Poetry and poker

Al Alvarez and Ted Jacobs

Photo: James Royall

Tuesday 2nd December, 2008 | Posted by Caroline Graty

Connecting Conversations with Al Alvarez was a warm and intimate affair. Tickets had sold out and the audience squeezed together in the elegant but pleasantly domestic surroundings of the Freud Museum, formerly Sigmund Freud’s home, to listen to the author.

In a discussion peppered with his gentle, self-effacing wit (his opening gambit was: ‘There’s no way I’m going to live up to my introduction, so it’s going to be downhill all the way,’) Alvarez talked to psychoanalyst Ted Jacobs about his memories of childhood, his writing career, his tendency towards risk taking and his interests in poetry, poker, North Sea oil and rock climbing.

He shared poems on the themes of grief and happiness and talked about a suicide attempt earlier in his life and the impact of his friend Sylvia Plath’s successful attempt, which prompted him to write a book on suicide, The Savage God.

The discussion also drew out the comparisons between the art of poetry and psychoanalytic practice. Alvarez talked about the important balance between personal passions and the discipline of the poetic form, using Sylvia Plath’s poem Edge as an extreme example. ‘Here’s this girl, just about to kill herself, she’s writing a poem about what she’s going to look like when she’s dead, but she gets caught up in the image. Her obvious emotional turmoil and agony is much less important than getting the poem right.’

‘That’s reflected also in our own field,' responded Jacobs. 'We’ve learned that one has to go deep into oneself in our work, but to be able to stand back and use oneself objectively, otherwise you’re simply responding with your own emotions.’

Follow the link below to hear a recording of the conversation on the events page.

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