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A call to poets: stay alive

January 15, 2010 |  1:36 pm


Sometimes it seems as though poets, in particular, move in an endangered artistic world. Think Sylvia Plath, above; John Berryman, Anne Sexton. And, last month, Rachel Wetzsteon, an accomplished poet who took her own life at age 42.

Writer Jennifer Michael Hecht, who teaches at the New School, knew Wetzsteon; her death got her thinking about artists grappling with suicide. "I’m issuing a rule," she writes. "You are not allowed to kill yourself." Where we once had religious proscriptions against suicide, Hecht's is a secular injunction. She cites community, creativity and gratitude. And, while this is too late for her friend, she offers a lifeline:

Some part of you doesn’t want to end it all, and I’m talking to her or him, to that part of you. I’m throwing you a rope, you don’t have to explain it to the monster in you, just tell the monster it can do whatever it wants, but not that. Later we’ll get rid of the monster, for now just hang on to the rope. I know that this means a struggle from one second to the next, let alone one day at a time. Know that the rest of us know that among the faces we have met there are some right now who can barely take another minute of the pain and uncertainty. And we are in the room with you, going from one moment to the next, in whatever condition you manage to do it. Sobbing and useless is great!  Sobbing and useless is a million times better than dead. A billion times. Thank you for choosing sobbing and useless over dead... Don’t kill yourself. Suffer here with us instead. We need you with us, we have not forgotten you, you are our hero. Stay.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Credit: Rollie McKenna / File