New Book Is Out: Poems on Schizophrenia

Yes, I finally hold it in my hands, We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders, published by CavanKerry Press. Below is the cover illustration (minus the Spiro, which is on the final version) and the press release:

We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders: Poems by Pamela Spiro Wagner
We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders: Poems by Pamela Spiro Wagner

NEWS from CavanKerry Press
6 Horizon Road No. 2901 • Fort Lee, New Jersey 07024 • phone/fax 201.670.9065 •


Contact: Florenz Eisman — 201.670.9065



Pamela Spiro Wagner
With Introduction and Commentary by Mary B. O’Malley, MD, PhD

Foreword by Baron Wormser

For forty years – longer than her entire adult life – Pamela Spiro Wagner has been affected by paranoid schizophrenia, a plight she eloquently explored in her award-winning book, Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and their Journey Through Schizophrenia, co-written with her twin sister, psychiatrist Carolyn S. Spiro, MD. Also an accomplished poet, Wagner has long utilized the language and emotion of poetry to express the individuality of her mental illness, capturing with vivid candor her singular inner world. In WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, the latest volume from LaurelBooks, CavanKerry’s Literature of Illness imprint, Wagner for the first time collects her poems, presented with commentary by her psychiatrist, Mary B. O’Malley, MD, PhD, that elucidates the clinical roots of the poet’s art.

WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS “is much more than a testimony to a diagnosis or pathology or terminology,” writes Baron Wormser in his foreword. “The poems emanate from the place of the poet’s illness but they are resolutely poems—well-written, sensually alert, quick to turn and notice and startlingly honest. They dwell on both sides of the equation of life and art: testifying to the powerful and tenuous links between the two and demonstrating that art is capable of holding its own regardless of circumstances. Some of those circumstances have been shattering. The sheer tenacity that it can take to write poems makes itself felt here in ways that are both uncomfortable and reassuring.”

Wagner’s often harrowing struggle with life, as reflected in these poems, has been marked by psychological turmoil – periods of total debilitation, as well as intervals of recovery and hope. Her battle with paranoia hovers over the work, such as in “Poem in which Paranoia Strikes at the Grocery Store” where the simple act of shopping becomes a waking nightmare: “Who/gave you permission to enter? No one/wants you here. They are all watching….You are being followed./You are on your own.” Wagner captures the voices in her head with terrifying urgency. In “Offering,” Wagner’s very first poem, written in 1984, she writes of her compulsion to burn herself with cigarettes with a haunting remove:

The tip of the cigarette glows and grins
as I lower it to you,
alien body.

At Dr. O’Malley’s urging, Wagner has also included three poems she wrote during the heights of psychosis, and these are filled with scrambled ideas and garish imagery that are shocking in their raw, unguarded unveiling of the poet’s troubled mind.

Divided into five sections, Wagner’s book covers childhood and the earliest indications of illness, the years of illness, recovery, coping, and new beginnings. As with most poetry grounded in autobiography, there are important familial relationships that seep into the poems – father, mother, sister, friends. Here, these relationships are filtered through the poet’s psychosis, colored by hallucinations and delusions, yet grounded in the emotional truths that any complicated relationship engenders. In her most widely known poem, “The Prayers of the Mathematician,” which won First Place in the BBC World Service international poetry competition judged by Wole Soyinke, Wagner moves beyond the personal with an eloquent poem about John Nash, the schizophrenic Nobel Prize winner who was later immortalized in the movie, A Beautiful Mind.

“These poems are the work of a first-rate writer” says surgeon and best-selling writer Richard Selzer of WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, “one who has sounded the well of her own suffering to retrieve the wherewithal to transform pain into the most powerful and moving literature.”


About Pamela Spiro Wagner

Pam coral and green
Photo of the author in May, 2009

A prize-winning writer and poet who suffers from schizophrenia, Pamela Spiro Wagner attended Brown University and went to medical school for one and a half years before being hospitalized for psychiatric care. She won First Place in the international BBC World Service Poetry Competition in 2002, and co-authored, with her twin sister, Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and their Journey Through Schizophrenia, which won the national NAMI Outstanding Literature Award and was a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award. Currently she writes at She has lived in the Hartford, Connecticut area for 33 years.

CavanKerry Press would appreciate two tearsheets
of any review or feature you publish about this book.

Publication Date: 2009
Price: $16.00; ISBN: 978-1-933880-10-5
Distributed by: University Press of New England (UPNE), 1-800-421-1561 or 603-448-1533, Ext. 255

Author is available for speaking, readings, and workshops.
Contact: or
Tel: 860-257-9188

9 thoughts on “New Book Is Out: Poems on Schizophrenia”

  1. Thank you Ing and everyone else who has bought and read WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS. It always makes my day to hear from you!


