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Arts & Life

A Kansas City Writer With Schizophrenia Hopes Poetry Helps 'Extract The Beauty From The Ugly'

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Anne Kniggendorf
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KCUR 89.3
Alexej Savreux is a graduate student at UMKC and has just rereleased his book, "Graffiti on the Window."

Alexej Savreux has rereleased a collection of poetry that runs the gamut from broken hearts to complex physics theory.

Alexej Savreux doesn’t mind talking about his paranoid schizophrenic diagnosis — he’s had it most of his life and the disorder frames his work and art.

And the machinations of his brain haven’t impeded Savreux's productivity at all. Barnes & Noble has just rereleased his 2015 collection of poetry, "Graffiti on the Window." He’s also published three other books, a play, a film for the Fringe Festival, and won the Writer’s Digest Poetry Award.

Savreux’s jobs, interests, and studies vary widely, and, like his diagnosis, make appearances in his writing.

He says: “I’ve done film work; I’ve done sound tech work; I’ve done audio-visual work; I’ve done poetry; I’ve done journalism; I’ve done freelance artist stuff; I’ve done artificial intelligence.”

A native of Vermont, Savreux has called Kansas City home since 2008. In that time, his list of ventures has grown to include fast food, think tanks, the stock market, and the study of linguistics, divinity, communications, mathematics and more.

But just because his diverse interests and his diagnosis influence and appear in his work doesn’t mean they define it exactly. While it’s true that "Graffiti on the Window" spills over with religious, philosophical, and academic references, it’s also packed with the raw emotion of a young person struggling through broken relationships—he wrote the book nearly 10 years ago in his 20s.

“What comes out is an amalgamation of the way that I analyze reality,” he explains.

In among poems about a red-haired girl named Darcy who wrecked his heart are passages about advanced physics and mathematics.

Savreux says that, for close to a decade, he labored under the delusion that he’d solved physics’ unified field theory. The title of his rereleased book comes from that delusion.

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Alexej Savreux
Barnes & Noble has just rereleased Savreux's 2015 poetry collection

In the foreword to "Graffiti on the Window," he writes:

“It was during a four month manic episode that I began experimenting with turning ‘science’ into ‘art’ and spending nights in a manic craze writing all over my dining room windows in grease pencil, attempting to find a solution to the unified field theory, which remains a running joke and is ‘tongue in cheek’, as I could give a f*** about particle accelerators.”

Now, sitting outside a coffee place near the Country Club Plaza on a recent sunny morning, he shrugs and says that the symbol he’d fixated on for so long turned out to be a Czechoslovakian pronoun, not a physics notation at all.

It’s that type of openness to the interpretation of symbols that he wants to cultivate between his pages and his reader. Savreux says as long as he’s communicating something, that something can be interpreted, and he doesn’t want to make up anyone’s mind.

His viewpoint makes his writing fascinating. For instance, in a poem called “A Sherpa’s Constitution” he includes this mysterious line about hiking up a mountain: “Climbing may be directionless in theory, but there is a summit and that’s all that really matters.”

To explain, he returns to the idea of a sadness in our culture and many people’s unwillingness or inability to give themselves the grace it takes to realize their full strength in the face of challenges: surviving versus thriving.

“[The poem] is almost absurdist and existentialist where it’s saying well, you know, I can’t come up with a discernible purpose to life other than to keep going. I can relentlessly pursue life’s meaning, but ultimately, I have to find my own meaning,” Savreux says.

He’s currently a year into a graduate degree in theater tech at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and recently became a sponsored poet at Poetry for Personal Power. The position uses poetry and art to uplift and support people in need, particularly those with mental health diagnoses.

Still, he says he doesn’t really know what the future holds for him—the pandemic eliminated a tuition waiver he’d been counting on.

But that’s how it goes. Savreux’s no stranger to uncertainty and has several incomplete degrees; he calls himself a risk-taker, both in his personal and professional life.

He was in the habit of figuring things out as they came up long before the rest of the world had to do that, and he’s viewing the rerelease of his book as a way he can contribute to current conversations about challenges.

“I think if there’s a certain kind of sadness in our culture, I think it comes from a lot of people not giving themselves the grace and feeling how strong they are or how strong they can be,” he says.

Rather than hope that his readers will catch every heady reference to the wide range of literary allusions, he says he hopes they’ll “extract the beauty from the ugly. That’s fundamentally what I’m going for with that.”

For upcoming book events, watch Savreux's website.

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