“Hysterical Water” is a collection of poems that range from fierce to funny, feminist to prose poems and essays that use poems woven throughout. These poems are all linked by threads associated with motherhood and so-called female “hysteria.” Poet Hannah Baker Saltmarsh troubles the historic pseudodiagnostic term hysteria as both a means of containing and silencing women and as a mode that strangely freed women to act in ways outside the boundaries of societal norms.
The poems in this book question the way creativity, maternal thinking, sexuality and affect have been dismissed as hysterical. Saltmarsh reclaims the word hysteria, reasoning that women poets might celebrate incongruous emotional experiences. She draws on and reconstructs a plethora of source materials to give shape not only to the maternal body but also to a hysterical textual one. Saltmarsh reexamines selective silence and speech in daily crises, engages eloquent “anticommunication” through strange symbols and gestures and indulges in nonsensical dream-speak, to convey powerful themes in the collection of poems that is “Hysterical Water.”