Matti Salminen draws creativity from madness
Matti Salminen could easily fulfill the trope of tortured artist.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2007 after an attempted suicide, Salminen had spent 10 years thinking a rat inhabited his skull. He’s spent time in and out of prison, psychiatric hospitals and group homes.
But now, not unlike Jack Kerouac and even Vincent Van Gogh before him, Salminen has harnessed his madness into creativity.
Salminen, 37, just self-published his first book of poems, “Keyhole in the Sun,” which tell both of his love of nature and his journey to mental wellness.
Salminen speaks openly about his diagnosis and is now living independently, gainfully employed in Brattleboro. But many of his Milton High School Class of 1999 peers might recall the more “tumultuous times” in Salminen’s youth, he says.
Salminen now recognizes writing was truly the catalyst for his growth. And without poetry, he wouldn’t have achieved the goal he set in 2012 to publish a book in five years.
That plan was hatched while Salminen was living in a group home, where he met his first writing mentor, who taught him grammar and other techniques.
“I was fresh into having this idea that I could rebuild my life and do something more empowered for having faced the struggles that I did,” he said.
He began with his own blog, mostly writing about how physical health and fitness impacts mental wellbeing. At the same time, he started advocacy work for survivors of mental illness. Salminen spoke at the Vermont State House on Mental Health Advocacy Day and became interested in counseling through a social services agency.
“There [were] some good things even in that period I was really struggling,” he recalled. “There were some things really keeping me going, but all in all, until I found writing, I didn’t have anything to orient myself from.”
So Salminen began writing essays for an online magazine, Vermont Views, where he published a weekly column of arts criticism. His other, “My Side of Madness,” chronicled his journey to educate himself about his own condition.
This soul-searching provided a natural progression to poetry, what he calls his “main avenue for creativity.”
For Salminen, poetry has a spiritual element, and the very act of writing it brings him to a higher state of consciousness – a big achievement for someone who once felt he had no control over his own thoughts.
“Keyhole” is the result of two years of writing poems, which he describes as taking a “structured free verse.” He crafts the old fashioned way, putting pen to paper. Sometimes, he simply writes without judgment and then extracts haikus from his prose, a style he’s coined “free-write haiku.”
Salminen chose the titular poem as his introduction because it describes the poet’s journey and the one his readers will take, he said.
“Reading that poem, you’re stepping into another realm by reading this book,” he said. “It’s one that I’ve created out of learning to write and the experiences which gave me experience to write in the first place.”
Salminen says his poems cover nature, spirituality, love and loneliness – all the components of the fulfilling life he’s trying to lead.
For Salminen, that includes activism. Two years ago, he founded Vermont’s first-ever Mad Pride March, a spinoff of a mass movement that seeks to reverse stigma of mental health.
It’s held in Montpelier in mid-July at the tail end of Creative Maladjustment Week, a worldwide celebration for psychiatric survivors.
“People’s madness can be constructive,” Salminen said. “Having this consciousness of another reality and stepping to the other side of that journey and rebuilding a life from there is a very profound experience and can be very creatively enriching for that reason.”
Salminen sees his book as lending “substance and merit” to his mission to broaden society’s view of what’s normal. For others struggling with mental health, Salminen suggests finding one thing that adds meaning to their lives.
And with that, comes hope.
“You can build something,” Salminen said. “It needs to start with something you love.”
Milton native Matti Salminen recently self-published “Keyhole in the Sun,” a collection of poems showcasing a craft that helped lift him out the darkest moments of schizophrenia. Here is a collection, courtesy of the author.
Every time I walk this street
I notice a tree I had not, ever before.
Or there will be a person whom I do not know.
And in a small town like this
strange faces can be hard to come by.
Walking this street,
I pass by the cemetery where I once made love;
the same cemetery,
where I once sat in the cold rain, and cried.
It is a strange street with a strangeness
that is close to my heart.
And the closer to my heart I am,
the easier it seems to wander
a little longer, a little further.
Clouds hang over
the lake as if god thought, he
was himself, thirsty.
Dreams I’ve missed
I’ve imagined myself a woman with whom
you’ve found love.
I’ve imagined myself the sunshine
that I get to wake you up.
If I could be your lover—I’d also be your friend.
But you are my wind of winter—my night time mist.
You are the dreams I’ve reached for
and missed, missed, missed.