It is late when I am writing this. But you are reading it tomorrow. Or today, this morning, as the case may be. You may be drinking coffee. Right now, last night, I am having a slice of pepperoni pizza and a beer. The beer is called “The Poet.” It is an oatmeal stout, and it has a picture of a raven on the label. I want to show it to you but I can not find a good image on the Internet and I am too tired to take one. So I am showing you an image that comes up when you google "time flies."
The beer was a gift from my friend, Lucretia, who gave it to me to cheer me up because I am working so hard of late. I made the comment the other day that I need “chocolate and beer" to keep me going. And so, to fuel my efforts, she surprised me with both. A friend who is listening is certainly the best gift of all.
My week has finally caught up with me. It is a lot to work all day, take two classes, and then come home and try to write. I miss the days when a weekend meant I could chill. But, it is all my choice and I really should not complain. Tonight, last night, the wind is/was blowing so hard. It is the kind of wind that makes me afraid that a tree might fall down on my house. But, at least I have a house, a job, my health, my son. I am safe. I am just tired. Sleep would be a good idea right now.
And so, since I have nothing in particular to say, I am going to give you a poem by a poet who I admire a great deal, the Polish Nobel-prize winning poet, Wisława Szymborska. (I am happy that my computer would make the “l” with the line through it. Computers are amazing things, they are.)
Here is the poem for you for today, from my friend, Wisława. If she we here with me tonight, we would have another slice of pizza. We would drink another Poet. We would listen to the wind. We would not write, but we would tap the keys, dreaming. We would wish each other good night and good morning. (Sorry about the stanza breaks.I have been trying for 45 minutes to fix the formatting but I cannot do it.)
I give up, my apologies to Wisława for mangling the look of her poem. So much for my admiration of computers. Sometimes, they can be very infuriating.
A Few Words on the Soul
We have a soul at times.
No one's got it non-stop,
Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.
it will settle for awhile
only in childhood's fears and raptures
Sometimes only in astonishment
that we are old.
It rarely lends a hand
in uphill tasks,
like moving furniture,
or lifting luggage,
or going miles in shoes that pinch.
It usually steps out
whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled.
For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.
Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off-duty.
it doesn't like seeing us in crowds.
our hustling for a dubious advantage
and creaky machinations make it sick.
Joy and sorrow
aren't two different feelings for it.
It attends us
only when the two are joined.
We can count on it
when we're sure of nothing
and curious about everything.
Among the material objects
it favors clocks with pendulums
and mirrors, which keep on working
even when no one is looking.
It won't say where it comes from
or when it's taking off again,
though it's clearly expecting such questions.
We need it
it needs us
for some reason too.
(Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)
Good night and good morning to all. As you speed through your day, may you remember to slow down to find a poem in it somewhere. May you find a quiet moment to hold hands with your soul.
When you begin the study of psychopathology, you don’t get very far before you encounter a severe looking tome that is large enough to prop open a very heavy fire door and brick-like enough to knock unconscious a medium-sized lab rat.
The book is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition Text Revision), or in the vernacular of therapists, the DSM-IV-TR. It is the Bible of diagnosable mental disorders. Every psychopathology student must bow before it or, at the very least, become familiar with it.
It is organized in groups called “axes.” These are not things you use to chop wood, but rather, the plural of axis. There are five of them in the DSM and they go like this:
Axis I: Clinical Disorders
Axis II: Personality Disorders
Axis III: General Medical Conditions
Axis IV Psychosocial and Environmental Problems
Axis V: Global Assessment of Functioning
I’m just getting started in my studies here, so I’m not sure yet what all these things mean. Two seasoned therapists have told me that once I read the DSM more carefully, I will recognize myself in many of the conditions it describes. Oh boy. I can’t wait!
When the first edition of the DSM appeared in 1952 it contained 86 pages. In the year 2000, when the fourth edition was released, the page count had blossomed to 943. The number of disorders increased from 106 to 365. Wow. Either we are getting more disorderly or we are getting more excited about giving these things names. I would say it is probably the latter. In fact, this phenomenon is known as “the social construction of psychopathology.”
Here is how this works: we see a pattern, we give it a name, we give it an acronym (like ADHD or OCD), we create drugs to cure it, we get insurance companies to cover its treatment. If we stopped at “see a pattern, give it a name,” we might be closer to creating poetry than new strains of mental illness.
But hey, we live in a culture with 47 different kinds of toothpaste. We like variety, apparently, not only in our toothpaste but also in our mental disorders.
“Once the ‘disorder’ has been socially constructed and defined, the methods of science can be employed to study it, but the construction itself is a social process, not a scientific one. In fact, the more ‘it’ is studied, the more everyone becomes convinced that ‘it’ really is 'something.’” (Maddux and Winstead).
Sounds like the emperor’s new, disorderly clothing to me.
