Edited by psychiatrist and poet Mark Bauer, this anthology collects poems about mental illness, broadly defined to include such topics as alcoholism and drug abuse, depression and melancholia, and post-traumatic experiences (with World War I's shell-shock and the Vietnam war's PTSD represented by Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Gurney, and Wilfred Owen, and Yusuf Komunyakaa, respectively).  Bauer provides an introductory essay, arranges the selections chronologically rather than thematically, and, in a welcome touch at the end, offers brief biographical sketches of the authors.  A Mind Apart would form a nice companion piece to Poets on Prozac, edited by Richard Berlin

The represented poets are: Thomas Hoccleve, Charles d'Orleans, William Dunbar, Alexander Barclay, Fulke Greville, Thomas Lodge, William Shakespeare, Sir Henry Wotton, Sir John Davies, Robert Burton, John Fletcher and/or Thomas Middleton, Lady Mary Wroth, Robert Herrick, George Herbert, John Milton, Anne Bradstreet, Margaret Cavendish, Thomas Traherne, James Carkesse, Anne Finch, Edward Ward, Isaac Watts, Edward Young, William Harrison, Mary Barber, Matthew Green, William Collins, Thomas Mozeen, Christopher Smart, Thomas Warton, William Cowper, Robert Fergusson, Thomas Chatterton, John Codrington Bampfylde, William Blake, Robert Bloomfield, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Gordon (Lord Byron), Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Clare, John Keats, Thomas Haynes Bayly, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Sydney Dobell, Emily Dickinson, Henry Kendall, Thomas Hardy, Robert Bridges, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A. Mary F. Robinson, Ernest Dowson, Edward Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Gurney, Wilfred Owen, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Louise Bogan, Hart Crane, (John Orley) Allen Tate, Richard David Comstock, Stanley Kunitz, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, J. V. Cunningham, Delmore Schwartz, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell, Weldon Kees, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, Robert Edward Duncan, Howard Nemerov, Hayden Carruth, Philip Larkin, Anthony Hecht, Richard Hugo, James Schuyler, Donald Justice, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Bly, Wiley Clemens, Anne Sexton, Carl Wolfe Solomon, Ned O'Gorman, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Jim Harrison, Les Murray, Sharon Olds, Timothy Dekin, Quincy Troupe, Thomas P. Beresford, R. L. Barth, Jane Kenyon, Yusef Komunyakaa, Joseph Salemi, Aimee Grunberger, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Mark Jarman, Franz Wright, David Baker, Michael Lauchlan, Joe Bolton, Kelly Ann Malone, Brian Turner, Kevin Young, Jeff Holt, Ricky Cantor, Anne Stevenson, and several contributions that are anonymous, including some from nineteenth century popular songs and selections from two collections of poetry by people with mental illness.


Mark Bauer promptly recognizes the challenges for the anthologist, not just as someone who will be critiqued for what is included or, more pointedly, what is excluded, but as someone who has an implicit project.  He is clear on what his project is: to include poetry speaking about madness and speaking from madness, from Jim Harrison's dark organicity of "black roots in their brains / around which vessels clot and embrace / each other as mating snakes" to the spiritual despair of Robert Bridges' "wall of terror in a night of cold".  The question of mad inspiration is a real one, and appears in the poetry itself, as Emily Dickinson wonders if "Much madness is divinist sense"; Bauer takes pains to point out that the question is partly answered by the range and power of much of the poetry, but also by the recurring themes of loss and suicide.

Any such anthology necessarily provokes debates.  Bauer's introduction tries to move the debate away from the reality or social construction of mental illness to how poetry is a voice for people who wish to express or understand this aspect of life.  Thus, we read about the experience of sadness, of Coleridge's "grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear" and of the desires to drink, "swaloynge mete without mesure", leading some to "slepe as slogardes tyll their thryft be gone" while others "are ape-dronke, full of lawghter and of toyes, / Some mery dronke, syngynge with wynches and boyes" (Alexander Barclay, from "The Ship of Fools - Of Glotons and Dronkardes").  We read, particularly in the more recent poems, of institutions, hospitals, and medications, including a selection of James Schuyler's Payne Whitney poems. There are poems of suicide, such as a bitter poem by Mark Jarman, "Question for Ecclesiastes"; less often, there are poems of recovery.

The anthology is not without some humour: who can resist Dorothy Parker's utterly glib but utterly perfect "Resume"? An anonymous take on Hamlet's To Be or Not To Be speech turns it into a public health warning on the perils of smoking ("Soliloquy on Smoking"), and Franz Wright sees "Flying stingray vaginas" in a Rorschach test. But many of the poems describe hopelessness, despair, and suffering, of dragging your feet, as Philip Larkin puts it, "clay-thick with misery."

Despite the breadth of the anthology, it is difficult not to want to wrestle with some of the choices.  One may want to register complaints (Ginsberg is only represented by an exerpt of the opening of "Howl", which seems an unfair violence to the poem itself; though all exerpts risk this violence, here the appropriation seems to insist upon the most obvious, banal reading).  But one can also appreciate encounters that might otherwise have been missed - students of poetry and madness will likely be introduced to some new names, a useful collection of popular songs from the nineteenth century, and several tantalising selections from publications that came from within institutions (including Poetry of the Insane, edited by Charles Mayos and published in 1930, and The Journal of St Dympna, edited by Earl "Pete" Nurmi and published in 1979). 


Oxford University Press

Place Published

New York




Mark S. Bauer

Page Count