The first annual Psychoanalysis & Poetry competition was judged by poet and psychoanalyst Beatrice Garland. After a first degree in English Literature, she worked as a National Health Service clinician, teacher and researcher in psychological medicine at both the Tavistock Clinic and the Maudsley Hospital. She has won both the National Poetry Competition and the Strokestown International Poetry Prize, and was short-listed for the inaugural Picador Poetry Prize. Her first volume, The Invention of Fireworks, was published in 2013 by Templar Press, and in 2014 was shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Best First Collection among The Forward Prizes. She is currently at work on a second volume, to be published in 2017.
The following is an extract from Beatrice Garland’s report on the entries to the poetry competition:
As became clear during the conference, poetry and psychoanalysis are linked in many ways: they investigate the internal world, the world that is inhabited by thought and imagination - about ourselves, about our objects and our relations with them - about the fundamental substance of our lives. Both often enquire into the deepest and most basic aspects of human experience. This may involve painful and upsetting or even unpleasant facts. Fact, or reality, is important in poetry: because without a recognition of reality, imagination can disintegrate into daydream or whimsy; or become self-indulgent in the writing.
Specially important in the link between poetry and psychoanalysis, in my view, was the work of highly influential analyst, Roger Money-Kyrle. He was interested not only in his work in the consulting room, which involved a profound psychoanalytic exploration of the individual’s inner life, but also of the ways in which the individual relates to the broader sphere of human society; including politics in its widest sense. Money-Kyrle described what he called the Facts of Life, the fundamental structures of our mental existence. And his emphasis on three central facts about human life also included an understanding of why we can find them so difficult to accept and live with.
These three Facts of Life are all to do with the reality of difference. First, Money-Kyrle describes the breast, symbolic of the provision of sustenance, as a ‘supremely good object’. Babies are helplessly vulnerable and dependent, and unless they are looked after – fed and protected by a loving adult - they (we) cannot survive. Second, there is the difference between generations : we owe our origins to our parents, and to the creativity of their sexual relationship. The recognition of the centrality of the parents’ relationship provides the template for our mental life; accepting that relationship and dealing with the feelings of envy and jealousy it evokes is the basis of the Oedipus Complex. Third, there are the differences between the generations, which involves the reality of the passage of time, and eventual death. The experience of loss, or change – since all change involves loss – begins with weaning, the loss of the breast, or the loss of the exclusive relationship with the caregiver. It is the prototype for all subsequent losses, throughout life. These oblige us to recognise that all good things come to an end; that access to the ‘supremely good object’ cannot go on for ever - as life itself does not go on for ever.
That separateness and the experience of loss, and above all the mourning of that loss – recognising the transience, the evanescence of everything we are and have – is crucial to mental growth and development. It’s clear then how central these three facts are in the subject matter of much poetry. In fact, one of the ways in which we, writers, grapple with the difficulties posed by the facts of human existence is through poetry – through writing and struggling with these hard facts, discovering them for ourselves.
I did not know what to expect from the bundle of poems I was given, all of which were entirely anonymous, but do I know what I was hoping to find: and that was poems, real poems: not poems about psychoanalysis, or poems about ‘my analyst’ who is wonderful/or who doesn’t understand me – though there were a few of those anyway. The eight short-listed poems floated to the top quite quickly, though there were also several that almost made it. It was difficult to leave them out, but a short-list is a short-list, so I reluctantly put aside another 3 or 4 poems in order to draw up the final list. These I chose because as well as being about powerful and moving subjects they were well-written: their authors had worked at the craft of writing, not just relied upon the original passion or impulse to do the work for them. (If I had one comment upon the bulk of the entries it would be that the authors needed to pay as much attention to the craft of writing , the skills of communication, as to the desire to commit their inspiration to paper.)
So all the short-listed writers produced real poems: powerful in subject matter, dealing with the fundamentals, the facts of life, and highly skilled in their means of communication of thought and imagination.
THE SHORT LIST
Mary Jean Chan
It was hard to decide between them, but in the end I gave the Third Prize to Tania Hershman’s poem BABY – a wonderfully witty, original and imaginative take on Freud’s description of His Majesty the Baby. The Second Prize goes to Fiona Moore’s poem SEIZURE. This is a powerful and painful poem, told without sentiment. And it makes a skillful use of an accurate and sustained metaphor, that of the ruined city as an image of the mind under bombardment. These two poets are happy for their prize-winning poems to appear on the IOPA website.
And finally, First Prize goes to Mary Jean Chan. Her poem was outstanding not simply because of its subject matter, which is poignant and highly evocative, but also for her sheer poetic expertise - the economy and truthfulness of the way that the events are described.
Many congratulations to everyone on the short-list.
Here are two of the winning poems:
faces. (Baby may seem
carried, but is, in fact,
directing.) Baby takes in
all ages, colours
other. Baby understands
the need for data.
is the oldest: its valleys
shades and loose-pinned
edges. When Baby is removed
there are thoughts
of screaming. Instead
Baby scrolls through
images amassed. One day
thinks Baby, I will not be
so smooth, so new. Let me
be old, prays Baby. Let me not
be carried. Let me wait
alone on dark platforms,
knowing and not knowing where
or why I’m going.
If your mind at night was a citadel asleep
safe in its round of bone, while your body did the work
of outer defence, encabled with nerves and blood,
the heartbeat and the breath saying all was well,
then those nights afterwards when I lay next to you
your long limbs trembling, jerking as you slept,
the citadel had been bombed to near destruction.
Rubble woman helpless, hopeless at the scale of it
I was among ruins not knowing where, the streets
unrecognisable, each outline jagged and smouldering
and beyond them the stars too sparked out of order,
their pathways disrupted, all geometry lost.
To hold you through those long nights was like holding
earth and heaven confused and scattered in my arms.