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‘The Poems You Write Up at Night’: Compulsive Versifying

A few excerpts from that article ‘Compulsive Versifying after Treatment of Transient Epileptic Amnesia’ in Neurocase that everybody’s talking about:


 

Abstract

Compulsive production of verse is an unusual form of hypergraphia that has been reported mainly in patients with right temporal lobe seizures. We present a patient with transient epileptic amnesia and a left temporal seizure focus, who developed isolated compulsive versifying, producing multiple rhyming poems, following seizure cessation induced by lamotrigine. Functional neuroimaging studies in the healthy brain implicate left frontotemporal areas in generating novel verbal output and rhyme, while dysregulation of neocortical and limbic regions occurs in temporal lobe epilepsy. […]

snip

Clinical details

Several months after starting lamotrigine, the patient suddenly began to write original verse. Whereas poetry had never previously been among her pastimes, she now produced copious short poems (around 10–15 each day) on quotidian topics such as housework or about the act of versifying itself and sometimes expressing her opinions or regret about past events. These poems often had a wistful or pessimistic nature but did not have a moral or religious focus. Her husband characterized them as “doggerel” because they were generally rhyming and often featured puns and other wordplay (examples in Figure 2). This versifying had a compulsive quality: she spent several hours per day writing poetry and became irritated if attempts were made to disengage her. However, she appeared to derive pleasure from the activity and there was no evidence of associated distress. […] When reassessed 6 months after the onset of versifying this apparent compulsion had diminished, but she continued to produce occasional poems. She had also developed a more general fondness for wordplay, frequently using puns in speech, making humorous word associations, and identifying word patterns in everyday objects such as car license plates. […]

 

Figure 2. Examples of verse produced by the patient (transcriptions follow). (A) To tidy out cupboards is morally wrong / I sing you this song, I tell you I’m right. / Each time that I’ve done it, thrown all out of sight, / I’ve regretted it. // Think of the treasures now lost to the world / Measureless gold, riches unfurled, / Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds – you must have had them, / All tucked well away. / So // To tidy out cupboards, throw rubbish from sight / (Even the poems you write up at night) / Is morally wrong. / So I’m keeping this one. (B) My poems roams, / They has no homes / Yours’, also, tours, / And never moors. // Why tie them up to pier or quay? / Better far, share them with me. // Prose – now, that’s a different matter. / Rather more than just a natter. / Prose is earnest, prose is serious / Prose is lordly and imperious / Prose tells you, loud, clear, that / Life – life is dear.

Figure 2. Examples of verse produced by the patient (transcriptions follow). (A) To tidy out cupboards is morally wrong / I sing you this song, I tell you I’m right. / Each time that I’ve done it, thrown all out of sight, / I’ve regretted it. // Think of the treasures now lost to the world / Measureless gold, riches unfurled, / Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds – you must have had them, / All tucked well away. / So // To tidy out cupboards, throw rubbish from sight / (Even the poems you write up at night) / Is morally wrong. / So I’m keeping this one. (B) My poems roams, / They has no homes / Yours’, also, tours, / And never moors. // Why tie them up to pier or quay? / Better far, share them with me. // Prose – now, that’s a different matter. / Rather more than just a natter. / Prose is earnest, prose is serious / Prose is lordly and imperious / Prose tells you, loud, clear, that / Life – life is dear.

 

— Excerpted from Ione O.C. Woolacott, Phillip D. Fletcher, Luke A. Massey, Amirtha Pasupathy, Martin N. Rosor, Diana Caine, Jonathan D. Roher, and Jason D. Warren, ‘Compulsive Versifying after Treatment of Transient Epileptic Amnesia’, Neurocase: The Neural Basis of Cognition (published online 26 August 2014). doi: 10.1080/13554794.2014.953178.

Distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The moral rights of the named author(s) have been asserted.


 

For ease of reading, I’ve taken the liberty of formatting the transcribed poems from Figure 2:

(A)

To tidy out cupboards is morally wrong
I sing you this song, I tell you I’m right.
Each time that I’ve done it, thrown all out of sight,
I’ve regretted it.

Think of the treasures now lost to the world
Measureless gold, riches unfurled,
Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds – you must have had them,
All tucked well away.
So
To tidy out cupboards, throw rubbish from sight
(Even the poems you write up at night)
Is morally wrong.

So I’m keeping this one.

 

(B)

My poems roams
They has no homes
Yours’, also, tours,
And never moors.

Why tie them up to pier or quay?
Better far, share them with me.

Prose – now, that’s a different matter.
Rather more than just a natter.
Prose is earnest, prose is serious
Prose is lordly and imperious
Prose tells you, loud, clear, that
Life – life is dear.

Comments

  1. Jonathan Webb says:

    Really? Amazing.

  2. “This versifying had a compulsive quality: she spent several hours per day writing poetry and became irritated if attempts were made to disengage her. However, she appeared to derive pleasure from the activity and there was no evidence of associated distress.”

    This.

  3. I think someone should see if Emily might not suffer from this – there’s at least a passing resemblance here…

    Good digging, Angelico. This is fascinating out of all measure!

    JOB

  4. “The Poems You Write Up at Night” – that should be the title of her collection, should it come to that.

    JOB

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