Extracting the Stone of Madness, Hieronymus Bosch c. 1494, Museo del Prado, Madrid
Surgery to ‘treat’ mental illness 500 years ago was no joke. You would have a hole drilled into your skull to take the madness out.
Is this what Alejandra Pizarnik’s collection, Extracting the Stone of Madness, is trying to do? The title poem certainly took inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch’s painting illustrating the procedure. And some of the poems do feel rather like that – or like tiny needles being inserted, to make way for a more radical procedure.
They are beautiful and terrible, sometimes brimming with rage:
Pizarnik also seeks out spaces to retreat, but this can simply lead her deeper into the fantastical twists and turns in her own mind.
Pizarnik tragically overdosed at the age of just 36, on a drug that is supposed to slow your brain down. Her poems from the decade before that are in this bilingual edition, translated by Yvonne Siegert. It won the Best Translated Book Award earlier this month – Pizarnik would have been in her eighties if she had lived to see it. Now this brilliant translation of an extraordinary Argentinian poet will reach a whole new audience.