Fun With Hypomania
This year I’m on an AWP panel called “The Poem You’ll Write Tomorrow: How to Teach Vision.” Now I can’t tell you what that poem is, so let me talk for a minute about the you who is going to write that poem. My topic is the mind of the poet, but I’m really taking about the mind of anyone who wants to be original and creative. The mind of the physicist and the chef and the cinematographer are all one mind. You have the same mind they do; it just happens that you write poems.
At my university, I belong to a group called the Lawton Professors. These women and men are from every field possible: chemistry, psychology oceanography, computer science. I’m the only poet, though there is one dancer. When I look at the Lawton professors as a group, my hypothesis is that they all share a condition called hypomania. As the name suggests, it’s a low form of mania. And it stays there; it never sinks into depression, nor does it soar into the kind of enthusiasm that gets you into trouble.
If you google “hypomania,” you’ll see a list of characteristics, my favorite of which is a quality called “confident curiosity.” Hypomaniacs tend to want to go around the corner and see what’s going on there, convinced that something good will turn up, that they’ll meet people who like them and will be helpful and so on. So a manic person on an airplane will start proposing to flight attendants; a hypomanic one will just sip his tomato juice and think, “Nice plane! If something happened to the pilot, bet I could fly it!”
There’s a recent book called The Hypomanic Edge by John Gartner, a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who says that, for better or worse, American energies are hypomanic; the original European settlers had to have confident curiosity to sail across the Atlantic in leaky wooden boats, and every day people come to this country who are confident that they can make a better world for themselves.
Now let me see if I can relate all this to the world of poetry while keeping it scientific. John Keats trained as a surgeon-apothecary, which means that, if he hadn’t died at the age of 25, he would have been a sort of nurse-practitioner, possibly in a small town that had no doctor. One of his teachers was the surgeon Sir Astley Cooper; there’s a procedure involving the ligation of the external iliac artery that is named after him and that any surgeon will tell you about if you ask him is he’s ever heard of Sir Astley.
Sir Astley Cooper said a surgeon needed three things: the eye of an eagle, the hand of a lady, and the heart of a lion. When I read that, I thought, the man’s right: that’s exactly what every surgeon needs. And then about five minutes later, I said, Wait: in what profession do you not need the eye of an eagle, the hand of a lady, and the heart of a lion? Without using the term “hypomania,” Sir Astley Cooper was describing that condition centuries before it was given a name
So at the AWP panel on vision, I’ll be talking about what you can do to be more of a hypomaniac than you are already. I’ll be using lots of examples: poems, of course, but memoirs, fiction, biography, even sculpture. And I’ll be fast. I’m on the panel with three brilliant women–Traci Brimhall, Natalie Diaz, and Erika Meitner– so what I really want to do is say my piece quickly and then listen to them.
Event Title: The Poem You’ll Write Tomorrow: How to Teach Vision
Scheduled Day: Friday, 4/1/2016
Scheduled Time: 4:30 PM – 5:45 PM
Scheduled Room: Room 501, L.A. Convention Center, Meeting Room Level
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