Book – Octopus Mind

My debut poetry collection Octopus Mind is published by Seren Books. It was selected as one of The Guardian’s Best Poetry Books of 2023!

“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

Octopus Mind cover image - poetry collection by Rachel Carney“On the one hand, these poems lucidly map a misunderstood corner of the range of human dispositions; on the other, they give a moving picture of someone growing into a new understanding of herself with the help of a simple diagnosis. But beyond all other labels, Rachel Carney is most importantly a poet. 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

Rachel Carney’s first collection apprehends the self through animals—owl, octopus, starling, and hen—as well as a saint’s relics, paintings, a planet, a tree. In this way, Octopus Mind explores to understand neurodivergence and appreciates the self as an abundance of selves. In this work of compelling creative restlessness, 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

“In Octopus Mind Rachel Carney has devised an extraordinary language to represent experience: not merely her own experience of dyspraxia, central as that is here. The more we read of these poems, the clearer it becomes that this is something which we all recognize through the imaginative grammar she has developed: a grammar that dissolves the gaps between persons – between ‘she’ and ‘I’ and ‘you’. Poems like ‘Danger’ or ‘Learning to Play’ are founded in the metaphors we all live by. We see this language as akin to the elusive painterly representation of Turner or Picasso or Douanier Rousseau, but also of the artistic language of Gwen John or the PreRaphaelites. This book is an astonishing and totally life-enhancing achievement.” – Bernard O’Donoghue

“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

“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

About Octopus Mind:

Octopus Mind plays with 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.’

Buy Octopus Mind from Seren Books

If you’d like to purchase a signed copy from me, please email for details.

You can read one of the poems from the book here – ‘Octopus Self’

And here are my thoughts on the writing process for another poem from the book – ‘Unremarkable’

Read more of my published poems here…


A wonderously strange, lucidly off-kilter collection of poems… Carney writes poems that cast you adrift, that you get lost in, reading and re-reading them, unable to get away because they have caught you. For me the poem ‘Absolution’ was a real tour de force about so much more than just tears that I was completely captivated by it. This is a quietly sensational book, with so many stunningly good poems, that I wanted to hold my breath forever.” from El Tophero, a review on Amazon

“incredibly rich and refreshing” from Mab Jones, Buzz Magazine

“…I love the inventiveness and playfulness of these poems, and how they linger in your mind; graceful, striking and intriguing.” from Cynon Valley Museum – Book of the Month

“Each poem plumbs the oceanic depths of what it means to see and be seen…” from Doris Press

“…Shot through with humour, poignancy but also acceptance, her explorations of neurodiversity and the workings of the human mind, of new-found understanding and release make this debut collection a remarkable achievement.” from Neil Leadbeater, Write Out Loud