This Month’s Faculty Feature: “R.D. Laing” – A Poem by Dr. Ron Charach


Author Bio: Psychiatrist Ron Charach is the author of nine books of poetry and one of political essays.  Most recent poetry titles are Selected Portraits and Forgetting the Holocaust.  His close encounter with R.D. Laing was a high point in his first year of psychiatry residency.

R.D. Laing
Into the Glaswegian staidness of our psychiatry centre,
seminar room adoring with trainees,
came Ronnie (my namesake) Laing
of apostolic hairline and oracular eyes,
the slight man who recast schizophrenia
from a chasm to a plateau
where its sufferers looked down with a terrible status.
Author of The Divided Self,
his own Scottish childhood barren and cold,
his topic that day was “Birth Trauma”
begun in a defensive brogue:
‘There’rr those who accyooz me of bein’ an anti-psycheye-iatrist,
But in feck, nuthin’ coold be ferrther from th’trooth.’
Beside him sat Dr. Gordon, late of the U.K.,
whose coal-miner build had burrowed
to full professorship and could crush
Laing with a single blow,
whose beefy arm
only ten minutes into the talk
as the great man began uncontrollably to sob,
and the rest of us froze in silence,
reached out to comfort.
“There, there, now. It’ll be alright.”
Master of “inner self versus outer”,
Laing shook off the hug,
and invoking the patron saint of peaceful birth Fréderik Leboyer,
soldiered on, almost an hour.
‘What d’they groo on th’stony soil o’ Scotland?’
–the old joke–‘They groo men!”
Yet here was one such man
from across the stormy Atlantic
showing us that greatness can unravel
like three-ply tissue,
to honour an illness
people would rather dismiss
and delivering us
from illusions of invincible fame
with his own full-throated cry.

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