James Carkesse, poet and former Navy clerk, was sent to Bedlam in the late 1670s out of religious mania. In his Lucida Intervalla, a collection of poems written during his residency at Bethlem Hospital and published in 1679, he illustrates life into the madhouse and offers to the modern reader a singular glimpse into what Michel Foucault would call the ‘great confinement’. In what is possibly the first collection of verses written and published by an inmate of a mental asylum, Carkesse’s poetry not only gives voice to the lucid intervals within a period of madness, it also reflects the intricate and ambiguous nature of his condition as belonging to the world of the mad, constantly crossing the line between reality and pretence, allegedly feigned and supposedly authentic distraction. Thus, Lucida Intervalla offers far more that a glint on the cultural implications of insanity and of its cure in seventeenth-century England and also delves into the problematic relationship between madness and poetical creation.
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