S.S. Anderson’s Journal to Narayama and Love Poems interweaves the author’s journal entries with poems throughout the book.
The work begins on April 11, 1978 in Iowa City, Iowa, and ends on February 14, 2016. The author was 20 years old at the project’s outset, and his youthful optimism in an introductory journal entry is cheering: “I will continue toward my goals, and no obstacle will stand in my way!” Unfortunately, the bright outlook eventually turns much darker as the author struggles with severe depression, numerous hospitalizations, and other challenges. In September 1, 2014, he writes: “I am always crying inside for missed opportunities.”
Most of the poems have an ode-like quality. They are often love- or nature-focused, with short lines that invite a leisurely pace, as in “Psych-West”: “As the wind blows,/ the leaves, /wet and wilting, /roll across the lawn.” Anderson often considers the effect of sound, and the alliteration of win/ wet/ wilting plays nicely with the assonance of blows/ roll.
By contrast, Anderson’s poems that address mental illness, such as “Mental Health Institute,” are somewhat choppy and seem more like journal entries broken into lines: “I will have been here three months/ By Christmas day./ I’ve gotten passes home…”
The actual journal entries are more engaging, with vivid descriptions of the author’s state of mind, as in “5 September 1985, Licks Ice Cream, dusk,” which begins, “The paper stands blank, like my cerebral tank…Neurotransmitters diving like pelicans…The depression is like dunes of winter snow, blinding, fast-biting. Caverns of plunging emotions. Cattle whips. All tolerated.” Unfortunately, these entries don’t provide much of a narrative arc and often include day-to-day minutiae that can be wearying (“I had lunch with Richard. The eggrolls were especially excellent”). Their highly introspective nature can also be challenging.
Overall, Journal to Narayama feels more like a private rather than public project. But it may be appreciated by those interested in the difficulties of living with depression, mania, and hospitalizations.
Also available as an ebook.