McCluskey (Wicked, 2011, etc.) offers a book of poems about mental illness and attempts to treat it.
In this collection, a male speaker struggles with psychological demons that he tries to defeat through therapy and writing. In the first part, titled “Patient,” the narrator reveals himself to be a “madman” who wears a metaphorical mask, hinting at diagnoses of depression and schizophrenia. The narrator considers his life “cursed” and claims the “whole world is used to molesting me.” The second part of the book, “Escape,” begins with “Grim,” a four-chapter poem about an aspiring clown who seeks revenge on his family members and bosses. The poems dwell on death and become more and more macabre, including descriptions of worms feeding on a corpse, brains being “ripped out,” slit wrists, and painting one’s face with another person’s “splattered blood.” The narrator’s frustration mounts, as do his murderous urges. Throughout, the narrator alternates between the two treatments of psychotherapy, which he poignantly describes as “accepting the slow building of truth,” and writing, which proves to be “The only way that I can find hope, / The only way that I can cope.” The poems use inconsistent, often nonsensical rhyme schemes, and they’re interspersed with unsettling, increasingly violent photographs of a man dressed as a doctor. Occasionally, McCluskey pokes clever fun at the mental health industry (“I don’t need to see a shrink, / I am in the inkblot, I think?”); at one point, for example, he describes a practitioner who advises the narrator to listen to the voices in his head and “Kill two or three then call me if there’s mourning.” Ultimately, though, readers may leave the work feeling afraid for the narrator and unsatisfied by the overall narrative.
An alarming but uneven collection of poems.