A Wild and Precious Life – A Recovery Anthology Edited by Lily Dunn and Zoe Gilbert
Each life is precious, and in this collection of pieces that is celebrated, as various kinds of recovery are tackled. Some recall mental and or physical trauma, addiction of various kinds, loss and more, and this is a book full of the stories of recovery in some way. It is not a depressing book; indeed it is in so many ways life affirming, a marking of the unquestionable strength of the human spirit in the face of difficult circumstances. Prose pieces, poetry and ruthless reportage are all here, carefully logging in a myriad of ways the ways that people are challenged, and how those people can deal with difficult situations after a fashion. This is not a book of instant recoveries or self help, rather an appreciation of how recovery can mean community, discovering others through fiction, memoir and poetry. These are vulnerable voices that have been raised as they cope with their own issues or the challenges of those that they love. They use analogies, minute accounts, broad sweeps of phrases or carefully constructed verse to explain and expand on the truths that affect anyone, whether a money poor family from Scotland, or the well resourced financially but struggling mentally from London. It deals with relationships, the harsh realities of internal thoughts, communities of the struggling striving for a new start. It is a complex and rewarding reading experience, and I was glad to have the opportunity to read and review this unique book.
In her moving Introduction, Lily Dunn writes about starting a creative writing group at the Hackney Recovery Service, on the surface to volunteer to help those who were struggling with life, but also to help get over her own loss of her father to alcoholism. In a centre where drug users would come for the basics of prescriptions and needles, regulars and graduates of reduced drinking or abstinence programmes would be coming to terms with living a new and clean life. It emerged that many wrote, scribbling down disregarded words, anxious to clear their mind by trying to encapsulate their feelings. Given direction, purpose and audience and appreciation, an understanding of the power of writing, of looking around and noticing the details, these writers began to cope better, see the possibilities around them. This book is the outworking of that impulse, as a request for submissions have culminated in this book, a perhaps unexpectedly positive and hopeful fictional and factual book of experiences. Recovery in this book is not a single state of total change- it has stages, perhaps backwards steps and responses that are incremental rather than giant leaps of total answers. This is a book which looks at the variety of recovery, which can be as varied and significant as the number of writers and contributors to this book, whether making a first foray into print or the product of established writers who are all represented here.
Some of the themes of the book which I found interesting are the imagery used by people, of trees and seasoned wood, of the inside of rooms explored in minute detail, of the sounds, smells light and dark of life with addictions, mental health issues and those who develop physical symptoms which are brushed off. There are dark pieces set in the corners of society which most of us do not see, or wish to experience, as well as the sometimes twisted reality of family life when challenges emerge. This book undoubtedly represents some deep feelings of virtually every variety, and represents the honest attempts of many people to reflect how every life is precious, however wild, challenging or disappointing, but also how hope survives and different ways of living can be achieved. I recommend this book for its honesty, its artistry, and its variety of lived experiences.