“For a poet, seeking treatment for depression is to break with an implicit social contract. To the extent that the culture at large has a view of poets, beyond acknowledging their existence as a strange but seldom seen life form, such as a platypus or giant squid, that view is based on the Romantic myth of the poet as a strange, distraught creature, preferably consumptive, who occasionally breaks forth in song or a dirge. The poet in this view is morose so that others don’t have to be, a pack mule for the collective burden of consciousness.”
|Poets: akin to the giant squid?|
As some of the writers whose work on poetry and mental illness I've previously discussed also note (Daniel Nettle in particular), the sixteen authors in the book are quick to emphasise that being ill does not assist creativity at all, it is a burden, a hindrance. Thomas Krampf expresses it neatly: “one can have a vision, but no vision is worth anything if one is too sick to implement it.”
For me, the most interesting, moving essay in the book was Gwyneth Lewis' 'Dark Gifts', an account of her own experiences of depression and its impact on her art. She observes how "for the fortunately uninitiated, it's difficult to comprehend how depression strips you of everything that makes you feel like a creative, contributing member of a family or society", yet her essay conveys that sense of isolation powerfully and vividly.
But the most interesting part of her essay suggests a different way of looking at the statistical relationship between mental health issues and the creative process. I've abbreviated an extract here:
A hazardous landscape we could be forgiven for skirting round.
There's only one poem I could possibly finish with here, and that's Andrew Waterhouse's brilliant 'Speaking About My Cracked Sump'. No prose could express it better.