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What can we bear and what can we lift when a beloved, when our world, is light-struck and mad? The Bearable Slant of Light documents a web of clinical assessments, medications, the terrible beauties of delusion and the fragile gifts of darkness. Poems that reach across the history of writers and artists who fought and sometimes lost their own battles against mental illness are set against the urgencies of our anxious world and the intimate struggle of one family.

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What if you were to write a book of poems expert in their formal invention and so varied in tone that the anger and helplessness and desperation of the poems were also shot through with a tough-minded, often darkly humorous intelligence sifting through possibility after possibility of solace and finding, after all that sifting, nothing but a pile of dust? No consolations, no moments of redemption, nothing but the hard and strange and always original perception of “it happened this way but never the way I expected.” Well, this is the kind of book that Lynnell Edwards has written—a book whose occasion is the mental illness of her son, but whose subject is radical estrangement/self-estrangement. Her fierce response to the myth of therapy/wellness/amelioration demonstrates a poet of superb gifts. Prose poems, lyrics, dramatic monologues, meditative flights giving way to beautifully precise descriptive writing—no form of poetic inquiry is beyond her imagination’s tenacious, tender, and skeptical engagement. On every page, the intelligence of the writing is matched by true integrity of feeling.

—Tom Sleigh

Drawing from harrowing family experience, from medicine, and from portrayals of mental illness in literature, Lynnell Edwards’s new collection, The Bearable Slant of Light, feels both timely and timeless. After all, who among us has not been affected, if not afflicted, by mental illness? ‘Who has not/ wandered without companion/ along the frayed edge/ of the ordinary…?’ These poems have many voices buzzing inside them, sometimes roaring cicada-loud: the words of doctors and nurses, parents, patients, and support groups; the language of manuals, assessments, intake forms, and medical charts. If, as quoted from a medical file, “the patient presents as a very poor historian,” then the poet here acts as historian, as documentarian, in his stead. A complex, compassionate, and lyrical exploration of mental illness, The Bearable Slant of Light is going to mean a great deal to a great many people. What an achievement.

—Maggie Smith


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