Sarah Kane I loved you then, I love you still.
By Stephen J. Golds
Sarah Kane took her own life in February, 1999. I was a sixteen year old kid in high school. I had never heard of her. But she would save my life and teach me everything important I know about poetry and writing.
There have been authors and poets who have inspired me — Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver, Billy Childish, Sylvia Plath, Alice Walker, Richard Brautigan and the Fantes, but Sarah Kane’s 4.48 PSYCHOSIS is by far my writing bible.
Published posthumously, 4.48 was Kane’s last play. It was her suicide note. And it reads like one. There is so much pain, hopelessness, honesty and beauty in every single word and line here that it’s often exhausting to read. It doesn’t read like a play at all, but the poetic cries of a deeply ill person in love with life and finding that love unrequited.
I won’t go into detail on my own battles with mental illness, but will say that I almost followed Kane into that darkness — where once you close the door, it’s locked from the inside and you can’t ever enter that house again. I reread 4.48 and it saved my life more than once. I wrote. I wrote everything. I was honest. I didn’t care what people thought. I took all the poison polluting my mind and I cleansed myself on scraps of paper and on screens. I tried to make my ugly pain beautiful truths. It helped. It helped a lot.
In todays overly delicate society where even a picture of a cheese sandwich comes with a trigger warning, the at times downright offensive and shocking 4:48 probably will never receive the acclaim it so rightly deserves. But this is a record of Kane’s absolute pain and misery before she took her own life in a restroom at King’s College Hospital. This is her art and her truth and I doubt she would have given a damn if it offended anyone. As someone bleeding out with a gut shot would hardly care if the pain they were experiencing caused any offense to bystanders.
Real poetry comes from the heart. It’s bloody, it’s uncomfortable, it’s shocking, it’s upsetting and it is beautiful because it is true.
Truth, beauty. Beauty, truth.
I have only ever come across one present day poet who writes like Kane, with her heart on her sleeve and that is HLR ( History of Present Complaint published by Close to the Bone ) and it’s a way I strive to write every single day.
This is what Kane taught me. Write YOUR pain. Write YOUR truth and you’ll never be wrong. I’ll always love her for that.