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Mann, D.W. (2010). Practical Poetry. Psychoanal. Rev., 97(5):717-732.

(2010). Psychoanalytic Review, 97(5):717-732

Practical Poetry

David W. Mann, M.D.

I am going to utter a tree, Nobody

shall stop me—e.e. cummings

I Introduction

“In the beginning was the Word,” says an ancient text.1 The beginning of what? Surely not the world at large, which had conceived us long before we conceived it in words. Not even the world as I know it, which had strummed my senses for millions of years before I began to resonate in speech (see Tomasello, 1999, and Wade, 2006). What began with the Word was nothing less than a whole new world—not the world that made us, but the world that we make, the world of sharable human experience.

Sharable is bearable. Together we can manage what, alone, we never could. The god of that ancient text linked all things within a single consciousness. Human language, linking individuals' consciousness, seems to offer us powers of potentially competing scope. In that same text the story of the Tower of Babel relates how a common language enabled His children to rival God Himself in deeds. “And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Gen. 11, emphasis added). For reasons that the story does not make clear (but that it suggests might amount to His own jealousy), God foiled the creators of that competing universe. He did this not by destroying them but by destroying the means of their creativity: their ability to communicate.

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