You can read Talking in Bed by Philip Larkin

I often think that we take the extraordinary capacities of our minds for granted; and of those capacities, language is the most extraordinary. A collection of letters makes a word, and this word, when heard or seen, becomes an image that generates a quest for meaning. This quest sends the mind wandering in different directions, and evokes more and more associated images in an infinite stream. It takes skill to direct and finesse that stream into a communication that ‘speaks’ to others, and is comprehensible to them.

This is what poets do; and Philip Larkin is a truly remarkable poet in this regard. His style is spare and each word counts; like the jazz music that he loved, each word acts like a note that stands alone but is intimately connected to the next. Take away one note, and the structure would become unstable; yet no one word is more important than another. In just 82 words, Larkin here creates an image of a common human tragedy; the poignancy of non-communication and the wistfulness of loss of intimacy, made more poignant and wistful by the subtle rhyming structure.

I love most of Larkin’s work, and many poems came to mind when asked to make my contribution here. But this poem particularly speaks to me because it articulates my experience of struggling to find words, ‘at once true and kind’ when working as a therapist with people who have done terrible things to others. The last two sentences especially encapsulate the importance of what is not said, and the inevitable gaps between what we want to say about our world and what can be put into words.

It helps me in my work to remind myself that we get our word ‘poetry’ from the Greek, Poesis; the process by which something is brought into being that was not there before. In this sense, poetry and therapy have a lot in common, because the therapist is helping someone to articulate thoughts that do not as yet exist. Speaking and listening are crucial to this creative process which can stir up images and words from parts of the mind not yet explored or known. Like poetry, this process can bring forth something beautiful, but it can also touch upon the dark matter of the mind; the unspeakable and the unthinkable.

Gwen Adshead is a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who works in secure psychiatric hospitals with men and women who have committed offences when mentally ill. She has run therapy groups for parents who have abused their children and people who have killed someone they loved.

Gwen enjoys writing and teaching about her work; and gives many lectures both in the UK and abroad. When not at work, she reads poetry, struggles with her garden and sings with a choir.