Monday, November 07, 2005

suicidal poets


Signs Of Suicidal Tendencies Found Hidden In Dead Poets' Writings -- posted 2001

An analysis of the use of certain words may uncover hidden signs of suicidal tendencies in writers of poetry, according to new research.

"Suicidal poets are more detached from others and more preoccupied with themselves," says Shannon Wiltsey Stirman, M.A., of the University of Pennsylvania. "Our research also illustrates how text analysis can reveal characteristics of writing that may be associated with suicide and therefore could be useful in predicting suicide among poets."

Stirman and co-author James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin, note that suicide rates are much higher among poets than among other literary writers and the general population, although most poets do not commit suicide. Many suicidal poets suffer from some form of depressive disorder throughout their lives, however.

The poets who ultimately committed suicide also used more words associated with death than did the non-suicide group.

The study is published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine

Using text-analysis software, researchers compared words used in 156 poems written by nine poets who committed suicide to words used in 135 poems written by nine poets who did not commit suicide.

The suicidal and non-suicidal poets were matched as closely as possible by nationality, era, education and sex. All were American, British, or Russian.

In poems written throughout their careers, the poets who committed suicide used significantly more first-person singular self-references (such as "I," "me" and "my") and fewer first-person plural words than did the non-suicidal poets.

In addition, the suicidal poets tended to decrease their use of communication words (such as "talk," "share" and "listen") over time, while the non-suicidal poets tended to increase their use of such words.

Suicidal poets selected for the study were John Berryman, Hart Crane, Sergei Esenin, Adam L. Gordon, Randall Jarrell, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Sylvia Plath, Sarah Teasdale and Anne Sexton. The were matched to non-suicidal poets including Matthew Arnold, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Joyce Kilmer, Denise Levertov, Robert Lowell, Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, Adrienne Rich and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health.

7 comments:

Jeff said...

Anne,
Interesting article. It makes sense that suicidal poets would use their poetry as a means of expressing what all people with this tendency share i.e. feelings of depression, isolation, hopelessness, and an obsession with death. I wonder if some of their poetry could be viewed as an eloquent cry for help?

jason evans said...

You didn't have anyone in mind when you posted this, did you? ;)

Kelly Parra said...

Funny, Jason, I instantly thought of you. LOL! But only because you're the only one I know of who writes poetry. ;)

Allen said...

Jesus, Im doomed. LOL. I wrote a sad poem that I posted to my blog. Guess I just need to go out and figure a way to off myself. LOL.

I thought of Jason too, but only because his stuff is dark, at least what I have read of it. It's good stuff, but just a tad dark. Stay with us, Jason...don't off yourself.

anne frasier said...

yes, i did think of you, jason!
and like jeff said, the suicidal poets were probably trying to work through issues -- which i think is what most writers are doing. it's therapy!!

jason evans said...

Anne, Allen, and Kelly,

Oh man, I'm getting a reputation. :)

What I'm about to say may not make sense, but I find dark and introspective themes a source of strength, not self-destruction. In person, I'm actually rather upbeat, but also intense.

anne frasier said...

jason, i know what you mean. i think that's why i always feel such a sense of comfort when i visit your site.