Poetry is a form of writing ideally suited to the expression of emotion and the most profound and subtle workings of the mind. But what if that mind is shattered, and those emotions in disarray? Such is the subject explored in Willa Schneberg’s new poetry collection The Naked Room, which draws on her experiences as a therapist to take us on a journey through the disturbing history of psychotherapy and the treatment of mental illness, and into the current state of the art and state of the world.
What keeps this from being a somber undertaking is the sheer beauty and precision of her language, as in this passage from “Tiny Monuments” describing the urns that hold the cremated remains of patients at the Oregon State Hospital
“These tiny monuments to the scorned and unknown, / wear patinas of pink, burnt sienna, ocher, aqua, / and if you look closely you will find / moon craters, archipelagos, frozen waterfalls, / Big Dippers and dunes with lone tracks.” The goal of healing that drives her therapeutic practice informs these poems as well, ending in the necessity of love, her closing image that of a long-time couple spooning in bed, “as if we would always / fit that way.”
These poems, too, fit that way, a comforting reassurance.