We each come to book reviews as individuals, with different needs and ideas about what a book should do. From an authoring perspective, this is an unwinnable game, because there will always be people who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, wanted your book to have been something else. From the reviewing perspective, it creates all kinds of challenges too. The best reviewers have the self awareness to flag up their own biases such that anyone reading the review can factor that in and make their own judgments.
As a reviewer, I found Fiona Tinker’s Pathworking Through Poetry to be a really interesting book, not least for the way in which it opens up poetry as a tool for pathworking. I wouldn’t work with the poems the authors suggests, but the method the book explores is something I’ve found tremendously helpful. One of my biases is that I like analysis – something this book features heavily. I like to understand things intellectually and I find this deepens my scope to engage emotionally. However, not all readers respond in this way.
Below is a review from Frank Malone – OBOD student and professional psychoanalyst.
An Ambivalent Appreciation
I had a significant mix of reactions to Fiona Tinker’s Pathworking Through Poetry: Visions from the Hearts of the Poets. Initially I was attracted by the title. Working as a psychoanalyst, often the best interpretations to patients are like poetry – called overdetermined interpretations. In psychoanalysis, an interpretation is any intervention that is designed to facilitate something unconscious becoming conscious. The overdetermined interpretation (developed in the 1960s by Marie Coleman Nelson, one of my supervisors during training) is a verbal intervention that is ambiguous enough to carry multiple levels of meanings for a patient. Thus there is “projective room” for the patient to interpret to herself whatever is psychologically needed in the moment.
Abundant projective room is one of the characteristics of great art. There must be enough ambiguity for multiple generations and cultures to see their issues addressed in the work. However objective the aesthetic quality of the work may be, it will never be great art to you if it cannot answer one question:
“What does this have to do with me?”
Hence my essential critique of the book. The author gives so much historical and biographical detail about the poems examined that it interfered with my being able to make psychological use of the poetry.
An analogy comes to mind with filmic art. My emotional responses to a work have been diminished by watching behind -the-scenes documentaries. Scenes can feel less magical once the camera tricks are known. (Even though my appreciation of the skill and craft of producing the scene may have increased.)
I found that generally for me, it was not psychologically helpful to know that, for example, in a specific image the poet was actually struggling with a certain set of personal issues. It interfered with using that image for my own healing and self evolution.
Conversely to my above statement however, the author does give specific examples of how historical and biographical particulars can facilitate pathworking. For instance, in discussing the image of the holy Rood in O’Sullivan’s Credo she says helpfully that, “contemplation of the symbolism of the priest hiding behind this dead screen can be a rewarding exercise for those meditating on their position with regards to the religion of their youth” (p.68).
I am however thankful for this book. As a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I am naturally interested in Celtic history, legends and spirituality. W.B. Yeats was brought to life, and I knew nothing of Fiona MacLeod and Seumus O’Sullivan. As a healer I am drawn to Bridget, and I appreciate how the author facilitated Bridget’s voice. As a mental health professional I also appreciated her comments about psychic vampires, and the importance of psychological and spiritual protection before pathworking. She also emphasises the need to utilise one’s own spiritual tradition in operationalising protection.
I will keep this book as a reference to the poets examined, but not as a tool in my spiritual practise.
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Readers who, like me, thrive on understanding the mechanics, and who don’t find that gets in the way of their spirituality, will likely love this book. You can find out more here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-pathworking-through-poetry Readers who need the room for unrestricted emotional responses probably won’t, although as Frank points out, it’s still very much worth considering this book for what it can teach you about poets working in the Celtic traditions.