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Problems and Polemics

Wordcatcher Publishing

9781789420715

£8.99

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Problems and Polemics is intended to be a critical (sceptical) look at what passes for current mental health practice within the community. Throughout the mental health field now, both with those diagnosed unwell and with their treatments, there are many disagreements over, and holes in, the reasoning processes of the professionals purported cures often being as illogical as the illnesses, the human fallibility of the professionals at odds with the therapeutic environments that they are supposed to maintain. And it is because of the disparate nature of mental health practise that I have found that poetry (or prose poetry if youd prefer) conveys, in book form, far more accurately the fragmentary realities of the world of mental ill-health carers & cared-for rather than straightforward prose, with its temptations to argue a singular point of view, subjecting all to the authors template.

Customer Reviews (6)

08/08/19

This is the stuff of nightmares, only it's real: it's the real world of the mental health system. Of all the groups excluded from the post-modern hedonism of affluent consumerism, none is excluded with such thoroughness as the mentally ill — from: IS THIS THE WAY?: In foyer and smoking room sat on low green chairs are people who have disappeared so deep inside themselves that now their external presence is also not seen. We don't understand mental illness, nor do we know what to do about it, so mental health policy and practice is an infinite maze of absurdity and contradiction. You'd think people are in hospital because they're ill, but as Sam Smith so carefully and so painfully shows us, all too often its the other way round: people are in hospital so they must be ill. And so their illness becomes the excuse for the invasion of their bodies and their minds by drugs, electric shocks and other devastating "treatments" actually more suited to a torture chamber than a supposed place of healing. But of course it isn't all the fault of the system. Maybe some mental patients are just different and should be tolerated by the rest of society, but as Smith eloquently demonstrates, difference breeds fear, and anyway being different shades into being dangerous — to themselves and to others. Many of the "Case Studies" which appear throughout this book are horrifying, and are told in such plain, straightforward language that the horror is intensified. The mentally ill are invisible and ignored, yet the irony is that they are not left alone. And of course their suffering is real, and equally real are feeling of sympathy and compassion that something ought to be done. But what ought to be done? Maybe we all inhabit our own private world but most of us manage to compromise and reconcile our world with the worlds of most other people, through language, interaction, love, empathy or just necessity. Smith is particularly illuminating in showing how some people find this compromise impossible, and once they are diagnosed as mentally ill, society takes its revenge on them in the form of unspeakable "treatment." Because the system is contradictory, care decays into cruelty, compassion into corruption. The situation is explained in WE ALL SWIM IN THE ONE SEA, although this one poem necessarily oversimplifies the subtle and complex picture painted by the whole book: Psychiatry cannot be isolated from the society it serves: mental illness is a disease primarily of the powerless, even suicides seen as symptomatic of sociological states, despair as a statistic. Because someone may be in hospital doesn't mean that they are ill: often they are assumed to be unwell solely because they are in hospital. So do doctors and nurses become accomplices to insanity, reliant for a living upon their own diagnoses. Smith describes all this in poetry that is shockingly analytical but always compassionate, even with touches of fully-justified dark humour. Sometimes it is lyrical, with images so arresting that they constantly force the reading eye/I to stop and think. Above all the book is powerfully sceptical, and is a work of great political subversiveness. I'd put it at the top of the reading list for all ministers and civil servants at the Department of Health. Andrew Belsey: NHI Online
08/08/19

Problems and Polemics seems to come from Sam Smith's quarrel with current mental health practice. Having been a nurse in this environment, he knows the subject and his writing about it seems to have been therapeutic. What strikes most is his honesty and compassion. He speaks openly about disillusioned nursing staff and exposes the unprofessional behaviour of some professionals: In foyer and smoking room sat on low green chairs are people who have disappeared so deep inside themselves that now their external presence is not seen. In the centre of the foyer stand two professional men talking softly belly to belly as if in private. In private one of these men has safely confessed his sexual shames Smith explores the causes of mental ill-health and these lines sum it up: What is mental ill-health? Other than the sickness of society visited upon the individual? He covers a wide range of conditions and recounts case studies and incidents. Some, such as 'Heat,' are gruesome. Though sceptical of manipulators, he displays an analytical compassion for those with mental ill-health and loneliness in their lives: Any visitor is picked clean of news Visitor left they have only their window reflection to tell it to He unpicks, the causes of mental ill-health and shows how 'treatment' can compound the problem. But does he offer any solutions? Well maybe not but he does signpost good practice through 'The Good Nurse.' And in 'Two Men On A Cricket Field' he seems to be encouraging people to look outside themselves. Stepping around his apparent aggression I turn him with me. "Why don't these swallows crash Into the grass?" I ask_ "The swallows?" He steps after me, says, "Yes. The swallows." Smith's poetry has the clarity of crystal. These poems are accessible but not comfortable to read. I read the collection cover-to-cover but know I shall have to return to it again. The book makes good use of white space which encourages readers to pause and think – they need to. It is a very cohesive collection and provided me with valuable insight into the problems and symptoms of mental health. Since one in six of us will at some stage in our lives experience mental ill-health, I hold this book up as something we should all read and absorb. A collection of fine poetry with something to say: I strongly recommend it. Carol Thistlethwaite
08/08/19

"Problems and Polemics contains poetry that is shockingly analytical but always compassionate, even with touches of fully-justified dark humour. Sometimes it is lyrical, with images so arresting that they constantly force the reading eye/I to stop and think. Above all the book is powerfully sceptical, and is a work of great political subversiveness. I'd put it at the top of the reading list for all ministers and civil servants at the Department of Health." Andrew Belsey: NHI Online Review
08/08/19

"Problems and Polemics brings together the threads of the psychiatric system, only to pull them apart again. Everyone is potentially vulnerable; everyone is potential victim or antagonist. By representing individuals as 'cases' throughout the collection Smith highlights the way the system can reduce the living being to a list of characteristics; their histories and futures being as inevitable as numbers on a page. These poems are full with disenchantment and irony concerning the paradox of care. And whilst Smith seems a polemicist he leaves us with no answers and no final judgement but for the evident fact that these systems are not working. Though scathing these poems are also eloquently written, providing a moving insight into the despair which devastates lives. Other subjects receive the same treatment. I would highly recommend this compilation of poems to anyone who wants to unpick these problems as well as to those who appreciate proficiently crafted poetry." Jo Whittle: Mind Ground
08/08/19

"The big question hanging over this collection appears to be summarised in the poem 'What is Social, What Mental Illness?' and the lines are blurred with much manipulation and co-morbidity.... It's rare that I enjoy more than a third of any collection (and this goes for the "greats" as much as any other work) but I have to say that with this work, I was gripped from cover to cover, despite the uncomfortable subject matter and if you are going to invest £8.99 in poetry this year, I would recommend that this book be the one that finds itself on your bookshelf as the price doesn't remotely reach the value of the text." Paula Brown: People's Poetry

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