Octopus Mind

Rachel Carney
Publication Date: 
Monday, July 3, 2023
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“This book is an astonishing and totally life-enhancing achievement.” – Bernard O’Donoghue

Octopus Mind plays with an array of rich and original metaphors to explore the intricacies of neurodiversity, perception and the human mind. These poems articulate the desire to understand and be understood by oneself and others in a complex world. They observe the nuances of creativity, art, relationships, and self-expression through the lens of neurodiversity, reflecting on the poet’s experience of being diagnosed with dyspraxia as an adult.

Poems respond to visual artists like Gwen John, whose paintings break new ground for women representing their own visions of themselves. Other poems suggest that this can be a struggle however, as Pablo Picasso paints not a woman but his own despair in ‘Blue Nude’, while Elizabeth Siddal reflects on her own image, fetishized by the Pre-Raphaelite painters, and Henri Rousseau’s painting becomes an outlet for self-deception and frustration.

Some of the most stunning poems in this collection perform a kind of magic or sleight of hand, as dyspraxia is explored through unique and remarkable metaphors, including a series of artefacts in a museum, a walk along the seashore, and a swaying tree. The ‘Octopus Mind’ evokes the possibilities of what it means to be human, through obsession, self-deception, realisation, and acceptance.

The speaker in Octopus Mind is endearingly humble and we journey with them beyond self-criticism to reclaiming the self. In ‘Growing', the narrator declares ‘I will grow // into myself, climbing, steady, / grip by grip, leaf by leaf’. In ‘Understood’ the narrator describes the complex process of re-imagining one’s place in the world, armed with new knowledge: ‘Slowly, we adjust / our own soft ignorance / unroll our prejudice / in gentle waves.’


Extraordinary poems of self-encounter, of divergence, of bruised bodies out of balance with themselves, laid bare – and of new-found identities, and joyous release.” – Richard Marggraf Turley

“With grace, thoughtfulness and often humour these poems open out beyond case history into the field of shared experience with which most readers will be bound to empathise.” – Philip Gross

“Carney invokes the power of words to nurture compassion and healing, making for a welcome and timely debut.” – Carrie Etter

“Rachel Carney’s debut collection delights in its curiosity and surrealism. This is a collection that ‘swims out into deep ocean currents’ to explore the workings of the mind and the impacts of this on the self.” – Katherine Stansfield

“A poet of multiple uncanny self-portraits, of the ‘octopus mind’, who explores the gaps between mind and body, and body and world, with deft, diverse diagnoses.” – Damian Walford Davies

 “Long before there were diagnoses and words like dyspraxia and neurodivergent, poetry was showing that difference, far from being a problem, is the wellspring of the imagination. These poems, with their verve and vividness, teach us that all over again.” – Matthew Francis

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