If you have “a preoccupation with a defect in appearance” that causes “significant distress or impairment in…functioning” (p. 507) you have Body Dysmorphic Order. I don’t like the fact that I am bow-legged, but it does not keep me from wearing shorts in summer when it is hot, so I guess I cannot say I have this particular problem.
If you drink too much coffee, you may develop Caffeine Intoxication (Starbucks, beware). If you are a cigarette smoker, you have Nicotine Dependence. If you rub yourself against someone on a crowded bus to stimulate yourself sexually, you suffer frotteurism. There is schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, eight different disorders related to inhalants. The list goes on. I’m skipping around here to give you a taste. All this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is overwhelming and you have to read it for yourself to believe it.
The DSM-V-TR will appear in 2013. It is already causing a buzz in the psychotherapeutic world. Each section is worked on by a team of MDs and PhDs. There is the Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder Work Group and the Delirium, Dementia, and Amnestic and Other Cognitive Disorders Work Group. Each different work group gets to recommend what is in and what is out. I'm not clear yet on who makes the final decision. I will ask my professor tonight.
Once upon a time, homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in the DSM. It was removed in 1973. Thank God.
The word on the street is that in the new revision, we may lose narcissism as a personality disorder. I guess it is becoming normal to be grandiose and lacking in empathy. We may, however, gain hoarding as separate from obsessive-compulsive disorder. That seems useful. Some people barricade themselves in their homes with mountains of useless stuff and therapy might help them. Interpret that as you wish.
The one possible change that seems completely and utterly insane to me is the proposed removal of pedophilia as a mental disorder. My professor mentioned this on the first night of class and I was so disturbed by it, I had to do some investigating on the Internet. The argument being, as far as I can gather, that pedophilia can be thought of as simply another in-born tendency of human nature. Ah...so can murder. That doesn’t make it okay.
While I can cave on narcissism, and will allow the Personality Disorders Work Group to do what they think is right, I will get down on my bow-legged, bended knees and plead with the Sexual Disorders Work Group to use some common sense when they assess pedophilia. (In fairness to the mental health profession, the effort to de-pathologize pedophilia seems to be coming from, yes, you guessed it, pedophiles! Not the therapists. So please don't go around saying that this is a done deal. It is simply that the question is on the table at this time.)
No one can make the argument to me that engaging in sexual acts with a child is just one more aspect of human nature. And if someone does make that argument work for them, then, our world really has gone haywire. Please, get us all to a lobotomist, stat.
Terence Winch’s most recent book is a collection of poems called Falling Out of Bed in a Room with No Floor (Hanging Loose, 2011).
Dan Gustein is the author of non/fiction (stories, Edge Books, 2010) and Bloodcoal & Honey (poems, Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 2011).
Rachel Eliza Griffiths at Poet's House (NYC)
Friday, September 30, 7 - 10 pm
Poet's House 10 River Terrace NY, NY 10282
Book release and signing for Rachel Eliza Griffiths' new collection of poetry, Mule & Pear (New Issues Poetry & Prose). Also at this event poets will read prose passages from their favorite literary novels featuring women characters they find unforgettable. Sure to be a fun night at Poet's House!
Big Apple BAP/Fall Edition: NYC's Best American Poetry Poets w/Host David Lehman (NYC)
Thursday, Oct .6, 2011, 6:30pm
One and One Bar & Restaurant (downstairs Nexus Lounge) 76 East 1st Street (corner of 1st Avenue) Manhattan, NYC
Cover Charge: $15 ($7 for those with valid student ID)
The Inspired Word proudly presents this SPECIAL EVENT: Big Apple BAP/Fall Edition: NYC's Best American Poetry Poets. It is a night celebrating this city's finest poets, whose poems over the years have been honored with inclusion in the highly respected annual anthology. The lineup includes a stunning array of accomplished poets: Truck Darling, Patricia Smith, Matthea Harvey, Julie Sheehan, Kimiko Hahn, Marilyn Nelson, Marc Jaffee, Anna Ziegler, Jason Schneiderman, Cornelius Eady, Timothy Liu, and Gregory Pardlo. Hosted by the founding editor of Best American Poetry series, David Lehman. Each poet will read the poem or poems appearing in BAP, as well as something new.
The Tender Oracle 531 22nd Street (at telegraph) near 19th street BART Oakland, CA
The Manifest Reading series is an initiative to bring visibility to younger poets living in and around the Bay Area. This inaugural event kicks things off with three readers from University of Michigan, Mills College, and University of Texas, respectively. It's sure to be the first of many revivifying recitations from new mouths, and you're so invited!
<<< The Observer and the poet Lawrence Joseph, two Detroiters living in New York, were talking in a café in Battery Park City.
