Saturday, January 28, 2006

Christina Patterson Asks: Is poetry the new Prozac? - Question is for whom?

“Poetry is good for your health” Patterson states in her article in The Independent (online edition) – but then again you’ve known that for a while.


· A recent study in the journal Psychological Reports, suggested that writing poetry boosted levels of secretory immunoglobin A.
· Another, undertaken by a consultant at Bristol Royal Infirmary, concluded that poetry enabled seven per cent of mental health patients to be weaned off their anti-depressants.
· Poetry, it seems, is not the new rock'n'roll, but the new Prozac.

But writing it is not necessarily beneficial for poets:

“Many poets - a higher proportion, apparently, than of the average population - are not so lucky. John Clare, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell and, most famously, Sylvia Plath, all knew the torments of a mind that would, on occasion, burst out of the crucible of what Freud called "normal human misery" into the nameless horrors of mania. The mad poet may be a cliché, but it is not a myth. Poets continue to write of their experiences of mental illness. If poetry is some kind of wonder-drug, it sure ain't working for them.”

So who’s forwarding theories like the ones above? According to Patterson it’s the arts administrators and they're doing it for money. (Of course it’s all for a good cause.) But in order to get the money, they need to go to the funders with evidence via studies that support their assertions. How much of this “research” is “anecdote masquerading as science” depends on which side of the fence your on I guess.

Patterson concludes with the following: “There is, in the right hands, a fine role for poetry as social work, but let's not pretend that it's the same as poetry as art. Poetry, like all art, is not a panacea. Perhaps it's more like homeopathy. A great placebo - some people swear by it - but the studies are inconclusive.”

5 comments:

Collin said...

Poetry as the new prozac? Writing poetry usually raises my blood pressure. From poetry to prosaic in three easy lessons. I'll hang on to my madness. :)

Justin Evans said...

I don't agree with that 'higher proportion' statement.

Poets get singled out as part of the tortured artist persona. As a result, when a poet kills his/her self, or admits dealing with depression, there is the "oh, that explains it" look from the so-called general public.

The fact is, poets are part of the general public and I really don't think the numbers of depressed poets exceeds other vocations.

Patry Francis said...

Depends what kind of poetry it is. Some poetry is the new Tylenol PM.

Nick said...

My wife claims that my poetry is the new valium!

Re:More poets are prone to mental illness. I think that Patterson ought to read : Thomas Szasz's "The Myth of Mental Illness" & "The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement"

Nick said...

Or was that: My poetry is the new "Sominex"