Poetry and madness

As someone who has experienced severe (suicidal) depression on a number of occasions, I feel duty bound to point out that there is nothing interesting about despair. It’s a flat banal place where any kind of language is difficult to come by. There are many poets who have experienced the depths of despair and alluded to these in  their work, some have done this brilliantly (Paul Celan) others have taken the opportunity to cash in on the myth of depressive as genius (Robert Lowell).

Either way, I do want to dispel the myth that being in despair is in any way  interesting. The first time is quite frightening  but after that it is very, very boring. It’s also deeply unpleasant but it doesn’t convey any great insight nor does it signify any special status on the desperate.  I’m not suggesting that people should stop writing poems about their despair but I do think that it’s time to call a halt to the mystique that surrounds what is a very ordinary condition.

Mania is a different matter, it is true that people in mania can have periods of excessive creativity and that some can put this down in verse (I can’t) and I think we should celebrate this. The problem with mania is that most of what you produce is utter rubbish but there are always a few glimmers that are worth hanging on to. When I’m well, I am able to edit out the dross and re-work some of the most florid scribblings but it is impossible for me to make mthose judgements in full-blown mania.

So, depression is a state that affects many poets but let’s not get carried away with the notion that mad poets have access to some inner truths. They don’t.  Let’s not make the equation between creativity and insanity- it doesn’t exist.

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