Archive for November, 2014


Jung’s psychology,
like a Rembrandt self-portrait
presents one man as
the world — who am I? — and why?
— answers on a postcard, please

This morning I remembered a couple of fragments of dream. Quibbling about which of two psychoanalysts was older: one was 90 and the other was 100. Recapturing the exact sensation of wonderment, thrill and poignancy associated with William Walton’s music for Henry V, written for the Laurence Olivier film in 1944, which I saw in the cinema when I was very young and didn’t understand much of it. But later in childhood, I discovered my father’s 78rpm records of the music, and managed to transfer it onto tape. I am very fond indeed of Howard Jacobson’s column for the Independent and Saturday morning usually finds me reading his weekly article online. Given the fervent patriotism of Henry V, I discovered a synchronicity in his latest offering this morning: a topical issue connected with the St George’s flag. So patriotism and group psychology (same thing?) was the starting point for my poem. But, thinking about the phrase ‘group psychology’ I lapsed into an old rut of thought about the phrase ‘Jung’s psychology’. My first ever introduction to Jung’s psychology at the age of fifteen was a book called funnily enough An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology. The picture of Jung on the cover had an enormous impact. After a few years, I noticed the potential for a play on words. ‘Jung’s psychology’ could mean something more along the lines of ‘rat psychology’ or ‘group psychology’. Not so much the study of the mind by Jung, as the study of Jung by the mind. Same thing of course, but I often used to wonder if the ambiguity was intentional. τετέλεσται is the original New Testament Greek for ‘It is finished’.

questions for the microcosm

why do we matter?
— and what if we don’t? — am I
the source of my own
caring? — how to fathom my
infinite unfeelingness?

Dream images included that of a school bully — a figure from real life in 1970 who had been a close friend, but who became slightly power drunk when he began developing muscles aged thirteen. Yesterday I chanced to bump into two different friends independently, from previous eras of my life. I’ve bumped into both of them before, but with both it was more difficult on this occasion. I have done better for myself than either of them, in terms of having a job and having a life partner whom I love. I guess I might appear to them a little like the school bully, as there is an element of denying the previous close friendship which went before.


she resented me —
for treating her like some kind
of “project”, she said
— if I were African I’d
feel that way about Geldof

This was something said to me in 2000 by someone who was a kind of platonic girlfriend for a few months. Her name was Sabita. The poem also refers to a TV debate I saw on the BBC ten days ago, where a Liberian lady called Robtel Neajai Pailey was arguing with Esther Ranzen about Bob Geldof’s latest effort to raise money for Africa. She was very convincing I thought. Began by acknowledging that Geldof’s motives were pure, but proceeeded to demolish the whole notion of Africa as needing charity when what Africa needs is for the WTO to cease certain policies designed to enrich the West at the expense of the poorer nations. Titus Alexander‘s book Unravelling Global Apartheid dealt with this kind of thing, back fifteen years ago. I’ve always found the word patronise to be very elusive as to its meaning. And have sometimes worried that this must mean I am patronising, myself, since it seems to be a blind spot. Looking for a title for this poem, I landed upon patron and thought I would look online for a definition. Turns out to derive from pater the Latin for father. And finally it all fell into place. In my dream last night I was acting very strangely. Falling in love on the spot, apparently for no other reason than because the girl in question had cancer and her hair had fallen out.


childhood is recent
— the womb a million years
ago — death is soon —
and it’s because I love you
that the present moment sings

I dreamed of some kind of concert organised by my sister who in real life is a singer. I was quite rude about her singing, and then felt guilty. The audience was congregating on a raised bank of earth, and I knew that my childhood model train set lay buried superficially just under our feet. Recovering it was complicated by major engineering works on this very spot involving the sinking of a shaft, miles deep. I ventured a glimpse down the shaft and was overcome with vertigo. The dream ended with myself and my mother walking uphill through some pleasant woods, with arms linked like a pair of lovers. The shaft in the earth, miles deep, had to be the womb. The pair of lovers being myself and my mother is of course difficult to deal with, awake. And online. But I’m quite pleased with the way this translates into a completely non-specific ‘I love you’ in the poem. The exact phrase Because I love you is also a throwback to a dream I had in the eighties, where I believed the Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya was accessing certain personal memories of my sex life, telepathically. That dream (I believed at the time) was a telepathic vehicle of compassion from her to me.


