July 25, 2008

Poetry Friday: Neurotic

Join the Club

Flashing my neurotic's badge I dare them

to ask me for my license. I don't look

much different from the rest of them -

in fact, a certain calm emanates.

I've seen and felt so much I'm like

a bird on a withered tree, singing.

Diagnosis proclaims me not psychotic.

Sensitive and shy, this patient

has symptoms of depression with a touch

of anxiety and agoraphobia.

We're not supposed to read our files,

but just the same, we do.

It's really quite interesting

the way the doctors size us up,

and there's a preening of feathers,

and comparing of notes.

Sensitive and shy sounds quite genteel,

as opposed to schizoid, paranoid

and abusive, anorexic, manic,

or simply mad.

I'm really quite presentable - not that

you could take me anywhere - I tend

to shiver and sweat in open spaces.

Still, I only suffer from a disease

as common as a cold, ubiquitous

as birds on withered trees, singing.

Poetry as therapy is not quite acceptable.

Myself, I find it more effective

than valium. It's just that if

the literary world took us too seriously

we'd be out on our necks, and ours,

like Anne Boleyn's, are extremely slender,

even if the executioner is very expert.

We are a clean and well-behaved lot,

don't need a leper's bell,

but keep our badges polished

just in case we recognise our kind.

I'm introspective. What are you?

Oh, me, comes the reply. I'm just a bird

on a withered tree, singing.

Elizabeth Bartlett was born in 1924 and died early this summer. I discovered her through a piece in the paper and really enjoyed the poem there. Before she died, a major retrospective, drawing on more than 50 years of her writing was published - Two Women Dancing: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Publishing) - emerged in 1995. This poem is from that collection, and also appears in a new anthology, We Have Come Through: 100 Poems Celebrating Courage in Overcoming Depression and Trauma, edited by Peter Forbes. The volume celebrates the 10th anniversary of Survivors' Poetry, a UK charity founded to help support the mental health community.

Poetry Friday is today at the mentally balanced blog of A Year of Reading.


Sara said...

Poetry as therapy. I'll take that!

jama said...

Love this poem. "A bird on a withered tree, singing . . ." This poem talks about what it exemplifies.

Elaine Magliaro said...


Thanks for this poem. I do happen to think that the reading and/or writing of poetry is good therapy.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Beautiful and simple but also incisive.

Mary Lee said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence on the mental stability of our blog. Especially after that little rant I left in the comments earlier this week!

eisha said...

I love this. Very eloquent, very true.

Anonymous said...

Poetry as therapy . . . works for me. Loved some of the lines here; particularly the one about Anne Boleyn and thin necks.

MmeT said...

I'm thinking yes to valium and poetry...I do Effexor and poetry.Works pretty well.
Great poem and I want to check out the anthologies.