“You asked me about the connection between Detroit and New York,” Mr. Joseph said. “Detroit is the great modern city. And it becomes metaphorically the great industrial city. Céline writes about two cities when he comes to America in Journey to the End of the Night: New York and Detroit. Why? In 1932, when he writes perhaps the first great international novel of the 20th century, why does he choose New York and Detroit? What are your central metaphors internationally in 1932, when you’re going into a Depression? The center of the United States was Detroit and New York.” He slapped the table. “And I’m aware of that. Is Detroit still the center? It doesn’t matter. Detroiters will tell you that it is. And the world seems to think it’s pretty important.” >>> For the rest of this New York Observer interview, click here.
I wish Levis would roll credits at the end of these commercials so that those watching would know they're hearing Charles Bukowski's "The Laughing Heart,"(one of my favorite poems), or Walt Whitman's "O Pioneers!"
Anything that takes itself so seriously is likely to invite parody. Here's one, with Bukowski's "Dinosauria, We."
While cooking dinner last night, I heard a fascinating story on public radio about Dr. Alfredo Quinones, an internationally-known neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Dr. Quinones, or Dr. Q, as he is called affectionately by colleagues and patients alike, has just written a book, Becoming Dr. Q, My Journey from Migrant Worker to Brain Surgeon (University of California Press, 2011).
Dr. Quinones was born in a small, dirt-poor village outside of Mexicali in Baja, California in 1968. At age 18, he “jumped the fence,” and managed to run from the border and into a new life in the U.S. He spoke no English at first, and worked in the fields of central California as a migrant worker, then as a welder. He went to community college, learned English, and eventually made his way to Harvard and onto the path of becoming a leader in brain cancer research.
Along with a team of scientists under his direction, he is looking for a way to replace knives and cutting with non-invasive stem cell therapies that could conceivably destroy tumors and repair damaged tissue. “I don’t want my children to have to undergo the same barbaric ways of treating brain tumors as we do,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong—I love what I do. But the brain is a sanctuary, for God’s sake! It wasn’t meant to be violated! What I did today—entering the brain, illegally—it’s against nature. We need to find a better way to treat this disease.”
Dr. Quinones’ story is timely. In a recent Republican debate, Rick Perry accused those who oppose educating the children of illegal immigrants of having "no heart.” This did not win Perry points with his brethren.
When Dr. Quinones was asked what he thought of this debate in light of his own life experience, he hesitated, trying to find words. He said, “Well, as you know, I always tell people, I wish I was a poet or a Nobel laureate in literature and I could express my thoughts and articulate them more eloquently, but the truth is, honestly, I am just a simple brain surgeon and a scientist. I am not an expert on immigration. I only know about my own experience.”
He admits that his story is unusual. Not every illegal immigrant is going to become a neurosurgeon. But, he noted that the world needs not just successful brain surgeons, but successful carpenters, plumbers, and teachers. I think his point was that all people deserve a decent education to reach their highest potential. The world needs people who do lots of different jobs exceptionally well.
In an article in Hopkins Medicine Magazine online, Dr. Quinones said, “you can’t succeed in today’s world without being open, without having feelings….You can literally train a monkey to do what we do. The challenge in what we do is not in the surgery—it’s in the emotional connection you form with the patients.”
I like this man, Dr. Q. If I ever need to have my head opened up, I would want it to be by someone like him; someone who knows not only what he is doing, but also what sacred place he is entering past the bone of my skull and in the soft tissue of my brain. I would want this person, this doctor, to be aware of what he is feeling about himself and about me when he goes in there.
“I wish I was a poet.”
In my opinion, that is a rather amazing thing for a brain surgeon to wish to be. Listen to the full radio broadcast here.
Note: Information and quotes used in this blog-post come from a story by David Dudley in Hopkins Medicine Magazine online (Winter, 2007).
Last but not least, if you have four and a half more minutes, check out a video interview with Dr. Quinones from bigthink, "a forum where top experts explore the big ideas and core skills defining the 21st century." I was having trouble embedding the video here, but if you copy and paste this URL into your browser, you can see and hear Dr. Q talk about growing up and his memories of his grandmother who was a curandera.
Born in Lincoln in 1949, raised in Yorkshire and Staffordshire, James Fenton is among the most highly acclaimed British poets writing today, and among the most versatile. He has worked as a political journalist, a correspondent from Germany and from Southeast Asia, theater critic for the London Times, chief book critic for the same paper.
Fenton was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford University, where he studied with the poet John Fuller. In 1969 he received the university's Newdigate Prize for poetry. He has written for The New Statesman, The Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books, and the New York Times Book Review, among numerous other magazines.
Fenton's books of poetry include Children of Exile (London 1983, New York 1984), Out of Danger (1994) and Selected Poems (2006). A self-styled "pupil of W. H. Auden," Fenton has been dubbed "the major English poet of his generation." From 1994 to 1999 he served as Professor of Poetry at Oxford, a high distinction. He has edited books of poems by Coleridge and D. H. Lawrence.
For more about James Fenton's poetry go here, and for prose go here. Read David Lehman's brief appreciation of James Fenton here.