Poems about Schizophrenic Symptoms: Word Salad and Delusions of Grandeur

Poems can express many ideas and experiences. In my first book of poems, We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders, part of CavanKerry Press’ Laurel Books literature of illness series, I tried to express how I felt both during psychosis and afterwards. I also often tried to put myself into the experience of others who experienced symptoms that I might not, but which I could imagine.

One thing I know, having had this illness for so long, is that misinterpretation is rife. I mean things when I do things, just as anyone else does. But people simply make assumptions about my behavior and forget that they might need to ask why I do what I do. I have often asked others why they did whatever strange or seemingly outrageous thing they did, and lo and behold there has always been an understandable rationale behind it. For instance, when I stripped naked in that freezing seclusion room, I was neither “acting out” nor totally around the bend, no, my reasoning was that if I were naked they would have to give me something to cover myself with, i.e. a blanket, which is what I had been begging for all along. But they never asked me why I had taken off my clothing — a flimsy tee shirt and lightweight jeans. They just assumed — whatever they assumed. Ditto for almost every other interaction I had with them, and the same almost uniformly went for other people when they behaved in a way that was somehow contrary to expectations. The meaning of their actions was reasonable, given the context.

I tell you this because in my poem, Word Salad, even though it appears to be, well, “word salady” and incomprehensible, in truth there is “method” to it, and in fact if you read it with a mind towards understanding the links, you would appreciate them. But you might have to “surrender” to getting it, and let it in without trying to rationally, intellectually understand. Only afterwards could you perhaps try to figure out what precisely is being done and said in the poem. One clue you might need, if you have not been subjected to this directly is that often, at least in the past, “patients” of a certain kind were asked to interpret proverbs. “Can you tell me what, ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’ means?” or “What does ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ mean?”

As for Grandiose, the same thing holds. Read it aloud and try to get the sense of it, how it reads. Then you may in fact understand what is going on “in one blow,”  so to speak. It is full of double entendres, on purpose. Remember that “live” can be pronounced in two ways. Both of these hold.

WORD SALAD

“Word salad,” a term used for the completely disjointed, incomprehensible language sometimes seen in schizophrenia

Unpinned, words scatter, moths in the night.                                                                      The sense of things loses hold, demurs.                                                                     Everything means. Numbers soldier
with colors and directions, four by four
in a pinwheel: this is the secret wisdom.
I inscribe it on sacred sheets of paper.
The Oxford Dictionary holds not a candle.
The self reduced to a cipher, a scribble,
the Eye is all, with a Freemason’s lash,
and 26 runic hieroglyphs to share
how a stitch in time saved the cat
and if a messy rock gathers no stones,
clams must surely be lifted higher
by the same rising boats. Why, why not throw
glass tomes at grass huts? It is a question
of propriety: grass is too dignified to lie down
before gloss. Whirligig! How to pull the center
back into the world? It would take all
the OED to recapture the moths, all Harcourt’s
English Grammar to pin them again.

GRANDIOSE 

He says:
I was always more important than you though
with your cutting me down to size quarrel
about just who I thought I was. I thought I was
with my long dark hair and beard and rough
working clothes John the Baptist, prophet of God
wild man of the wilderness and would have
to preach the word of a savior I didn’t quite
believe in. I mentioned my conviction to a friend
who told me to make friends with a mirror,
discover which John I really re-incarnated. Lo,
I looked and saw the more famous than Jesus
John staring with his small important eyes
behind his too small eye-glasses at me staring
into the mirror at myself, yes, I wrote the songs
you grew up on: Yesterday, Give Peace A Chance,
Eleanor Rigby— yes, I was the one you swooned
over and screamed for, yet now you only shriek
at me, taking me down from a peg on the wall.
Why do you yell, Get lost, baby? Imagine all the people
who would rejoice to see me live once more.

2 thoughts on “Poems about Schizophrenic Symptoms: Word Salad and Delusions of Grandeur”

  1. I know what you mean about people making assumptions. With my mom, the things that she she did or said were nearly always judged as coming from “the illness” rather than from her. I feel that the label “schizophrenia” often robs the bearer of that label of any other form of identity since the loadedness of the word causes people to focus in on it.

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