Interview with Ibn Qalam


Tell me about your thoughts behind your poems Ibn?

Writing is a way of committing thoughts to a place and period in time. The page listens and never judges. It asks just that you’ll find the courage to subtly allude to your innermost thoughts in as abstract a way as you like. Your emotions may be hidden in the open with readers, imagined or real, each taking a piece of your perceived burden each time they read. It’s sharing, but not sharing, because every individual will take a unique meaning away with them. If asked “When you said this what did you mean”, it’s incumbent upon the author to say “Whatever you see or understand must be the meaning.” In trying to comprehend one’s own emotions, commitment to writing can add form and structure to a difficult experience that may, in itself, be formless and chaotic. I find comfort in order.

How were you feeling at the time of writing?

I imagine I was feeling helpless. When ‘big things’ happen in one’s life, I mean, life changing events that are out of your control and that seem to take on a life of their own to which you must simply react because you have no influence, your status has been compromised and downgraded, you rely on paid strangers to represent you and no one you know is willing to get too involved. Your savings very quickly evaporate and associates and fair-weather friends stop taking or returning your calls. One’s ability to manage is immediately sorely tested, and your shortcomings or, less tolerant character facets are exaggerated, to your eternal shame. The black cloud hovers. Immovably. Gatherings meant to celebrate have the opposite effect and the cracks in one's public persona become gorges. You retreat, stunned by life, shocked by your own inability to deal with people who don’t see the depths of the damage, who’ll continue to demand of you, unaware that you are far from able of delivering anything. In this condition, with this condition the love of your closest partner becomes a matter of life and death.

Were these feeling over something specific or a specific event?

Yes, the ‘event’ that dominated my life for 10 years officially ended in December 2018. Over that period of time I lived in a state of constant fear. Not just for myself but for those that I loved and those than relied on me. I went from able, assured, confident, productive, humorous and popular to withdrawn, overweight, dark, aggressive, self-medicated, hyper-cynical, distrusting and pessimistic. For nearly five of those years I ‘numbed out’ on anti-depressants which had a terrifying effect when coupled with heavy drinking, which added nightmarishly to the fear and gave me palpitations every day. Sleep was rarely pleasant, so fitful and surreal unconsciousness became its replacement. Compared to the normality of everyday life, the stark concurrence of emotions made the dark much much darker.

How was this resolved?

I have alluded to ‘The event’ and won’t share details of what it was, but I will share the emotional devastation wrought by it. The resolution came about through the intervention of people of conscience who recognized my spiritual and emotional degradation after my partner and closest allies presented the facts to them. By now I had become so incapable and inept at presenting myself as anything but useless and appalling, that their kind and selfless support kept my head above water long enough for the septic tank to be drained and I could once more stand, albeit on shaky legs at the bottom of a tank!

How did you move past this challenging time?

I haven’t really. You don’t just ‘move past’ it. But you do learn to live with it. The knowledge I mean. You begin to accept was has happened and you stop punishing yourself for events that are in the past and unchangeable. Can’t change the past, right? So stop fretting about that which has occurred and now cannot be altered.
I fell into literature, entirely. I read and read and read. I tried to find answers to the human condition - not my condition you understand -  the whole human condition. Why do people do and say the things they do and say? Lofty ambitions, but also deeply comforting. Knowing that minds from the past had experienced similar to me was a revelation. It also felt like I was somehow strengthening my core, my mind was at least absorbing wisdom which was a respite from the self-flagellation of tearful 4am black dog.

Everybody is aware of “To be or not to be” from Hamlet, but few continue the soliloquy which is a shame because it’s utterly brilliant:


“To be, or not to be, that is the Question:

Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer

The Slings and Arrows of outragious Fortune,
Or to take Armes against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them:”
“And by opposing end them”,


I took to heart.

How do you feel now?

I’m OK Thanks. Time helps. It’s darkest before the dawn etc., I’m mending. I tried to revive my empathy for others and in helping them, help myself. Is any act entirely selfless? I don’t know; some maybe. I have tried to understand the difference between justifiable anger and destructive anger. In doing so I’ve avoided self-righteous indignation at 'what they did to me' and consigned the episode to 'Bad people will do bad things and good people will do good things…surround yourself with good people.' My confidence is still being rather bashful but I’ll strong-arm him out into the open soon enough for a one man show I want to call Schizophrenia. Performing in front of an audience is like bungee jumping every minute. It is totally terrifying but essential therapy in taking arms against a sea of troubles and in opposing end them.
I’m not pursuing happiness, but I do want to be content. That’ll do.

Do you have any advice for anyone else going through similar emotions?

Keep at it.
Dig deep.
Be charitable.
Be kind.
Talk always. Find your confidant/s and keep talking. Bore them to pieces, it doesn’t matter they’re there to listen.
Build your empathy for others.
Don’t sweat the small shit.
Face your accusers. Face your fear.
Walk. Swim.
Eat well. Red meat sometimes. Veggies always.
Get a pet.
Sing loudly and badly for as long as you can.
Learn three chords on a guitar or piano, you’ll be able to play hundreds of songs. Cry. Don’t hold it in or try to dismiss it, you’ll feel better afterwards. Learn Desiderata off by heart. “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

CLICK HERE to read a little more about Ibn and to contact him.


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© Robin Barratt