Book Title: Gospels of Depression
Author: Pamilerin Jacob
Year of Publication: 2018
Number of Pages: 30
Number of Poems: 18
Reviewer: Uduak-Estelle Akpan
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Reading Pamilerin Jacob’s “Gospels of Depression” provoked a personal confession: of my many dreams, being a writer and an evangelist of my faith have been the most compelling. I’ve often sought ways of weaving the two, broad as they are into one fine yarn. The collection of poems, most of which are creatively named after biblical events gave me an added experience – that someone gets me, while causing me to rethink my stance and contribution on issues bordering on mental health.
With a perfect blend of creativity and insightful writing, Gospels of depression is an essential read for our age; it is a timely read because judging from social media threads and the trend of conversations, it is apparent that public perception of mental health issues, its victims and survivors could use more than a little advocacy and education.
The collection of eighteen poems illuminates the distressed space of the victims and survivors of mental health challenges and different forms of abuse; the entire work is an eye-opener, revealing the inadequacies of the people and system; attempting to debunk stereotypes and untruths surrounding people undergoing varying degrees of emotional and psychological challenges. Pamilerin Jacob writes bravely about issues that are often shied away from; he brings to bear the lack of empathy, understanding, and support often accorded survivors as well as the shortcomings in methodology and approach of help offered. Each piece boldly advocates the need for demystifying mental health challenges and the general good that can come forth if the populace is duly sensitized so much, that mental illness and its sister-challenges are no longer demonized.
The first poem, “Genealogy” sets the tone for the entire collection. In its opening lines, Jacob writes:
“& Ignorance begat Insecurity & Insecurity begat Shame & Shame begat Fear & Fear begat a mother uprooting her son’s tongue when she finds sadness in his mouth & a father feeding him holy verses for medication & a brother frying stew with anointing oil & a priest wringing faux confessions from his throat & a brain soaked in chili sauce, eating itself & a body rearing lightning in its bones…”
In the manner with which the Bible chronicles the heritage and lineage of men of old, the writer uses Genealogy to summarize the parentage of stigma- fear, hypocrisy, contradictions. He does not explicitly state the aim, but the buildup of ominous emotions evoked by his choice of words and the use of ellipsis at the poem’s end only suggests one thing – damage to the survivor.
With every poem, Jacob tackles a lively range of subject matter, alternating between monologues in “First Miracle” and dialogues as seen in “Luminous Mystery 04: Trans-disfiguration”; Using narrations, either personal or philosophical, the collection illustrates the writer’s burning passion for mental health advocacy.
He delves into the survivor’s vantage point of self-harm, abuse, suicide, stigma and seeking help. A particularly memorable piece, “Joyful Mystery 01: Annumbciation” with an intended malapropism in the title tells a tale of one who dares to speak out, to “annunciate” his woes, but is met with hushing and victim-blaming. The world today is no stranger to uninformed and merciless judgment meted to victims of just any form of mishap; people become too consumed with optics to allow victims truly mourn or even speak of their ordeals for fear of the stigma attached to such unfortunate occurrences.
One cannot miss the writer’s skillful use of cliffhangers to incite deep thought in the reader; his use of real-life data in “Feeding the 800,000” and “Sorrowful Mystery 03: Crowned with Tons (of Meds)” brings one to the realization that his subject matters are far from abstract; it portrays each poem as a call to action – to seek redress in self and the system.
The poem, “Sorrowful Mystery 03: Crowned with Tons (of Meds)” however left me a tad conflicted; It opens with;
“In my country…
there are more coffin makers than psychiatrists ”
and closes with;
“and they wonder why
we “choose” funerals.”
While it reveals the lack of preparedness on the part of the system, I would argue that if the narrator is “crowned with tons of Meds,” it would mean that there is an abundance of psychiatrists to administer the meds. From the piece, I deduced that survivors become the sacrifice for system failure but depicting it with the graphic picture seemed unnecessary and “out in the cold”; I would rather, the writer used words to convey his thoughts in that regard.
Pamilerin Jacob is a fine storyteller whose simplistic style of writing and artful use of imagery renders the work an instrumental material in the everyday fight against stigma. An instance is the poem, “Glorious Mystery 04: the Assumption (of People When I Say I am Mentally Ill)” where he employs a playful repetition of words to drive home an important lesson about perception. He struck gold with the poem, “Song of the Dead,” which conveys a deep message along with the theme of despair and helplessness I remember, to be present in my best of Kofi Awoonor’s poems, “Songs of Sorrows.”
I especially loved the consistency and clarity of purpose evident in all poems within the collection. The closing poem “Self-Portrait as an Eternal wound” serves as an appropriate topping, re-emphasizing the struggles of the narrator, a survivor where he talks about his illness, devoid of shame and is allowed the liberty to own his truth. Pamilerin Jacob’s work with “Gospels of Depression” is well thought out, starting with stigma and culminating in a piece about embracing oneself.
All these make “Gospels of Depression” a worthy, if not an exceptional read.
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