The Linen Waya memoir

Melissa Green

Passionate about poetry and seeking guidance to write her own, Melissa Green embarked on a Masters program at Boston University in 1981 and immediately caught the attention of her teacher, Derek Walcott, and his friend the Russian Joseph Brodsky. Giants of American poetry and Nobel prize winners, they recognized in her a literary peer with an innate and dazzling talent.

In a parallel reality, Melissa was living a knife-edge existence, her life an unpredictable and embattled odyssey between poetry and despair, a pendulum-swing between fervent, luminous writing and sudden, ferocious bouts of suicidal illness. In a black shipwreck of a house, she hid away for years, caring for her demanding and difficult grandmother.

That she survives is our blessing; that she has retrieved poetry from the abyss is a timeless boon. As poet Zireaux writes:

…having travelled to the outer reaches of human experience … with a fine-tuned lyre and Odyssean strength of purpose, Melissa Green reports her discoveries back home, in the language they demand.

In The Linen Way, Melissa walks the reader along the thin, perilous path between poetry’s affirmation of life and the unwelcome ghosts of hope apparently lost; a linen way, perhaps, but wrought also of fire and sulfur and the ironmonger’s hammer.

Read an excerpt.

A reader’s review

Carolyn McCurdie, author of The Unquiet and 2013 winner of the NZ Poetry Society International Poetry Competition, says:

Here I am, standing on the tallest roof-top, bellowing into the largest megaphone I can find, to rave about The Linen Way by Melissa Green. What adjectives will do the job? I’ll try: luminescent, brave, beautiful. I’ve never read such a powerful testament to poetry. It’s as essential here as oxygen, as love.

For her, it was life and death. Suffering from mental illness, living in a cruel, unloving family, Melissa made her first suicide attempt aged eight. Books, words, poetry kept her alive, gave her meaning and passion before the next sucking surge of nothing. There is courage here beyond my understanding.

This is also a testament to gift. Melissa Green’s own gift of language declares itself on every line, but she also stands witness to the tenderness, faithfulness of great poets and therapists who reached out to her, pulling her back to life and to her true writing self again and again. She was mentored by Derek Walcott, who gave her tough-love guidance, and his relentless belief in her. The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky sat for hours with his arms around her when she was at her lowest points. I will never read the poetry of these men in the same way again. They gave her the persevering, unconditional love that was so lacking in her early life, making this a soaring song of hope from someone who began with none.

When I finished reading this, I felt I had been given a gift, as if Melissa Green had pressed some small thing into the palm of my hand for my fingers to curl around in recognition. I’ve read it twice, and each time I’ve felt a little changed by it. I’ll read it again. It will change me further.

Message to the world: buy and read this book!