Hysterical Water


Title Details

Pages: 112

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 03/15/2021

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5900-7

List Price: $21.95

Hysterical Water


Poems that approach the idea of “hysteria” as a subject for exploration

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Hysterical Water is a collection of fierce, funny, feminist poems, prose poems, and essays with poems woven through them, all connected by threads associated with female “hysteria” and motherhood. Hannah Baker Saltmarsh troubles the historic pseudodiagnostic term hysteria as both a constraining mode used to contain and silence women and as a mode that oddly freed women to behave outside the bounds of social norms.

The poems in this collection question the way maternal thinking, sexuality, affect, and creativity have been dismissed as hysterical. Saltmarsh reclaims the word hysteria by arguing that women poets might, in art as in life, celebrate incongruous emotional experiences. Drawing on and reshaping an intriguing array of source materials, Saltmarsh borrows from the language of uncontrollable emotion, excess, cure, remedy, and cult-like obsession to give shape not only to the maternal body but also to a hysterical textual one. She revisits selective silence and selective speech in everyday crises of feelings, engages meaningful “anticommunication” through odd gestures and symbols, and indulges in nonsensical dream-speak, among other tactics, to carve a feminist poetics of madness out of the masculinist discourse that has located in the woman the hysteric.

Hannah Baker Saltmarsh hits the page like a whirlwind under control. Or better, given her apt title, Hysterical Water, like a tidal wave of attention, learnedness, curiosity, and that most powerful nurturance born from breaking through 'matrilinealsilence' to voice anew the powerful presence of women, traditionally ‘outside history,’ as Eavan Boland put it. Everywhere in Saltmarsh’s rich poems, their voices speak—Plath and Alice Walker, Millay and Marianne Moore—insisting on inclusion, representation, and the bountiful life-giving fact of their brilliances. This book, at once joyous and outraged, is a combination of rewriting (‘hysterical ballads’ and ‘Lactivist manifestos’ indeed) and this new poet’s sweeping original inventions. In Saltmarsh’s testifying poems, her lyric quality may be of polyvocal abundance, yet its destination is clarity. Hysterical Water takes us to the very source, ‘the center of everything.’

—David Baker, author of Swift: New and Collected Poems

Many poems from Hannah Baker Saltmarsh’s stunning first book, Hysterical Water, are documentary. The facts and found language that make up these poems are fascinating by themselves, and there are plenty. But as you keep reading, it becomes clear rather quickly that these facts and found language are largely meant to concentrate the lyrical language that, strung across the breadth of the book, acts as its spine. Saltmarsh’s personal experience, as a mother, as a woman in the world, drives everything. Moments of profound change, of visionary transport, lift the weight of political, historical, sociological detail. In a poem about where a mother can and cannot nurse, Saltmarsh’s own baby nursing—earlier described as a jigsaw of ‘stopping and starting, intermittent dreaming, sleeping, demanding, the spastic calm, the fringes of lashes like flapper bangs’—suddenly metamorphoses into ‘a sapling, latched to the infrastructure of my leafy breasts.’ Such astonishing swerves into transformative perception are the product of ‘merging the confessional with the archival.’ It’s a winning combination.

—Elizabeth Arnold, author of Skeleton Coast