Guest Post, David Kirby: Discussion of AWP Panel “The Poem You’ll Write Tomorrow: How to Teach Vision”

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 7.37.24 PM

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

Follow Me

5 thoughts on “Guest Post, David Kirby: Discussion of AWP Panel “The Poem You’ll Write Tomorrow: How to Teach Vision”

  • March 10, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    If I were going to AWP, I would be interested in attending this panel. Sounds intriguing and interesting

  • March 11, 2016 at 12:44 am

    I like that phrase “confident curiosity.” From what I read, it seems like a very positive way of looking at possible situations, even if they can be a bit far-fetched at times. Sounds like an interesting event! I would love to go just to hear more about what David Kirby has to say on the topic.

  • March 11, 2016 at 10:00 am

    I like how he said that all people have the same brain. That made me think of the potential all people have. I also liked “the eye of an eagle, the hand of a lady, and the heart of a lion.” After thinking about it, I cannot think of a profession that does not require those three things.

  • March 13, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    This sounds like it will be a really fun panel! I wish I was going to AWP this year because I would definitely be interested in something like this. I’ve probably had some hypomanic episodes myself, especially when it’s six o’clock in the morning and I’m still typing away, haha. Jokes aside, I like this idea of “confident curiosity.” To me that means having the confidence to push the limits of your own imagination and take risks during the writing process. If you’re too afraid to take chances and do something crazy and different because people won’t like it, you’ll never create anything unique.

  • March 16, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    An interesting perspective, but one I’m a bit unsure of. The author appears to eschew hypomania as it is typically, clinically contrived; I’ve never heard someone characterize it this way, and it seems a bit odd to me; I’ve never heard of someone “staying” hypomanic (wouldn’t that be grand if such a thing were possible). It’s interesting the author mentions Keats briefly, but does not mention Keats’ suspected bipolarity, given hypomanic is a term I’ve only ever heard mentioned within the context of Bipolar. As someone painfully acquainted with highs, lows, and everything in between, I don’t know if I would every say I would want to “be more of a hypomanic” (even though I appreciate the times I am), or even if that’s the right word to describe what the author is trying to, but maybe discussions like this are further paving the way for neurodiversity, and for that I can be thankful.

Leave a Reply