Phoenix from the Ashes: Poetry from Personal Struggle, Rebirth and Triumph is Helena Lancaster's deeply personal chronicle of her journey through pain. It is haunting, expressively meaningful and often searingly painful as she takes us through her darkness and introduces us to her demons. The greater realization that her tormentor seems to be one that was meant to protect, nurture and care for her makes this doubly poignant and painful. The demons are as much within as they are without, however, and her struggle against depression and self-destruction, a battle that is enveloped by loneliness and the fear that no one understands her but herself, is brought out with naked honesty. She struggles to find love, to hold on to friendship and to gain acceptance from people that are important to her but finds herself betrayed, hurt and isolated with seeming inevitability.
The poetry is divided into three main sections - Fall to Darkness, Burning Day, and From the Ashes. The first section is aptly named, a descent into a netherworld of brokenness - broken promises, broken dreams, broken relationships, whose shattered shards are scattered as barbs across her writing. She begins in medias res, a self-destructive recluse "that lives with no ally", consumed by paranoia and fear. As she strives to keep herself together, she is driven even further into despair as new relationships only scar her, promises of love are met with betrayal and she wonders whether she can be loved or if her existence makes no difference in the world. After all, "every person who has ever claimed to feel that way for me has left me abandoned in the dark" she declares. Even so, amid her pain she finds resiliency to endure amid bitterness and believing herself cursed to an existence of pain and torture, hanging on by her fingernails.
Burning Day is a section devoted to her symbolic death. Blood from self inflicted wounds mingles with those from opening scars that others have caused and she asks for the sweetness of deception, the honeyed words that have no meaning behind them if only to taste sweetness once again as she dies. She undergoes a symbolic death of her old self, floating in a purgatory of pain after she is lost, broken, shattered and ripped apart, dreaming of a happier existence away from pain but somehow through this tearing apart, this death, she finds the strength to recreate herself, not as a victim but as a survivor.
From the Ashes brings the narrative of defeat and depression to a triumphant conclusion as a far stronger and more stable person emerges, someone who is no longer held back by the wounds of the past. It is here that she reveals the painful reality about her tormentor and declares herself free of the depression and psychological torture that this person traumatized her with. No longer shackled by this poisonous relationship, the last poems in this collection are calm, reflective and hopeful. She has had, she writes, her burning day and emerged reborn - "A new woman... a phoenix... beautiful, mythical and mysterious..." She has learned to find joy and grace in living one day at a time and sees her past as something that has molded her into what she needs to be. It is a triumphant ending to a journey of suffering.
This past week has been one seared by human pain and suffering and it is difficult to review a work that focuses on pain without acknowledging the collective human experience of pain that was visited upon the world this past week. Helena Lancaster's poetry may be born of personal experience but it is not hard to reflect upon the events of this past week without seeing bitter echoes resonate in her writing. The torture of betrayal, of loss, of hatred and discrimination, of death so sudden and hatred so inexplicable that we read about in the news is something that permeated the author's life even as it does ours, hiding like a killer in the shadows, waiting to strike. The rage that she expresses is a rage that we all can feel - and if her rage is our rage, so her triumph can be ours as well.
Phoenix from the Ashes: Poetry from Personal Struggle, Rebirth, & Triumph by Helena Lancaster releases worldwide November 12, 2015 in Paperback and exclusively for Amazon Kindle. This is a follow up to Lancaster's debut poetry release, Behind the Mask: A Collection of Poetry, that was released this past February.
Keep up with Helena Lancaster: