POEMS: Susie Campbell



DEFASURE-DSM-5 Phobio (organza/goldthread)


DEFASURE-DSM-5 Attac (gold thread)


DEFASURE-DSM-5 Anxxiiety (tissue paper/scanner blur)


The DEFASURES project developed out of my ongoing interest in the ways both text and textile respond to damage and repair. I coined the word ‘defasure’ (a compound of ‘deface’, ‘erasure’, ‘suture’ and ‘aperture’) to refer to text-based interventions which use thread, stitching, felt and found fabric to engage with the material surface of a number of selected texts. The pieces published here come from the series DEFASURES-DSM-5 which are interventions within my own copy of the diagnostic manual DSM-5. The DEFASURES project was prompted by attending lecture on book conservation which drew attention to how certain methods, now discredited, were used by archivists to repair and conserve damaged books in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of these methods involved stitching, patching, and filling tears in old books and documents. They are no longer used by archivists because of their interference with the material object to be conserved. But, where archivists in the lecture audience were appalled by such methods, I was immediately excited by their potential for poetic intervention. I was fascinated by the way this ‘interference’ highlights the book’s materiality as a cloth, paper and printed object, drawing attention to its fragility, and paradoxically, also to its resilience.

For the DEFASURES-DSM-5 series, I chose to work with the diagnostic manual known as the DSM-5, which is relied on for diagnosing mental health disorders in the USA but is also a key text in diagnostic work worldwide. The DSM-5 tends to provoke powerful responses. It is often celebrated for its attempt to apply a consistent language and framework to mental illnesses, but it is also criticised for its ‘medicalisation’ of certain states and its refusal of others, and it has been accused of perpetuating a number of biases and inequalities. Nevertheless, it remains hugely authoritative. My interest as a poet is in how texts like this seem to claim a universal authority, as if transcending the material circumstances of the book itself. And specifically, in the case of DSM-5, I am interested in its application of medical language (and of course the professional and institutional interests and inequalities embedded in that language) to some of the most profoundly mysterious and disturbing of human states; states of suffering and alienation and insight, and often source of both creative and destructive impulses.  My project seeks to highlight the fabric of this book by ‘defasing’ the surface of selected pages and so opening apertures into other ways of reading and making meanings from it. Through its use of stitches, patches and holes, my project problematises and poses questions about medical models of healing, ‘repair’ and the recovery of some supposed state of pristine and individualised mental health. Although my project resonates strongly with (and is deeply indebted to) the work of Louise Bourgeois and her use of loose threads and roughly stitching to express extreme psychic states and their healing, my own use of these tears and repairs is mainly to explore how language and text might perform, engage with, or indeed be constitutive of these states. (By curious coincidence, The Woven Child, an exhibition of Bourgeois’s fabric pieces opened at the Hayward Gallery London, February 2022, just as I was finishing this series).

The sensitivity of DSM-5’s subject matter has given rise to a number of ethical considerations around this project. I have deliberately chosen only to work with those sections of the manual which deal with mental health issues of which I have personal experience. My poetic response is a reading of the way this manual describes what have been my own states of mind and being, and my own more complex experience of health and recovery.  However, I am aware that my reading is inflected by my own context and that others may respond powerfully and differently to these same pages. In addition, there is the ethical consideration of using the work of others as part of my own poetry. In acknowledgement of this, and to highlight the material specifics of this text, I cite it in full as American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013, and draw attention to the fact that the book is prefaced by a list of the people responsible for writing and editing the text: the DSM-5 Task Force’s research team, editorial staff, and work groups responsible for specific sections.

Susie Campbell is currently working on a practice-based poetry PhD at Oxford Brookes University, focusing on Gertrude Stein and experimental spatial forms in poetry. Her text and textile-based work has appeared in UK and international journals as well as in visual poetry anthologies and exhibitions. Her recent book publications include Tenter (Guillemot Press, 2020) and Enclosures (Osmosis Press, 2021, now sold out) and she has a new book forthcoming from Guillemot Press in 2022.

She can be found at susiecampbellwrites.wordpress.com, Twitter and Instagram.

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