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April 30, 2008
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v2.1 Reference

Poets on Prozac

Mental Illness, Treatment, and the Creative Process

Poets on Prozac shatters the notion that madness fuels creativity by giving voice to contemporary poets who have battled myriad psychiatric disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse.

The sixteen essays collected here address many provocative questions: Does emotional distress inspire great work? Is artistry enhanced or diminished by mental illness? What effect does substance abuse have on esthetic vision? Do psychoactive medications impinge on ingenuity? Can treatment enhance inherent talents, or does relieving emotional pain shut off the creative process?

Featuring examples of each contributor’s poetry before, during, and after treatment, this original and thoughtful collection finally puts to rest the idea that a tortured soul is one’s finest muse.

About the Author

Richard M. Berlin, M.D., is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts, a psychiatrist in private practice, and a published poet. He writes a monthly poetry column for Psychiatric Times and is the author of How JFK Killed My Father, a collection of poems about illness and the healing arts.


"A fascinating collection of 16 essays, as insightful as they are compulsively readable."

- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"All agree that the sick brain often spells catastrophe for the creative mind."

- New York Times

"The book shows that good poets also write vigorous, engaging prose. Richard Berlin has done a marvelous job of showing us how ordinary poets are; the selected poets have shown us that mental illness shares with other experiences a capacity to reveal our humanity."

- Metapsychology

"At once instructive and poignant, Poets on Prozac constitutes an important addition to the literature on creativity and mental illness... An illuminating read both for mental health professionals who work with creative people and for artists who are contemplating treatment options."

- New England Journal of Medicine

"This book belongs on the shelves of all therapists who treat women and men who immerse themselves in creative writing or any other fine art. Dr. Berlin's pithy introduction provides a useful summary of the relationship between creativity and emotional disorder. The 16 essays and the poetic excerpts that bolster them share the virtues of being heartfelt, accessible, and brief. They can be read by highly literate women and men, even those in the midst of an emotional maelstrom."

- American Journal of Psychiatry

"Each essayist (and the book as a whole) certainly has an audience, most faithfully in poets."

- Roxanna Font - Bellevue Literary Review

"This collection of brilliant essays does not resolve the relative contribution that medication (ranging from SSRIs to orthomolecular treatment) makes to the resolution of a creative person's fallow periods and blocks. Like the creative process itself, the picture that emerges is idiosyncratic and, perhaps, understood better as an appreciation than as analysis."

- Choice

"The book's claim to uniqueness lies chiefly in the character of the authors and the poetry with which they express their feelings."

- Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease

"In providing these poets with a voice in prose, Richard M. Berlin, himself both a healer and an artist, provides telling insights into both mental illness and the creative process."

- Harvey Fenigsohn - Lamar Soutter Library Book Reviews

"Endlessly fascinating."

- Brooke Allen - Hudson Review

"This collection of essays would be particularly useful to psychiatrists who have patients from the creative world of literature but I believe also from music, fine art or theatre."

- British Journal of Psychiatry

"Through the words of poets, this book celebrates the idea that health is not an end point—and that healing is a lifelong process."

- Dagan Coppock, MD - Psychiatric Times


"An exceptional collection of poetically written and stirring accounts of overcoming mental suffering that provides valuable affirmation and understanding of the antithesis between mental illness and creative achievement. Although this is not a systematic scientific study, it vividly points to the ways that psychiatric treatment, which itself involves a mutual creative process between patient and therapist, may frequently improve poetic creativity."

- Albert Rothenberg, M.D., Harvard University, author of Creativity and Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes and The Creative Process of Psychotherapy

"In brilliantly illuminating the interplay between creativity and mental illness, Richard Berlin's fascinating book shows us poets in the process of becoming healers—not only of themselves, but also of others, and even of society at large. Whether it is Denise Duhamel purposefully confronting bulimia in a spirited, long-lined poem, or Jack Coulehan more intuitively seeking structure through received poetic forms to calm anxiety, we experience firsthand 'dis-ease' as an incitement to the creative act, and, in turn, the tremendous power of imaginative language to interrogate and to assuage our suffering."

- Rafael Campo, M.A., M.D., D.Litt. (Hon), Harvard Medical School
Johns Hopkins University Press
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