The Blessing of Dark Water

Elizabeth Lyons. Alice James, $15.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-938584-33-6
Lyons grapples with the nature of mental illness in her moving debut collection, switching between her personal perspective and that of Walter Inglis Anderson, an American painter who is believed to have had a form of schizoaffective disorder. The work touches upon a number of themes, including alienation, genetic predestination, the power of imagination, madness and artistic enlightenment, and the relationship between perception and reality. Lyons’s observational acuity, straightforward syntax, and thorough narratives keep readers oriented while traversing the sensuous “dark water” of mental illness. Lyons explains the cognitive dissonance in feeling unstable yet confident in one’s identity: “I’m only Elizabeth when I’m in trouble.” She gives a voice to Anderson’s wife, who endured physical abuse due to Anderson’s delusions. “I am made of potter’s clay/ so when you put your hand to my throat you are really// molding me,” Lyons writes. Over the course of the book, Lyons also reflects on the feigned humanity of mental hospitals, describes a drug—no longer used—that caused bone-fracturing epileptic convulsions, and reflects on the outwardly compassionate gesture of hosting asylum balls: “Even the crazy look sane given tempo.” As an intriguing touch, she includes quotes from Anderson, his doctors, and his wife to flesh out his presence. Lyon’s humble and empathetic poems are wrought with tangible emotion. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/27/2017
Release date: 04/01/2017
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