When Language Runs Dry: A Zine for People with Chronic Pain and their Allies
Various contributors, ed. Claire Barrera & Meredith Butner
Issue 1, 48 pg. at half-letter size.
Issue 4, 44pg. at half-letter size.
$4 per issue from the editors, on Etsy
When Language Runs Dry takes its name from a quotation from Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill”: “Let a sufferer describe a pain in the heel to a doctor and language runs dry”. In the essay, Woolf contends,
“Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light…it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia, lyrics to toothache. But no; … literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear.”
The aim of this zine is to provide a forum for that then-imaginary literature. When Language Runs Dry collects prose and, in Issue 4, poetry, about the experience of chronic pain.
People who suffer from one of the conditions that fall under the umbrella of chronic pain face the additional challenge of having their suffering recognized and validated by medical practitioners, insurance companies, and other people in their lives. The frustration and sense of disempowerment of not having one’s pain acknowledged is central to much of the writing collected here.
As some of the contributors are also queer, trans, and/or racialized, they face additional trouble being respected and taken seriously by doctors. When Language Runs Dry endeavours to give a radical critique of conceptions of pain, illness, treatment, and associated concepts like work, personal value, and care, of oneself and others, taking into account factors such as race, class, and gender.
Chronic pain conditions, like but more so than other ailments, are at the crux of mind and body, obviously and intimately related to trauma, anxiety, and mental illness. This is one of the most interesting things about them, but also one of the most difficult things for their sufferers, who endure not only the pain, but the struggle for credibility that comes from lacking a visible wound, a cut-and-dry etiology.
When Language Runs Dry has the advantage of offering a diversity of perspectives, experiences, and analyses. As with any compilation and any given reader, it is likely that some of the pieces will interest and resonate with you, others not so much. Zine nerds will also appreciate the piece by Cindy Crabb, which as per her usual is simple, honest, moving, and effective.
The art throughout the two issues I read is unequivocally beautiful and compelling. The layout is crisp and inviting, and the content is an innovative and varied look at an underappreciated topic.
- Lily Pepper