Biography of a Bipolar: by Tom McClellan

Reposted from IPM 2MXI in loving memory of Tom McClellan
(23 September 1941 – 3 August 2013)

Biography of a Bipolar

At first friends share the ecstasy that comes before the burn:

“That night he was going crazy everyone

was too drunk to care.”

But after years all learn:

“His conversation grew brilliant and alarming.

Students were frightened by his lecture on Hitler.”

“He wrote the most pitiful letter;

though I was not angry, he spoke of us fighting.”

“His religious notions, never stable, flowered

into oddity; his judgment went haywire.”

“He was barricaded in his room in his skivvies when the police came;

he was surprisingly polite.”

The poet obligingly provides snapshots from hell:

“I meditated Detachment and Urbanity but the old menacing

hilarity was growing in me.”

“What use is my sense of humor when the brain blinks

like a radio station rapidly distanced?”

“I lay there secured but for my skipping mind.”

After the delusions pass, he lacerates his soul with reason:

“Seven years ago Bloomington stood for Joyce’s hero and Indiana for

the evil, unexorcised aborigines, while I suspected myself

The Holy Ghost.  The glory and banality of it are corrupting.”

The poet’s wife learns to suffer a fool who falls in love

with students, madhouse nurses,

any woman but her:

“I don’t think he realizes the damage.”

New drugs offer old hopes of Panacea:

“To think of all that suffering for lack of a little salt in the brain!”

Theories suffer the usual changes:

“Recent research shows mania’s a summertime dis­ease,

perhaps an excess of light.”

(Robert Lowell)

This poem is excerpted from Mr. McClellan’s book: Reflections From Mirror City



By bonniemcclellan

Mother, poet, american ex-pat from Texas living in Northern Italy.



    Biography is just a camouflage
    Imagination rules under the clothes
    Read what’s in the rags
    Or read what’s in the blood
    Whispers the magic orangery
    To the travellers
    Crossing rich desertic fields
    Under napalm rains and torments strikes
    Just peel your eyes to the bone
    And obviously the silk appears

  2. Bonnie. I offer my sincere condolences. I have a powerful recollection of reading an account that you wrote here of a car trip that you shared with Tom. I filed it in the front of my memory along with other contributions that he made, and comment exchanges on this blog, intending to learn more about and communicate with him. I am sorry that I have missed the opportunity to compare notes with him: it reinforces my view that there’s never enough time to waste worrying about how to phrase a question or put a thought to someone you respect without putting them on the spot – which might be another way of saying that I can relate to writing that doesn’t shy away from getting personal.

    I will be putting an order in for Tom’s “Reflections…” before the month is out.

    With respect,

    1. Dear Brad, thank you so much for your kind words. The book is hard going for a family member to read as it moves from light fiction from his days in West Texas into the core of what it is to be ‘mentally ill’ with the writer’s voice coming directly from that abyss. I know that he was interested in your work, you had in common being excellent observers of your respective surroundings and I think he would have enjoyed comparing notes.

    1. Thanks Kate, I’ll be reposting some more of my Father’s work here over the next few weeks by way of celebrating his creativity. I know he would have be very pleased to know that you enjoyed this poem.

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