The eighteenth-century glass armonica, a musical instrument whose sound emits from rotating, water-filled vessels, has long held the power to mesmerize with its hauntingly sorrowful tones. Just as its song—which was once thought to induce insanity—wraps itself in and around the mind, Rebecca Dunham probes the depths of the human psyche, inhabiting the voices of historical female “hysterics” and inciting in readers a tranquil unease.
These are poems spoken through and for the melancholic, the hysteric, the body dysmorphic—from Mary Glover to Lavinia Dickinson to Freud’s famed patient Dora. And like expert hands placed gently on the armonica’s rotating disks, Dunham offers unsettling depictions of uninvited human contact—of hands laid upon the female body, of touch at times unwanted and ultimately unspeakable from behind the hysteric’s “locked jaws.” Selected by G. C. Waldrep as the winner of the 2013 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, Dunham’s stunning third collection is at once beautiful and unnerving.
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Praise and Prizes
“Reading Glass Armonica is akin to discovering the sharpness of bone shard or shrapnel risen just beneath the surface of one’s skin: the odd advent of injury’s return despite the appearance of a wound thought long-healed. Face the holy and its unholy. Face the Error. Witness the pairing of Mystery and Woe, the equation of their shared vertigo. I’m pleased to report that every poem in this collection is wired to shatter its own lens on demand.”
“Rebecca Dunham’s searing third collection glows like a magma vent underwater. These exquisitely crafted poems offer a prismatic portrait of the female body in the act of being touched: the eponymous vessel, half-filled with water, that sounds when struck. Here is photography and the speculum, the unpeeling and the razor held to the skin, the braiding of hands and ‘the bandage lovingly applied.’”
“A journey into the uncanny, into a poetic garden of earthly delights. The haunting title sequence, a crown of sonnets, weaves together multiple narratives, past and present, to investigate notions of hysteria, from the work of Jean-Martin Charcot to young girls at summer camp. In lush, gorgeous language, these poems both enchant and unsettle us.”
“These gracefully exquisite poems navigate brutality, intrepidly seeking its origins and end. ‘The body does not discriminate,’ writes Rebecca Dunham: the body intermingles weakness and strength. These physically intelligent poems lead toward durable understandings.”
“Obliquely narrative, rich in lyric resonance and implicative catalog, the textured terms of Glass Armonica obtain an expansive portrait of the self as complex constellation, and in so doing oblige the reader’s own collaborative intimacy, yielding a genuine eros whose necessarily troubled song continues its music well beyond the page.”