A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction

A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction

A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction

A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction

Synopsis

"Much madness is divinest sense," wrote Emily Dickinson, "And much sense the starkest madness." The idea that poetry and madness are deeply intertwined, and that madness sometimes leads to the most divine poetry, has been with us since antiquity. In his critical and clinical introduction tothis splendid anthology--the first of its kind--psychiatrist and poet Mark S. Bauer considers mental disorders from multiple perspectives and challenges us to broaden our outlook. He has selected more than 200 poems from across seven centuries that reflect a wide range mental states--fromdespondency and despair to melancholy, mania, and complete submersion into a world of heightened, original perception. Featuring such poets as George Herbert, John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Ann Sexton, Weldon Kees, Lucille Clifton, Jane Kenyon, and many others, AMind Apart has much to offer those who suffer from mental illness, those who work to understand it, and all those who value the poetry that has come to us from the heights and depths of human experience.

Excerpt

The argument. Every anthology makes an argument. Few anthologists, however, will come out and tell you what it is. Take, for instance, the anthologist’s selection of individual poems and poets. The argument, unstated, is, “This or that poet is worth including, is canonical,” and so forth. That this is indeed the stuff of argument becomes clear when the point-counterpoint reviews that inevitably follow the publication of noteworthy anthologies begin to appear.

Even more subtly, the structure that an anthologist gives an anthology also makes an argument. What qualifies, for example, as “Victorian” or “feminist” or “postmodern” poetry? Is it a time, a theme, a habit of thought, a shadow of influence? Even chronological boundaries are not as evident as they seem at first: I might argue, for instance, that nineteenth-century poetry ended not in 1900 but with a pistol’s crack in June 1914. Still greater challenges attend the making of an anthology of poetry related in some way to “mental illness” or “madness.” How one defines these terms is of more than purely literary import, as we shall see below.

It is not a new idea that such states may be related to poetic creativity. In the fourth century bce, Theophrastus asked in “Problem XXX, I”: “Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy, politics, poetry, or the arts are clearly melancholics …?” This query has followed us down millennia, and a number of commonsense questions follow from it. Was Christopher Smart mad or sane when he wrote the sprawling verses to his cat, Jeoffry? Are John Clare’s “I Am” poems the product of melancholia? Did Robert Lowell’s flagrant manic episodes help or hurt his poetry? Could Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton . . .

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