London Grip Poetry Review – Julie Hogg

Julie Hogg engages with a deeply thought-provoking collection by Dorothy Lehane

Dorothy Lehane
ISBN 978-1-912616-02-2
44pp   £8.50

Dorothy Lehane’s, Bettbehandlung (Muscaliet Press) arrives and I let it settle awhile. This is the fourth publication by Lehane; following Places of Articulation (dancing girl press), Ephemeris (Nine Arches Press) and Umwelt (Leafe Press). This poet writes with honest verve and determination, here where poetry collides, tussles, sometimes wrestles with science and medicine.

This book is important and I admire Lehane’s writing; it’s diabolo-like, spun around with accomplished skill and always controlled, caught and tightened with the utmost precision. The form of this text is intense and earnest, a relentless exploration of historical female hysteria and its treatment; the book’s dedication, ‘for my sisters.’

The sequence begins in the nineteenth century with an utterance by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot to his assistant, documentarily overheard by Freud:

| c’est  toujours  la  chose  genitale  |  toujours  toujours  toujours 

It is simply astounding how, beginning in ancient times, philosophers and physicians thought the womb to have a life of its own and be the root cause of neuroses. As this work reminds us, treatments have always been enough to leave a present-day reader speechless.

|  to  enter  into  |  anchor  this  womb |  plunge  a  closed  fist  into  the   area  of
ovarian  pain  |  such  sites  |  unsated  spaces

Lehane writes frantically in short staccato, poignant phrases. Found speech cleverly brings together breathtakingly fantastical theories (previously acknowledged as truth) which span a hundred years or more. Lehane’s voice enfolds everywoman as she condenses time into an irrelevant measure and reiterates ludicrous clinical practices. The poet’s words then expand into a cacophony of other voices reverberating in an echo-chamber of numerous limitations; the voices of some women are, metaphorically drowned. Lehane’s work manages to be both loud and simultaneously quiet. The form she uses allow the reader to pause for reflection or perhaps research into this salient subject. Bettbehandlung is fascinating, all-consuming, gracious and compassionate.

|  who’s  got  the  body

the poet asks, regarding the body as property. Charcot practised hypnosis for hysteria and a tableau by Brouillet captures his clinical demonstrations at Pitié-Salpêtrière University Hospital, Paris. His patient, Blanche Wittmann, became famous following his lectures; was she dependent on him or he upon her?

|  &  isn’t  this  performative

Here the poet draws the reader into reality and melodrama. Max Ernst’s collages also depict damsels medicinally in distress, a popular topic of his time. Lehane explores agency, gender, power, religion and, spiritually, the absence of soul: this is reminiscent of, and progressing from, Gillian Allnutt’s, Lizzie Siddall: Her Journal (1862), written in the voice of a model for Sir John Everett Millais painting of Ophelia.

The soap-opera of real existence continues with many violations of mind and body:

|   with  cuffs  &  belts  &  wristlets  fastened  to  the  bed    |   the  sky  only  ever
clears  in  part   |  &  only  for  a  little  tragedy   

|  we  must  apply  a  perturbing  method    |  to  break  the  spasm  by  means  of  the
 spasm  |  we  must  break  their  pride   

|  monomaniacal  or  just  a  little  love  mad  |  let  go  of  the  tonsure  and  cassock
|   this  blood  will  out  |  they removed your teeth   |  force  fed  you  through  the
 tooth  gap  

 tidy  your  spaces  away  |  

|  vagina  stitched  up  on  Friday  night  is  called  growing  up missy  |  

This text is relentlessly rich in content. Reader and poet are travelling together intimately and closely on, between, over and under a myriad of levels. There are many and varied references, some of which come from American professor Donna J Haraway, Hitchcock’s Marnie and Marianne Moore’s literary relationship with Wallace Stevens. Further reading from the author’s comprehensive inventory of sources led me to explore historical menopausal treatments and, also, the fate of women who wished to take advantage of the newly introduced Divorce Act, in 1857.

An exquisite cover image by Mark Lehane evokes all that a female self has endured, still endures and will continue to endure. Dorothy Lehane has written an extraordinarily deeply thought-provoking work which linguistically documents and bears witness to difficult experiences. These are often agonizing to read and acknowledge but always necessarily so. This is a unique collection by and for the voiceless; with chilling timeless pertinence. Read this.