Hysterical Water by Hannah Baker Saltmarsh
These recklessly feminist poems give shape not only to the maternal body, but also to the hysterically textual one, by ravaging literary texts and documents important to the development of the pseudo-diagnostic term hysteria.
“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
“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 ‘matrilineal silence’ 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 originalinventions. 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 Selected Poems
HANNAH BAKER SALTMARSH is a poet, essayist, and educator. She is the author of Male Poets and the Agon of the Mother: Contexts in Confessional and Postconfessional Poetry. Her poetry has been published in the Yale Review, the Times Literary Supplement, Feminist Studies, the New Republic, the Kenyon Review, and other periodicals. Her essays have appeared in Pacific Coast Philology, Forum for Modern Language Studies, and American Poetry Review.