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Uh oh...I'm in trouble

"It has recently been suggested, by reputable researchers, that there may well be a link between certain disturbances and creative achievement and that artists are unusually susceptible to major depressions."
--Eight American Poets, page xxi

As I was reading this sentence, I couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable. As an actor and a writer, I guess I'm what you might call an artist of sorts, and I don't particularly care for the idea of going into a major depression. Of course, they go on to say that mental illness is particularly prevalent among "gifted individuals," so as long as I'm a really bad artist, maybe I'm safe. It is disheartening to read in this introduction that the stereotype of the sensitive, tortured poet seemed to be kind of true for many of the poets in this book. Is there really a price to pay for being that talented? It does make sense that poets who are more introspective and confessional in their style might be a little bit more susceptible to depression than, say, novelists, who are able to live in the minds of characters far removed from themselves. As an actor, I know it can be hard to delve into really dark personal places; you really need to be careful to not take yourself to an emotional place that's going to rob you of all artistic control and might do real damage. But sometimes going through those difficult emotions in a performative context can be cathartic. Is it harder for poets to let go of these emotions because they aren't really airing them out in a concentrated performance? Poets agonize over the wording of their poems; they have to live with their art for a much longer concentrated period of time than actors do.
And what about poets who are not "confessional" in style and write much more about the world around them than the world inside? Are they less prone to depression? Is it really the introspective aspect of these poets' work that contributed to their afflictions? I know that each poet's situation is specific to her or his own personal life, but it is startling to see how prevalent mental suffering was in the poets we are reading.

Comments (4)

Aja Hannah:

Writers, I feel, have the same problem. Sure, they can remove themselves and put themselves into a novel or into other characters, but eventually they have to come out. Just like actors - when finished a performance - return to the person they are.

One problem comes when actors or writers get stuck in their character or can't bear who they really are and try to act as their characters always.

I also think poets and writers have a similar problem of agonizing over their work - every individual word. I'm a writer and, even for silly things like essays, it takes me much longer to write than other people. I have to be happy with almost every word. And, when I'm done with a work of fiction, I'll still go back time and time again to edit it.

I wrote a story years ago that I've edited maybe 4 times completely that I still want to go back and change. It does suck though that artists have the trend of mental disorders.

I'm not a poet so I don't know about their depression or whether writing in a confessional style works, but as a fiction writer I am a little more extreme in moods and prone to anxiety attacks than my friends who are studying to be scientists, teachers, etc.

Christopher Dufalla:

It seems as though many a great artists went through some sort of depression or tense time in their lives. The sad part of the introduction is indeed its free and seemingly matter of fact statement that poets, especially, are susceptible to agonizing depressions and problematic lives. Why? Is it a formula? I can see how it all ties together: Van Gogh was depressed over his girlfriend and sent her his ear, Beethoven contemplated suicide before writing his Third Symphony due to his increasing loss of hearing, Edgar Allen Poe underwent constant depressions and spells of bad luck, and Sylvia Plath attempted suicide multiple times and eventually succeeded. It appears to be a very sad trend...but why?

Jennifer Prex:

I thought the same thing when I read this in the introduction. I'm a writer, as well, though I'm more of a story writer. I've heard this before, but I never knew that there was enough of a connection that researchers noted it. Going off of what Aja said, I think artists simply need to be more careful than most. We just need to make sure the boundaries are clear and remain clear. As long as we don't cross those boundaries, we should hopefully be able to avoid the extremes mentioned in this anthology.

Georgia Speer:

Matt, after reading your blog and the responses above, I am not a writer or aritist in any sense, but still find these words in this intro to be very disturbing that it depicts that almost all poets, writers or artists are “unusually susceptible to major depressions” (xxi) This can set many readers off in the direction that if you are in one of these professions than it is likely you will develop these type of manic depressions or behaviors, if you do not already feel you have them. I think that this is actually pretty sad that the writer wants to make this assumption, now there is reference to recent researchers show…but where is the evidence? I hate to think that this is based on the assumptions that apparently can be backed up with some evidence, but if this evidence it is not shown than the major damage can already be done. Readers will believe this thought to be true…with or without evidence. I believe that people that may not have these issues, may now all of a sudden start feeling as they do. If you see something or someone states you should be like this, you may eventually start to think it and soon believe it that you may possibly than really be it. Lowell stated in a letter to Roethke, “There’s a strange fact about the poets of roughly our age, “ he wrote, “ and one that doesn’t exactly seem to have been always true. It’s this, that to write we seem to have to go at it with such single-minded intensity that we are always on the point of drowning…I feel it’s something almost unavoidable, some flaw in the motor…I can see us all written up in some huge book of the age, But under what title?” To me Lowell’s comments here sums this up, do we not want to find some type of “grouping” to put people in? Poets would than fall into the manic depressants…how strange is this? Actually it’s not, now that I think of it…it seems to happen all the time, think about through life, how we are in put into certain clicks, whether it be by ourselves or others…from grade school to high school, and obviously even into your professions.

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