A sequence of poetry by Laurene Dietrich about her harrowing experience with the mental health system, watching it treat and break her loved one.
Treatise 3: Sweet Crazy Love
the fabric that was my birthright
was a strong white cotton
shot through with knubby textured threads.
it showed the dirt.
it still does.
but not so much
as it once did.
now it is
with a lifetime of happenings
good, bad and indifferent.
it is patched
with scraps of other fabrics…
silks and fine linens
old bush blankets and bits of shirts or aprons
and other used and discarded rags
or found in all kinds of expected or weird and wonderful places.
they are sewn with all manner of threads and stitches.
the beautiful, vivid and sad erratic embroidery
of sweet crazy love.
the intoxicated, meandering and bruised stitches
of days of madness and paranoia.
the swathes of cloth devoured by small, repetitive, slow lines
of lessons learned painstakingly over time
the ripped and mended, darned, patched and unmendable scabs
of cloth shattered suddenly and without warning.
my cloth was ripped and
dyed a million shades of black and blue, green and yellow.
it will take a long time to repair.
but I have started.
of beautiful, hand painted silk
made by me as
I learned to sing Italian folk songs of resistance and revolution
and also, love.
in strong rosy hues of buttery gold and deep, deep cream and crimsons
given and stitched to my battered old cloth
by the best of friends.
there are beautiful and unexpected eco stains
from good meals with friends or on my own,
from work in the garden
from the warbling of birds at the start of the day
from rain and mud and warm sunshine
from the moon at midnight
from laughter with friends
from phone calls and texts
and the tracks of my cars tyres.
I have found
my stash of threads
and a piece of soft old woollen cloth.
in the coming days I will
stitch it to the cotton
with slow even stitches.
I will use sturdy brightly coloured threads
of silk and cotton and linen
and anything else that will work
and I will do my best
to repair and reorganize
to mend and restructure
the cloth that is my life
with the embroideries,
darning and appliques
of sweet crazy love.
Clean Cut (or Sweet Crazy Love, Part 2)
this mend is not taking.
nothing I do
will hold the cloth
I stitch and stitch.
use different threads.
try smaller needles.
I walk away
and leave it.
and try again.
nothing will hold.
and then another rent.
a straight slit.
clean and crisp
and in another part
that is already
thick with mends.
black and blue and green and yellow
that never really healed -
and are held together
with all manner of things.
this new wound
slices right through
at how this open wound
how cleanly it has
cut right through.
how long this fabric
and seems so small.
each new stitch
seems to pull it tighter,
make it less flexible,
and tougher to sew into.
my hands are frailer,
less certain of what they are doing.
I can’t see the work
as clearly as before.
my eyesight is failing
and tears blur things.
I take time out
to mourn the slow passing
of my birthright fabric.
I’ll try again
piece of silk
that I dyed a long time ago.
and silk thread
that dosen’t match
but is strong and
might do the trick.
We sat down with Laurene to discuss the influences and inspirations behind her writing.
Laurene, when did you start writing? What prompted you to start writing?
As an adult, I probably started when a friend got me involved in a small writing group
in Bendigo. I have been writing on and off ever since. I can’t really remember
not writing. I keep 3 journals, all of which I write in most days. A couple of years ago
I started writing again when I joined a U3A writing class and last year one of my sons
convinced me to take part in NaNoWriMo – which I completed in a very incomplete
way, but the bones are there to work on later. It was great to see that I could
actually write that much in the space of a month.
Have you had any training in this field?
Not really, just essays at school and uni, reports written for various jobs I’ve had
and literature as a study at university.
Who are your writing idols? Is there a composer who inspires you?
I read lots of things and favourites change over and over. Books I will never get rid of
include 'Music and Freedom' by Zoe Morrison and a beautiful illustrated edition of the
'Mabinogion' translated by Lady Charlotte Guest. I am enjoying 3 particular books at
the moment – 'Food Wise: A whole systems guide to sustainable and delicious food
choices' by Gigi Berardi, 'Care: The radical art of taking time' by Brooke McAlary and 'This
One Wild and Precious Life: A hopeful path forward in a fractured world' by Sarah
Wilson. I also enjoy cookery books and my favourite ones are by Nigel Slater. My
youngest son has published several books of comics and they are also things that I
value – not just because he made them but because they are full of great humour. I
don’t have a favourite composer, but I enjoy Deborah Conway and Leonard Cohen’s
work and I listen to the ABC Jazz station, although I couldn’t tell you who I listen to
there – just that I enjoy the music.
In which forms do you usually write? Is there a particular reason you’re drawn to
I enjoy poetry and short story writing, probably because they are short.
Are there themes or topics that you usually write about? If so, what are the
messages you’d like your reader to take from your pieces about these ideas or
I often write about things that bother me. At the moment, it’s the appallingly bad
joke that is our “mental health system”. The word “system” would be better
replaced with a word that means “chaotic, overtaxed, couldn’t give a rat’s, excuse
for a system".
How do you think being a rural woman impacts on your writing?
I have been working over the years with women on farms and other rural women’s
organisations and I think rural women have a no nonsense, get in and get the job
done attitude to things. Their perspectives and solutions to things are often more
creative and practical than many others and I think they have (as do I) a low
tolerance for lies and bullshit.