Revisiting the links between poetry and mental illness

By Harriet Staff

The BBC's Alex Hudson updates some of the familiar territory surrounding the links between madness and creativity, particularly poetry. Instead of wondering whether poetry drives one insane, however, Hudson wants to know if there's something about the act of writing poetry that attracts those who are predisposed to mental illness and mood disorders. Science doesn't seem to have an answer, so Hudson turns to poets themselves:

"I think you've always got to be interested in a slightly different aspect of the universe to even want to pick up a pen and analyse the world through poetry," says spoken word artist Laura Dockrill...

"Part of poetry is making words do more work that they usually should do and so you're looking for every angle of what a word might mean and so your brain starts working like as well - over-analysing everything and zooming in to minute detail."

But perhaps what's perceived as mental illness-- the detail obsession, reflection, introversion, the need to transform something common (words) into something else entirely (poetry)-- is not actually the product of damaged thinking. Creatives often have little patience for those who try to connect the dots between their work and an unhealthy state of mind, whether the dots are coming from professionals of science, history, psychology or more from the armchair variety: family members, co-workers, or anyone else who takes it upon themselves to enforce social norms.

"Creativity is certainly about not being constrained by rules or accepting the restrictions that society places on us," chartered psychologist Gary Fitzgibbon told the BBC earlier this year.

"Of course the more people break the rules, the more likely they are to be perceived as 'mentally ill'."

Originally Published: February 7th, 2011