Epigrams, War, and Madness


You know how in wintertime, your hands grow rough, so that, when you go to pick something up, a sweater, say, it snags and forces you to look at it more closely? That is I think the usefulness of an epigraph, a phrase or sentence you come across in one place that then serves as a springboard for you, the writer, to go off in another direction with it. I have written before about how the poet Simon Perchik has frequently provided me with springboard lines of this sort, such as “or perhaps your shadow spilling over again,” which blows my mind every time I read it.

And while not all my epigraphs are about or lead me to write about mental health problems, the quote on the file card I came across this morning (thank you, Musashi, for walking across my dresser at 5 a.m.) is by Kaye Redfield Jamison, from her memoir about being a psychologist with bipolar disorder, An Unquiet Mind. (Yes, Amy Carleton, go read it. You will thank me.) I think her line will be my own Trojan Horse, a way into the set of poems about Troy that I have been contemplating writing.

The line comes from the end of a chapter about Jamison’s work at Bellevue Hospital’s psychological emergency room. Previously we have read about what happened when Jamison went off her meds and had to be hospitalized so she is humbly aware of the mirroring she feels when a bipolar patient in the grips of the manic state is wheeled in, fighting against the straps that cuff her to the gurney. As Jamison says, “We all move uneasily in our own restraints.” I can think of no better way to springboard into a series of small poems subverting an epic poem about a ten year long siege.

Mu with String

Siberine, Jack. Musashi with String. 2014.

2 comments on “Epigrams, War, and Madness

  1. C says:

    A great quote, and sounds like an interesting book– will have to check it out!


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