The human face is many things. It is a photograph, an identity, a disguise. It is pain’s currency. It is proof of life and death.
In his latest collection, On Shaving Off His Face, poet-physician Shane Neilson presents an album of faces, word portraits of maladies both physical and mental. Illness is acknowledged in the epileptic convulsions of a beloved son—and in the narrator’s pain-stricken reflection in a mirror. Psychiatry, medicine and religion are questioned, doubted, and finally accepted in terms of resistance. Famous clinicians speak alongside school shooters, depressed musicians, and a grieving father.
Raw, intense and unsettling, Neilson’s poems reveal and probe the ways in which we are recognized and categorized by those who interpret the maladies written on our faces.
Excerpt from book
Emblem: we spent an automatism, the sway-backed Moro response reflecting a Landau reaction, patching rotten insides with deviations from this rule.
Waste from the modes of stimulation; the differential fixation a hazard until we laid the lalling stage so that a normal person as abstraction could walk it; and we were a kind of crossmodal,
which parents come to understand. The day idioglossing us over, except when Lennox Gastaut’s up on the scaffold, making repair after repair to form the multiplex of Friedreich. Crows, living
in the opisthotonic, hands pronated as hammers, redolent with their Lafora-type shit,
in the barn-shade for quick snorts and AED availability. If asked, violaceous faces would complain of spike-and-wave wages and work harder if my father was found.
Sometimes the prognosis is bad. The sun would heat the hyperexcitable tin and burn though the work gloves. With panoramic vision, a young woman jamais entendu, I thought
of each time I carried a piece of tin up the grand petit absence, just fifteen, interictal on the wood underneath, battle hymns of the benign rolandic, places where
it was distinguishable from premonition if fire or lightning had hit. We papered it over. A jacksonian trick for the men to work past a certain drink
and I remember looking at the old barn, house of vibratory quality: hay and a beaten-down epileptic cry that grew monstrous in the year,
at three in the afternoon, no men around, a wife in fencer’s posture soon to be cut
and the gleaming parachute reaction, a drop attack.
Shane Neilson is a family physician who published his first trade book of poems, Meniscus, with Biblioasis in 2009. In addition to several collections of poetry, Neilson has published in the genre of memoir, short fiction, biography and literary criticism, and his work has been widely anthologized in poetry, nonfiction, and medical journals. In his medical doctor and writing practices, he focuses on mental illness, pain, and disability. He currently acts as editor for Victoria, B.C. publisher Frog Hollow Press. Though he currently lives in Oakville, Ontario, all of his work is rooted in rural New Brunswick.