travelling at the
speed of thought is dangerous
— and we all do it

In my dream I felt convinced I had a unique ability to travel along a busy motor road as fast as I liked, faster than anyone else, just by thinking myself into a condition of speed. But various young people were travelling at the same speed: so I felt threatened by this, and also their intentions didn’t seem altogether good. Dangers, of one sort or another, seem to be all-pervasive in so many of my dreams. I’m tempted to suppose this might be a compensation for the complacency which, if I compare myself now with myself as I used to be, seems one way in which I have markedly deteriorated. I have things so easy now (comparatively speaking) and I do seem to have grown complacent. On the other hand, back then, if anything my dreams were full of even more danger. Nightmares were a regular occurrence. There was a certain part of me that positively enjoyed that intensity of danger, both in my dreamlife and in waking life. The enjoyment seems to have disappeared along with the intensity. Yet still some level of danger enters my dreams very frequently indeed. I wonder would existential psychotherapy have something pertinent to say about this? Or would it be part of the problem? I wonder in fact if last night’s dream reflects some kind of intellectual overstimulation. The intellect is dangerous. The instincts are dangerous. What isn’t dangerous?


the soul is a bird
swooping and skimming over
water — a bundle
of startling energy —
and it is none of these things

The bird in my dream was something like a swallow or a bat — small and swift, capable of long journeys — but also at home on the ocean surface, diving in and out, submerging and re-emerging. There’s a continuity with yesterday’s dream of diving. I wanted to include the word circularity in the poem, but gave up. The circularity of asking what does the bird in my dream ‘mean’, then using poetry to state that the bird is my soul — as if that answered anything at all….. What is ‘soul’? Well, it’s the bird in my dream. Etc, etc. This is more than an exercise in futility however. We aren’t the prisoners of our own words, though it sometimes seems that way. The word soul is incredibly powerful even though nobody knows what it means. It was the crucial word that played on my imagination in the first few days and then weeks and months and years of my ‘psychosis’ in 1978. The fear that I had ‘lost my soul’. As a result of a dream (and a remarkably noisy flocking of sparrows in the tree outside my mother’s house where I was living) I became interested in a folk tradition to the effect that birds were somehow equivalent to the souls of the dead. I did not have Google in those days, so had to wait until now to find this

good enough

satori — diving
into the cool, clear water
of Rachel’s patience

I reached the idea of an equivalence between water and patience via a simple play on words in a draft of the poem which described filling a swimming pool ‘with patience’. In my dream, I had a slow running hose pipe, barely more than a trickle of water, and had to fill a small swimming pool to the brim — but I was perfectly patient about it. I was intending to dive in, asking myself if the pool was long enough (and I guess deep enough) so that I wouldn’t hit my head with the force of momentum of my dive. I was also anticipating the coldness of the water. Everything was right about this dream. The pool was exactly big enough, the water exactly cold enough, my patience exactly patient enough, and my courage exactly brave enough. Good enough as my title however, refers to D.W.Winnicott’s ‘good enough mother’. It’s also meant to convey a kind of wry understatement of just how lucky I am to know Rachel (as when people say in conversation “I’ll take that”). It seems to me Winnicott recommends what might be termed a ‘philosophical attitude’, of having deliberately modest expectations (of oneself). The Japanese term for enlightenment satori could not be further removed from that. It’s all about achieving the ultimate in a flash. So I’m saying ‘Look at me how lucky I am to have some idea of satori. I’ll take that.’