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Listen to presences inside poems. Let them take you where they will.
May 31, 2010 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Sean Haldane, a nominee for the post of professor of poetry at Oxford, talks about his dual life as a poet and neuroscientist
“I now think poetry has more capacity to change people than psychotherapy”
And he also has an interesting blog.
Robert Graves wrote in 1968: “I like Sean’s poems: clean, accurate and no nonsense – they still have the original poetic nap on them. They make sense, which is rare these days”.
From The Psychiatrist 2002: Are poetry and psychotherapy too ‘wet’ for serious psychiatrists?
Poetry Therapy is not new.
posted by adamvasco (19 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Surely that says more about psychotherapy than it does about poetry.
posted by Casuistry at 12:32 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking, There is no end to things in the heart. --Ezra Pound
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 12:39 PM on May 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is terrific, thanks! I love the little tale Haldane tells about reading "The Sick Rose" as a young man: "When I read this poem by Blake as an adolescent it suddenly made me aware of how my possessive lust for my then girlfriend was consuming her. I gave her more space – which she abused, but that is another story."

I find one of his answers in the Guardian interview quite haunting: "There has been work done on why poetry can send shivers down our spine. The poem activates the same parts of the brain that react when a child is separated from its mother. A deep sense of separation and longing." Or, as Emily Dickinson put it to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry." It is a kind of damp, cold wind that seems to blow in from somewhere else, from some other place in the mind that we have no name for and have never seen.

I guess I think he's on to something. Psychotherapy was beautifully useful for helping me to live in the world, to function as a human being in the twenty-first century. Now I'm hopelessly well-versed in my own cognitive and emotional patterns, and could talk about it unto nausea. But did it change me? It helped me feel better, sure, but I don't know. It guided me into some degree of human normalcy after a pretty weird and miserable childhood, but was I changed?

I will give it over to a poet.

Muriel Rukeyser, "The Speed of Darkness":
The universe is made of stories,
not of atoms.
posted by cirripede at 12:39 PM on May 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


Thank you, adamvasco. I have long thought that writing poems has a therapeutic effect, from my own personal sample at any rate. Most interesting links. Seamus Heaney used to eat dinner in my dining hall when I was a junior in college. We never talked about poetry but I always loved the twinkle in his eyes.
posted by emhutchinson at 12:42 PM on May 31, 2010


If you read a poem and it gets to you, it can shift your perspective in quite a big way, and writing a poem, even more so.

I am inclined to say "no fooling", but I suppose I am missing the point because it seems obvious that all literature - including poetry - can have the same effect.
posted by three blind mice at 1:30 PM on May 31, 2010


Sean Haldane is probably a great guy but he's an unexceptional poet, from what I can tell.

This whole thing seems off to me.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:47 PM on May 31, 2010


very nice post and concept, adamvasco. thank you
posted by infini at 2:25 PM on May 31, 2010


a very good post, thank you.

but, i somewhat hesitantly acknowledge: hasn't it just been the case always that poetry is one of the only true arts together with music ?
posted by Substrata at 3:09 PM on May 31, 2010


“I now think poetry has more capacity to change people than psychotherapy”

this explains why history is completely empty of mentally ill people oh wait
posted by DU at 3:57 PM on May 31, 2010


so....any examples of his poetry available online?
posted by the bricabrac man at 5:07 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm holding out for the day when every third AskMe thread has people suggesting with aching sincerity that a little Charles Simic, Deborah Digges, or W.H. Auden, approached with an open mind and a commitment to change, is exactly what the Asker needs.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:34 PM on May 31, 2010


so....any examples of his poetry available online?

There are examples on his website, here. If you look at 'Poems,' you can click on the titles besides the books for little pop-ups.
posted by flawsekno at 6:06 PM on May 31, 2010


I was going to say that the poetry would have to be powerful indeed and there's a lot of bad poetry out there, but you know what, there are also a LOT of bad therapists and psychiatrists (I feel like I've had every kind of bad you can get) and they do a lot more damage. This sounds great, in conjunction with any other treatments deemed necessary.
posted by Danila at 9:06 PM on May 31, 2010


Here's a fragment from his site;

Something Like Love

Lake Monroe, Indiana

The grass is worn and beaten down
By snow just gone,
Each tree in the wood alone.

We sit, us two,
On a fallen log above a view
Of ice sheets fraying into water.

Gulls shriek
And crows cry out in desparation.
A pair of cardinals flit in a naked oak.

A blue jay picks at the ground
A party of scuttling killdeers call their names,
A dove goes 'tink tink' like a muted bell.
posted by mecran01 at 10:32 PM on May 31, 2010


I think whether Haldane's poetry is good or bad is slightly irrelevant.
He is probably a good poet not a great poet.
Poetry is an intensely personal expression...for the writer. This is where Haldane's emphasis lies.
If you read a poem and it gets to you, it can shift your perspective in quite a big way, and writing a poem, even more so.
As was remarked upthread there are quantities of mediochre therapists or worse out there.
The power of cure of the psyche lies within the individual and the genius of the idea is to get the patient to engage in a powerful form of self expression.
Like, I suspect, most people I have attemped to write a poem or two. I am not a poet. But the act of writing, expressing whatever it was I felt was in itself a curative action. The title of the post is a translation from Rumi, who had the genius to be able to express his inner feelings in such a way as to be able to communicate them to ourselves.
VS Ramachandran thinks Poetry Comes from Our Tree-Climbing Ancestors
posted by adamvasco at 3:57 AM on June 1, 2010


The questionable merits of poetry and utility of psychotherapy aside, can we not give the whackjobs any more airtime than the mainstream press already gives them, please?

Yes, art has the power to elevate human existence temporarily above the reality of living on a ball of mud spinning forever around an insignificant M-class star in an unfashionable backwater of the Milky Way. But unlike even the flakiest of pseudo-medical disciplines, its practitioners don't even pay lip service to the scientific method (and spare me a quoting of some of Feynman's god-awful attempts at verse).

That doesn't make poetry better or worse than any random unrelated concept, but it does mean you can't go around talking about its efficacy as a form of therapy.
posted by pla at 4:02 AM on June 1, 2010


Did you read the article, pla? Haldane says right in the article:

Q. Have you recommended poetry as a therapeutic practice?

A. Never. [...]
posted by tangerine at 9:59 AM on June 1, 2010


pla: who are the "wackjobs" please? and why do you consider them so.?
posted by adamvasco at 11:46 AM on June 1, 2010


art has the power to elevate human existence temporarily above the reality of living on a ball of mud spinning forever around an insignificant M-class star in an unfashionable backwater of the Milky Way.

What you've written here...it sounds like...poetry.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 1:07 PM on June 1, 2010


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