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This review is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November - December 2004.

THE WAY LANGUAGE BEHAVES Acquainted With the Night: Psychoanalysis and the Poetic Imagination, edited by Hamish Canham and Carole Satyamurti (The Tavistock Clinic Series, Karnac) £16.99

What can psychoanalysis and poetry do for one another? For the most sceptical, they speak different languages and should stay out of each other's way entirely. Even those who are interested in both and relatively bilingual (a growing number, well represented in this Tavistock volume) may feel the case for bringing them together is still in the making. It is true that, as Carole Satyamurti says, `poetry, like psychoanalysis, is centrally concerned with the way language behaves' and `the poet and the analyst share an acute attentiveness to the precise and multiple meanings and associations that words may have'. But it is also true that most psychoanalysts spend more time listening to people than reading poems, so their experience of poems is likely to be of the amateur sort - they `know what they like' (Hardy, for instance, not Pound) and they are swayed by the context in which a poem acquired its meaning for them (perhaps in a particular session with a client whose problems it illuminated). They are trained to find meaning in every utterance, which makes them both highly constructive and vulnerable as readers: there is really no reason why they should take the last draft of a poem more seriously than the first, or find a weak poem less interesting than a good one. There is plenty of evidence in this volume that they have a special gift, in fact, for making milk and water poems more interesting to read.

But no one ...


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