Poems by Sheena Sen: The Well of Loneliness

After each of the workshops we conducted in the summer and autumn, we invited participants to submit any additional writing or creative work that they felt inspired to do after attending the workshops. One of our participants, Sheena Sen, sent us some wonderful poems and reflections on her experience of participating in the workshops, and more broadly, on loneliness and belonging as an LGBTQIA+ person.

In a series of posts, we will showcase Sheena’s work and reflections, and pause to think about how they shape understandings of LGBTQIA+ loneliness and belonging.

Sheena’s first poem, ‘The Well of Loneliness’, explores the emotions surronding experiences of loneliness over a period of time.

Titled after Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), Sen’s poem is, to my mind, a tribute to Hall’s painful experiences of loneliness as well as bringing the idea of ‘the well of loneliness’ into the twenty-first century. Hall’s story, ‘Miss Ogilvey Finds Herself’ (1934), was used as one of the prompts to get us thinking in the autumn workshops.

Image of Radclyffe Hall's novel, The Well of Loneliness. Image depicts a painting of two women.
Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928)

In that place of despair
where emptiness swilled
and spilled its bile
of discontentment
I stood there barefoot
In the silence of pleas
and known certainties
now traceless in a past
that held the pieces of me
In my sense of belonging
in my split sideways
dreams and in sentences
where words have wobbled
from one side of reality
to places I barely could see

In the familiar and formal
In informal discretions
inside a fragility borne
inside the parameters
of fear and acceptance
It is there where I leaned
between mirrors
and laughter made
of small bubble tears
there I felt most alone
as I breathed out for fear
and in for my courage

at the well of my loneliness
I remember how fast
my own heart can beat
at a sentence wide open
to someone’s rejection
in the depth of a memory
as I tentatively trace
the years of my longing
in the pit of despair
I learned there how pain
can visibly bleed.

I asked Sheena about her poem, and she explained to me how she wrote it and what it means to her.

The poem was written in the midnight hour, somewhere between silence and stillness is where it began. In the recalling of the discussions shared in the project around belonging and loneliness and what came from the personal accounts of those people who opened their hearts up to strangers in honesty.

It matters to be integral to speak openly; however painful the sound of a truth might be, it is imperative to think about what makes us feel a sense of acceptance and belonging in a world full of diversity where oppression, or the fear of it, even now still finds me. I am a lucky one in my finding my identity and sexual preference; it came relatively easy with more acceptance than rejection, but it’s the essence of fear that beats in a heart full of uncertainty that you can’t see, and that’s why I wrote it — as a collection of thoughts from my own history and the pieces of those in the LGBTQIA+ community who have had their struggles too.

For me, the images of breathing and a beating heart capture the immanence of loneliness and the way it can manifest in physical sensations. I am reminded too of the broader capacity of the heart to ‘bleed’, but also how pain can be a source of learning. This is a paradox of LGBTQIA+ loneliness as well as other forms of emotional difficulty: painful as these experiences are, sometimes they can be sources of insight into ourselves and other people. Sen’s poem does that for me: it reveals the speaker’s journey, oscillating from loneliness, pain, and longing, to moments of courage, learning, and remembering — literally, collecting the pieces of oneself and placing them back together in a new mosaic.

— Richard Vytniorgu.

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