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Poets on Prozac

Mental Illness, Treatment, and the Creative Process

edited by Richard M. Berlin, M.D.

Publication Year: 2008

Poets on Prozac shatters the notion that madness fuels creativity by giving voice to contemporary poets who have battled myriad psychiatric disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse. The sixteen essays collected here address many provocative questions: Does emotional distress inspire great work? Is artistry enhanced or diminished by mental illness? What effect does substance abuse have on esthetic vision? Do psychoactive medications impinge on ingenuity? Can treatment enhance inherent talents, or does relieving emotional pain shut off the creative process? Featuring examples of each contributor’s poetry before, during, and after treatment, this original and thoughtful collection finally puts to rest the idea that a tortured soul is one’s finest muse.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Contributors

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii

This project began with a misunderstanding. Paul Genova, MD, a fellow columnist at Psychiatric Times, invited me to write a piece on poetry and psychiatry. I readily agreed, only to discover that Paul was inviting me to write an entire book. When I declined, telling Paul I wanted to spend my time writing poetry rather than writing about poetry, his reply was,...

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pp. 1-12

Throughout my career as a psychiatrist, I have treated creative people from many disciplines—poets, writers, artists, professors, scientists, entrepreneurs—and have been privileged to witness the growth in creativity that accompanied effective treatment. ...

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ONE: Dark Gifts

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pp. 13-22

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. After a severe episode of depression, which kept me home from work for most of a year, colleagues repeatedly asked me, “Were you writing?” ...

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TWO: The Desire to Think Clearly

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pp. 23-31

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. ...

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THREE: A Crab, an Eggplant, a Tree, a Goldfish, a Cow, an Apple, a Candle: A Therapist

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pp. 32-38

In 1988, I started to see Rodney for anxiety, depression, and something we called “chaos control.” I had recently received my MFA degree from Sarah Lawrence, though we rarely talked about poetry the three years I saw him. ...

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FOUR: Perfecting the Art of Falling

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pp. 39-50

One can have a vision, but no vision is worth anything if one is too sick to implement it. If I had to pick a poem that would initially help me show the effect of a psychiatric intervention on my creativity, it would be “The Euclids.” ...

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FIVE: My Name Is Not Alice

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pp. 51-59

My ego inflates and deflates more often than the Caterpillar’s lungs as he sucks on his hookah. Although my therapist tells me not to get hung up on a diagnosis, the term for my condition is rapid cycling. Bipolar. Mixed state. Rapid cycling. ...

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SIX: My Oldest Voice

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pp. 60-68

When I visit my therapist on Monday mornings, late in my life, here in bizarre and beautiful south Florida, I talk about guilt. I tell her about my shame over being a bad Baptist kid who could never accept Jesus, my guilt over my failed first marriage, and a blue-collar life in Chicago. ...

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SEVEN: How I Learned to Count to Four and Live with the Ghosts of Animals

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pp. 69-79

Virginia Commonwealth University offered me a non-tenure-track instructorship in the English Department when I was twenty-eight, and, after spending a spring and summer as a sabbatical replacement in a tiny college in western New York in the middle of the snow belt, I was glad to migrate south to warmer weather. ...

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EIGHT: The Uses of Depression: The Way Around Is Through

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pp. 80-91

When I was a teenager, I was involved in music and theater. I played jazz trumpet pretty seriously and I was in a couple of high school plays. I didn’t get interested in writing poetry until I was a senior. ...

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NINE: In the Middle of Life’s Journey

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pp. 92-104

When, as a young man, I first read the opening stanza of Dante’s Inferno, I probably raced right passed it without thought because I was so anxious to delve into the nitty-gritty of hell. However, when I took up Dante again in the mid-1980s, the same three lines jumped up and hooked me. ...

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TEN: Basic Heart: Depression and the Ordinary

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pp. 105-116

Writing is an act of finding out what I know, and this is what I know now: depression for me is what is ordinary. I face some aspect of it every day. Even when the prescription drugs are working at their best, I understand the possibilities of their failure. ...

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ELEVEN: Food for Thought

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pp. 117-128

In all my years of practicing therapy, I have never had a client say that she or he wants to begin therapy to become more creative. On the other hand, I have had a client who began treatment because he was too creative. A child told a panicked teacher that he heard voices. When I worked with this child, I found out that these voices were just...

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TWELVE: From Bog to Crystal

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pp. 129-138

How dare Dr. S. damn my poetry, especially my published poetry, with faint praise? The first time I presented him with some of my work, his response, expressed in a lackluster manner a few days later, was that he “liked the poems but did not love them.” ...

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THIRTEEN: In the Country of Motherhood

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pp. 139-146

Please help me hold up the walls, I asked politely enough. They were beginning to tremble. No one moved. I yelled, “Help me!” A few of my compatriots came nervously forward, one even taking a place at the wall. ...

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FOURTEEN: Down the Tracks: Bruce Springsteen Sang to Me

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pp. 147-160

Nineteen seventy-eight, twenty-one years old, five years out of high school, just divorced for the first time, I’m sitting in my ’69 Camaro, a girl car—white with cracked vinyl top and a dented back bumper, two-door, three-speed, 250 cubic inches—the one thing of material value I got out of my violent first marriage. ...

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FIFTEEN: Chemical Zen

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pp. 161-171

The late afternoon sun streamed in over the Pacific Ocean, brilliant, hot, and almost harsh as it angled through the sliding glass door of my father-in-law’s den. My father-in-law and I had come into the room for the light. ...

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SIXTEEN: Psychopharmacology and Its Discontents

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pp. 172-181

When I was nine or ten, I read a series of books by Arthur Ransome which concerned the adventures of a group of British children. One chapter opened with an epigraph from Keats: ...

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About the Editor

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pp. 183

Richard M. Berlin, MD, physician and poet, received his undergraduate and medical education at Northwestern University. His poems have won numerous awards, and his first book of poetry, How JFK Killed My Father, won the Pearl Poetry Prize and was published by Pearl Editions. His poetry has also been published in a broad array of anthologies, literary journals, and medical journals, and...


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pp. 184

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895296
E-ISBN-10: 0801895294
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801888397
Print-ISBN-10: 0801888395

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Artists -- Mental health -- Case studies.
  • Mental illness -- Treatment -- Case studies.
  • Psychotherapy -- Case studies.
  • Personality and creative ability.
  • Creation (Literary, artistic, etc.).
  • Art and mental illness.
  • Creative ability.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access