Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment, and the Creative Process

Richard M. Berlin, Editor
Richard M. Berlin, Editor Johns Hopkins University Press $23 (181p) ISBN 978-0-8018-8839-7
Reviewed on: 03/31/2008
Release date: 04/01/2008
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Beginning with the premise that ""poets are among the most fearless of writers when it comes to self-revelation,"" poet and psychiatrist Berlin (How JFK Killed My Father) examines the ambiguous, age-old relationship between writing and madness by asking leading contemporary poets to discuss psychiatric treatment and their work. The result is a fascinating collection of 16 essays, as insightful as they are compulsively readable. Each is honest and sharply written, covering a range of issues (depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychosis, substance abuse or, in acutely deadpan Andrew Hudgins's case, ""tics, twitches, allergies, tooth-grinding, acid reflux, migraines... and shingles"") along with treatment methods, incorporating personal anecdotes and excerpts from poems and journals. Though they dwell in the darker corners of the creative process-frustration, anxiety, isolation-each contributor carries a measure of the joy Gwyneth Lewis felt at age seven, when she wrote her first poem: ""This activity made me happier than anything I knew."" It's a sentiment that both haunts and inspires: after 12 years without writing, medical doctor Jack Coulehan found in the ""healing power of language"" the key to lifting lifelong chronic anxiety. Medication is a trickier subject. Though it's an undisputable help, the difficulty in finding the right ""cocktail"" of pills and the array of side effects-for Chase Twichell it turns off her ""metaphor-making faculty"" like a spigot-make it a painful challenge. Anyone affected by mental illness or intrigued by the question of its role in the arts should find this volume absorbing.
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