describes herself as an avid reader and a passionate follower of music.