Ground Zero ed. Nicholas Gagnier

Although this collection of poetry takes as its theme mental health, it contains neither tedious sermons nor incomprehensible screeds. These poems share many different perspectives on the causes and effects but leave the reader to judge which perspectives are sane, which are beneficial, and whether there is a difference.

The collection contains 50 poems, the majority of which are by Nicholas Gagnier himself, along with contributions by Kristen Cutler, Katie Jackson, Gavin Jones, Sara Khayat, Nicholas McKay, Tim Stobierski, thenerdyscribe, Michelle Vachon, and K W Villa. The poems vary in length from a few lines to several pages, and – while some poets display a consistent style – each adopt a unique approach to the use of rhyme and metre.

Some of the poems such as Hypercuasis and This Depression take full advantage of poetry’s freedom from standard rules of grammar and syntax to create a window into a life lived under a burden of a flawed mind, before revealing that the reader’s belief they understand might be due to their very failure to understand; those who have not lived the issue may sympathise but never empathise.

This message of the normal failing to understand turns from commentary to challenge in both Fix and It Get’s Better, with the suggestion that some passively choose not to understand or believe; that madness and self-harm are a response to not just a specific problem but a wider stigmatization of victims.

In the clergy of the
I’m another statistic
of closed mouths
and tied tongues.

Fix, Nicholas Gagnier

We as a society have pushed mental health out to the edges where we do not have to deal with it, or even admit it exists.

Others advance the view that madness and sanity are a struggle for social stability, but draw very different conclusions: Heart Shaped Hell asks us to consider whether mental illness is simply a label for behaviour that the establishment dislikes; whereas Cathartic’s Kingdom raises the possibility that trying too hard to be normal might be a cause of abnormality.

Not all the poems have an underlying bleakness: Never Let the Devils Get You combines a positive message with a jaunty rhythm that defies you not to be happier at the end than when you started, while Hold Out reminds us that the same reliance on our feelings and perceptions that can lead us into depression can also let us hope.

As perhaps the act least comprehensible and most traumatic to family and friends, several poems provide perspectives on suicide. It is possibly ironic that one of these, Broken Home Movies, also contains one of the strongest messages of hope: sometimes you are not to blame for other’s problems.

The collection ends with Good Morning Bedtime Story, which tells us “[t]he worst of bedtime stories all come to an end.” However, the reader is left wondering whether this is a message of hope that mental health can improve, or a stark reminder that reality is for life.

Mental health is a complex and serious issue, so it would be facile to say I enjoyed this collection. However, I found it both thought-provoking and well written, both as individual works and as a whole. I recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand themselves or others.

I received a free copy of this collection in exchange for a fair review.


10 thoughts on “Ground Zero ed. Nicholas Gagnier

  1. Sounds interesting. I am reminded of various Science Fiction and Fantasy authors first, and other books like Of Madness and Modernity next.
    One, by C.S. Friedman includes a culture that embraced mental and social disorders as key qualities in a person and society. The specific traits, skills, perspectives, and unique understanding imparted by a differently functioning mind were woven into the fabric of their social and economic structure.
    The Dog Wizard, a fantasy novel I just finished features a protagonist that is certified insane. It is why he can see and evaluate things in ways others can’t, he is not bound by their rules of how you should look at things.
    this is a recurring theme in many fiction books of most genres. But, that is not surprising when you consider early cultural and religious thoughts such as “those whom the gods choose, they first make mad” or ” the touch of the gods brings enlightenment and insanity.” (the second is paraphrased, I forget how I learned it.) Even Christian prophets in the scriptures could hardly be considered sane if you look at how they lived, acted, spoke, and the simple fact of talking to god.
    I do not remember where I first heard or read the postulation that Schizophrenia was the human brain’s way of attempting to evolve to deal with massive information overload and develop the ability to process multiple inputs and perspectives in alternative regions of the brain, providing improved connection, greater connection to subconscious, and increased awareness of patterns. It is an intriguing thought, especially when you consider there would be failed adaptations as it developed; look at the increasing occurrences of this and other mental disorders. I agree that the other question this brings up is, why are they something to be cured rather than simply dealt with, used, nurtured into useful development rather than damaging tendency, controlled or directed by the person with them rather than stigmatized and fought.


    1. Science Fiction and Fantasy have definitely been at the front of exploring the positives of unusual mental health.

      I also agree that faith and madness are often the same thing seen from different inherent bias.

      I have not read much in depth on schizophrenia. However there are interesting studies that the ubiquity of the internet has produced a noticeable slat toward fast, shallow, multiple source data in the latest generation over the slower deeper focus of previous generations. So I could certainly accept there are liminal zones where a new perceptual mode exists without sufficient possessors to create the linguistic structure necessary to fuse that data into the current paradigm.


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