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Death of a Psychotherapist and Other Poems

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These poems represent the author's experience of severe illness, and near death. The title piece, Death of a Psychotherapist, is a collage of words and images that express the mental fragmentation of that period, as well as the search for meaning and wholeness. Dreams, or hallucinations, were indistinguishable from reality. Thoughts and memories came from other poets, especially the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy, who seemed to be present in these "visions", and helped symbolise the trauma. The author's final few months as a psychotherapist in a National Health Service clinic had been interrupted by the illness and so his professional identity became a preoccupation. Reflections on the state of the profession came from a new perspective. The shorter poems came after the acute phase of Woods' illness, which is still the central theme, but as a challenge being met, rather than an overwhelming immersion. They are altogether quieter and more meditative than the long poem, but capture some specific experiences that may be common to those who go through such intense periods of illness and recovery. The poems are followed by a short discussion of their context and process of creation.

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Death of a Psychotherapist

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Fortified by theory and study

I shall not fear my passions like a coward.

I shall abandon my body to sensual pleasure,

To dreamlike delights…

(and)…at critical moments I shall find again

My spiritual self, ascetic as before.

C. P. Cavafy “Perilous Things”, Trans. E. Sachperoglou (1941)

 

I fell ill again.

Olynka uncovers her breasts and I am under her power.
She comes to lie down by me but shows me the face of Bilal,
The face pockmarked by the lattice of the confessional.

—We are taking you home tonight.

We are digging in the garden,

to find something left by the Earth God,

figures of bronze on stone, marks of power.

Even Bilal the ancient healer who guided the rulers of tribes and nations

could not equal the power of the Earth God and bring him into the light.

 

Other Poems

ePub

 

I dreamed I woke to a self stifled for years.

Gone the music that had soothed.

I will never get out of this,

Unless I find words to give shape,

Stop the mind fading,

Set aside this time,

Look back upon the body

Pale, in an empty room,

And have a thought still.

 

I have become selfish

My former loved ones should hate me

I have gone to live with my illness.

Like lovers entwined

We care only for each other.

This is no duel

Nor solo with accompaniment

But to break the folie a deux

One of us must die.

 

Don't be afraid of a cheap line

It may be all you have left.

That glimmer in the dark

Could it be the moon playing in the water,

While birds sleep in their nests,

before the morning cry against the dim and misty light?

My illness is a tyrant God,

And I've become its priest

I need to get another job

 

Poetry, Cancer and Psychotherapy: Notes on “Death of a Psychotherapist” and other Poems

ePub

 

1. “Death of a Psychotherapist”

This collage of words and images is an attempt to depict an experience over several days when my brain was suddenly affected by tumours and strong medication. Dreams, or hallucinations, seemed like real events at the time. Thoughts and memories came to me from several writers, especially from the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy whom I happened to be reading when I fell ill, and who seemed to be present in these “visions”. This raw material was then subjected to secondary revision, not only to try and gain coherence for its own sake, but in the hope of making it more communicable to others.

The sudden emergence of my illness, Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinaemia, a disorder of the bloodstream, occurred at the beginning of a six month termination phase to my employment as a psychotherapist for 20 years at the Portman, a National Health Service clinic in London. I dearly loved the people there and felt valued by them, both staff and patients. Sadly the months of treatment and recovery took over my carefully planned retirement from the clinic. There was then a period of convalescence, and now writing this a year after the illness began, I have been able to resume some work as a psychotherapist in other settings.

 

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