Posts Tagged ‘psychosis’


the courage to do
wrong — all our very cheapest
stories recognise
— in some blind way — that nothing
makes sense like a paradox

My last night’s dream was really quite powerful and significant. It entailed my being seduced by Beryl Graves, the wife of the poet Robert Graves. Currently I am reading his historical novel Count Belisarius, and finding it a little bit tedious. Graves is an important figure for me. He captured my imagination in my mid-twenties, when I was struggling with so-called ‘psychotic’ experiences, and I made the journey to his house in Spain, in 1982, to try and gain enlightenment from the great man. I knocked on the door and was kindly entertained for an hour by his wife (then in her sixties) while Robert himself sat inert in a wheelchair. He was 87 and had retreated into dementia.


witch doctor

explain Nazism
as mass psychosis (thank you
Jung) — what in that case
is our mass denial of
climate change? — mass suicide?

The witch doctor of the title is Jung hinmself of course. The term sounds quite archaic these days, but was common as I was growing up, usually referring to African traditional healers. It was what sprang to mind as I tried to think of a neat summing up of that pose Jung adopts in his writings when he turns his attention to humanity as a whole and tries to psychoanalyse (or in other words, to ‘doctor’) his contemporary society. Simultaneously there popped into my mind the memory of Herman Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game, where roughly a third of the novel, from what I remember, is set in a ‘primitive’ society, exploring a past life of the novel’s hero, when he was the village witch doctor. I dreamed last night of the opening sequence of the movie Dr Strangelove which (in the dream) consisted of various shots of a nuclear mushroom cloud. I felt apprehensive because there was heat radiating from the screen, and I wondered if I would suffer radiation burns. I don’t know whether Jung’s ‘doctoring’ of the human race is anything better than a pose. But the problem of climate change is so unthinkable. Any strategy, even playing the doctor, must be valid, faced with the possibility (or indeed likelihood) that humanity is committing mass suicide by business as usual despite rising carbon emissions.


mathematics professor —
old man — who were you?
— when my world turned pure evil
your mind held its vision clear


Well, the internet has its uses. I just discovered more about Peter Landsberg in the last five minutes browsing than I knew during the the last fifty years of having known him (in my own mind) as the father of my best friend at school. His Telegraph obituary is here. In my dream last night, I was having an uneasy but fundamentally good natured reunion with his son Max, whom I knew 45 years ago as Edwin. The story of how, around the age of thirteen or fourteen, my best friend began to turn imperceptibly into my worst enemy, doesn’t belong here. Nor, really, the story of my years of homelessness — and psychosis — in the early nineties when I believed I had seen Peter Landsberg shuffling at an old man’s snail pace past the shop doorway where I was holed up with cardboard boxes and a blanket. This poem is an attempt to capture that moment. I was not even sure that it was him. Yet I felt I had had a glimpse of the true essence of Peter Landsberg — the strength of his mind an unexpected ally somehow, in my own struggles with madness. He appeared almost like a vision, something straight out of Sophocles. In my dream last night, I was offering him the dedication of a piece of music I’d composed. I wish I could understand why he looms so archetypally in my imagination. It has something to do with comparing him with my own father, which I did as a matter of course back in the sixties when I knew Edwin. Since then I’ve realised what an unequal contest it was. Landsberg was a formidable intellect. His part in my life would seem to have been almost completely negligible. But at the level of fantasy he represents something unique and intriguing.


surprise at my own
skill in capturing many
different viewpoints
within the single picture
— never the totality

Never the totality is the first line of a poem which I wrote in 1994 in the belief that, while writing it, I was in telepathic contact with the Dalai Lama. This morning’s poem describes my dream last night quite literally. I was looking through a collection of my own sketches, one of which showed my tiny bedroom in a night hostel for the homeless. I had somehow contrived to include within one drawing, several different angles upon the room. I feel very much again, that I am still processing Wednesday’s sharing of my story with the prison staff (see yesterday’s post). I’ve never felt more satisfied with my success in terms of having conveyed to my audience just how much I enjoyed being homeless in the 1990’s and just how much I even enjoyed being psychotic. In previous talks, I have sometimes related how I used to write poetry while in telepathic communion with celebrities (such as the Dalai Lama) — citing this as an example of times when the psychosis was positively fulfilling. My telepathic communion with celebrities used to be enjoyable for its own sake however. I would get an incredibly vivid impression of the person’s character and mindset. In the case of the Dalai Lama, multidimensionality was one of the most striking characteristics of entering his mental space. The feeling of acceptance of the flow, if you like, with no single fixed point of reference at all. I’m inclined to suppose this might have been valid and genuine up to a point — not as telepathy, but as an impression of his personality, and as a lesson I took into my own mind from his somehow.


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


hobos grow to feel
at home with being homeless
— just as, in the end,
souls reveal themselves in the
hurting void of soullessness

My psychosis started in 1978 as a fear that I had lost my soul. The next twenty years often felt like a spiritual battle. More like that than an illness, anyhow. I wasn’t literally sleeping rough every single night during those twenty years. But my homelessness became my identity — which I loved. I loved existing in survival mode. In last night’s dream I was re-living that unique special feeling as darkness falls, of knowing you have to find somehow, somewhere to sleep.


bless him, how he tries —
his face shines with the light of
profound foolishness

I think I spent yesterday at work somehow trying too hard. I was on my own in the office. So much for working without supervision. In my dream, although I was wearing a monk’s robes, I was in fact a guest at the monastery. My companion on the other hand was clearly recognisable as a monk just from the way he smiled.

Many years ago at the height of my ‘psychosis’ when I was homeless and paranoid, believing I was being followed by nuclear scientists from NASA, I stumbled into the beautiful parish church of Much Wenlock in Shropshire and stayed for Evensong. The priest used a well known blessing at the end of the service which moved me profoundly. I have never forgotten it. It’s from the Old Testament.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’