Book Review

Linda Fuchs first book of poetry, Midnight Ramblings of an Insane Woman, featured many poems that reflected her own experience as a woman with bi-polar disorder. Her poem, "Crazy Lady", for example, begins:

She wanders aimlessly,
Brain full of fleece and steel wool.
Yet a tiny nodule ahs scattered memories
Of family and friends and what she was.

Now Fuchs has come out with her second self-published book, More Ramblings, Less Insanity. The choice to move away from poems dealing with "insanity" is instructive. If one removes what was interesting in the first book from the second, then by implication, what one is left with are ramblings.

In his short, powerful essay, "The Case for Writing Poetry" (reprinted in this issue of wordgathering) John Lee Clark says, "I love disability literature. But I can't stand most disabled writers. The reason is simple: Most disabled writers don't write disability literature." Clark's rationale is simple. Most writers are by default mediocre. Writers with disabilities have the advantage to be able to write first hand about experiences that not many other writers have had. This gives them an edge in making their writing new, interesting or useful. Deprived of those experiences, their writing falls back into the pack of mediocrity.

In making the move away from writing about disability, Fuchs threatens to deprive More Ramblings of what made her first book valuable. A glance at the table of contents is disheartening. It sections titled, "Just for Fun," "Life's Complexities" and "Thoughts on Nature" would have seemed tired even a century ago. Fortunately, however, she has not moved as far into banality as these headings might suggest. The middle section contains poems that redeem the other two.

"Life's Complexities" foregrounds some of the issues that confront an individual given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder including pain, treatment by the medical profession and suicide. Above all, it tries to give the reader a sense of what it is like to live with this condition.

The imagery of life as a stream in which one is pulled along is pervasive in Fuch's writing as the title of one poem "Waterlife" makes clear.

my life is a stream
traveling to parts unknown
bound by banks of need

muddy water
roiling over a
riverbed of pain...

Outside these banks
softly sighing wheat grass
beguiles with freedom

Implicit in a waterlife, of course, is the possibility of drowning. For Fuchs, this threat of drowning is constant. "Mainstream" describes the struggle just to maintain the outward illusion of normalcy:

Trying to stay mainstream, to hold the demons at bay
I wrap a bubble of illusory smiles around me
And hold my head just above the water

Sometimes I sink and need a straw through which to breathe
        And sometimes, I just hold my breath

I hold my breath for longer than a lifetime
I hold my breath hoping the water will go away
I hold my breath till the lights swim before my eyes
I hold my breath
       I hold my breath

In related imagery, Fuchs describes her emergence through therapy as she is "Surfacing."

after years on the couch
crying and screaming
healing and learning
I slowly emerge
from the much and mud

to glimpse the daylight

In other poems such as "Ups and Downs" and "42 Days" the author tries to convey the constant mental and emotional swings that she experiences. "Manic" as the title announces, depicts one of the extremes.

woke up in fifth gear as if the sun was driving me on I'm on fire with thoughts of greatness and all that I can do

Not surprisingly, such emotional hurricanes are bound to lead to thoughts of suicide as well. "Bleak Shadows" and "It Would Matter" touch on these themes.

An area to which poets with disabilities have been able to make a particular contribution is in the portrayal of pain, as in the subtly textured poetry of Karen Fiser and Laurie Clements Lambeth. Though Fuch's work is considerably less subtle, she makes some contributions in this area in the relationship between pain and medication. Her most compelling poem in this regard is "Hoarding" where she describes having crosses over the line from medicating to addiction, repeating throughout the poem, "These pills are sacred./Do not touch them." The most memorable image, however, comes in her poem "Joanne".

I saw my cousin today at the mental health center where she get pills to make her think she is normal. . . She gave birth while-straighted in a white padded room.

As is clear, Fuchs feels enslaved to the medical system - dependent upon it as her only hope for a maintaining a sense of normalcy but hating the way it treats her.

Any collection of poetry that gives voice to the experiences of living with disability is welcome in the field of disability literature, and More Rambling, Less Insanity certainly presents an authentic voice. Don't look to this collection for craft or originality. Fuch's language is rarely nuanced and her metaphors are all the usual suspects. Nevertheless, her book does add to the continuing dialogue, both in the legitimacy of the point of view it has to offer and in the case it helps to build against the hegemony of medical science over the lives of people with disabilities. It also adds fuel to Clark's thesis that writers with disabilities write best when they write what they know.