  2. I bought your book on Pam and enjoying your beautiful poetry and also spreading the word about you as a poet and artist. Good work Pam and keep on trucking.



  3. I’ve been reading your book Pam, and I love it! You have a creative skill with words that most of the rest of us writers can only envy. I can’t remember the name of the poem right off hand, but I especially like the poem that describes your feelings about Y2K. It reminds me of “The Second Coming,” by W.B. Yeats. Thank you for writing such beautiful, thought-provoking and understandable poetry. I look forward to reading your next book.


  4. VIDEOS exposing censorship that is applied to H.R.619, the congressional bill to resume Medicaid for mental hospital insurance are at the links below. People who act inappropriately due to mental illness are preserved for prison through omitting mental hospital coverage under Medicaid, an exclusion that can be corrected under H.R.619. I am censored and stalked to prevent advocacy in favor of passing that congressional bill. Proof is in these YouTube videos:

    1. Twitter Censorship – Tweets Registering 1 hr. back

    2. H.R.619 Advocacy Censored at AIMI

    3. Neals’ Yard Marked for Harassment – Gangstalking

    4. “Prison Labor Profits” Video Censorship

    I am also censored to prevent my advocacy against capital punishment. Imprisoning mental patients is profitable for prison owners and investors, and so is capital punishment. Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports that each condemned person costs taxpayers an ADDITIONAL $90,000 per year to keep on death row over and above the $15,000 to $70,000 each inmate costs in the general prison population. See what happened when I tried to upload an article asking that Hank Skinner be granted a DNA test. I was not allowed to upload my Skinner article at Care2 News Network, but I did load it at my blog:

    5. Mary Neal Censored at Public Library re: Hank Skinner March 23, 2010 –

    At Mary Neal’s Care2 Sharebook and my FreeSpeakBlog, I have much more information about individuals who are cruelly punished for being mentally ill. Numerous sick people, like my brother, Larry Neal, were killed because they have psychiatric issues. Congressional bill H.R.619 was introduced in January 2009 and has received no media coverage thus far, although 1 in 5 Americans has mental illness. The lack of hospital insurance for mental illness affects millions of citizens and their families, but H.R.619 is censored to keep Americans from knowing that there is a health care bill pending before Congress to help decriminalize mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has 210,000 members, and the organization supports the bill. So does Treatment Advocacy Center, Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill, and numerous other mental health orgs. Without Medicaid insurance, middle-class and poor Americans will continue to be imprisoned when they have mental health crises rather than hospitals. That appears to be the plan.

    Please support H.R.619, and pray for my protection as I continue to try to save acute mental patients from homelessness, prison, and murders like my brother Larry suffered needlessly. It is less expensive to treat mental illness than it is to wait for some avoidable tragedy and then imprison sick people plus treat them behind bars.

    Mary Neal
    Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill




    I am scheduled for an interview on BlogTalk radio – THE REV. PINKNEY SHOW on Sunday, October 11, at 5:p.m. EST. Listen and talk back online at or use the CALL-IN NUMBER 347-994-3644

    Public invitation:

    Thanks for helping to decriminalize mental illness.

    Mary Neal
    Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill




    I am scheduled for an interview on BlogTalk radio – THE REV. PINKNEY SHOW on Sunday, October 11, at 5:p.m. EST. Listen and talk back online at or use the
    CALL-IN NUMBER 347-994-312

    Public invitation:

    Thanks for helping to decriminalize mental illness.

    Mary Neal


  7. Thank you for your blog and book. I will read and recommend both. Please visit Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill (“AIMI”), a/k/a The Dorothea Dix Group. We work in the tradition of Dorothea Dix, advocating to deliver 1.25 million differently abled people from prisons to a more wholesome existence either in hospital environments or assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) programs like Kendra’s Law, according to their functionability and offenses. We are a Care2 human/civil rights group at


  8. DOG JUSTICE, by Mary Neal

    Too bad you weren’t a dog, my Brother
    In my heart, I cried
    Many more people would care about you
    And wonder why you died

    You had no spots or floppy ears
    You never fetched a ball
    Instead, you were a human being
    But poor, black, and flawed

    You died in jail for mental illness
    I know down in my heart
    Your death would be investigated
    If only you could bark

    Dog deaths get swift justice
    Their abusers are sent to jail
    Poor Mama would have closure now
    If you’d had a wagging tail

    But you were made in God’s image
    And some day, I have no doubt
    The mentally ill and American dogs
    Will have at least equal clout

    (All rights reserved.)


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