Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2011
According to a study by Kay Redfield Jamison, poets are thirty times more likely to undergo a depressive illness than the rest of the population, and twenty times more likely to be committed to an asylum.
It is the unconscious that drives poetry, the jumps and sudden lurches that forge new connections with things not connected before, new ways of seeing. And it is also in the unconscious that the voices of the irrational lurk.
In ‘Out of the Vortex’, Irish poet Matthew Sweeney chooses poetry that speaks to him, from the classics of John Clare and Emily Dickinson to that of contemporary writers. Poets Kit Wright and Jean Binta Breeze read their own work and Jean Binta Breeze tells Matthew how voices on the radio influenced her magnificent dub poem Riddym Ravings.
Perhaps surprisingly for listeners the poems cover a range of moods – humour as well as gloom, calm as well as chaos – and show that mental disorder, rather than being a condition suffered by a few, can approach and invade very many lives. As Matthew Sweeney himself has experienced, the act of writing can help offset the advance of chaos, shaping it into the order of words.
Produced by Merilyn Harris & Ladbroke Productions (Radio) Ltd for BBC Radio 4
N.B. Some audio has been edited from the original broadcast version due to copyright restrictions