Talk Smack to a Hurricane is a powerful debut collection from Lynne Jensen Lampe that explores the complicated relationship a child has with a parent who is mentally ill. Lampe’s mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and manic-depression shortly after giving birth. She spent the first year of Lampe’s life in an institution, and she was reinstitutionalized throughout Lampe’s childhood. The poet’s love for her mother is evident in every line of this collection, but it’s not an easy or carefree type of love. It’s a love of constant struggle. With lines like “She fights inner voices & blocks doors,/tastes her daughter’s name like a mouth-bruise,” (25) her poems explore the power of memory and living with the stigma of mental illness.
The themes of memory and personal truth are echoed in poems throughout the collection. In “Fingered,” she writes “Being pregnant changed her brain/chemistry, she said. I heard you/caused my crazy.” (19) She interprets her mother’s illness as a condemnation, and it becomes a deep-seeded guilt. She returns to the theme with a sequence of erasure poems. Using a letter her mother wrote just after giving birth, Lampe tempers an ache of loss with a deep appreciation for the time spent together. She gives us both her mother’s actual words and what the poet learned to read between the lines.
She introduces the sequence with the poem “Delivered” in which she admits “Your letter cradles our truths.” (23) though she doesn’t say their truths are the same. Lines from the erasure poems like “I shed the baby” (33) from “A Love Apart” and “The baby did cause the break”(35) from “The Bottle Mother” suggest that even though the source material is from a letter expressing joy at becoming a new mother, the poet sees herself as both her mother’s greatest love and her mother’s greatest burden.
In “At the Other Hospital,” we see the evolution of their relationship, though it is still shadowed by her mother’s treatment.
Today I know she loves me.
A white coat, a mengele, taps
my shoulder. My Jewish mama
bolts upright, growls
you. can’t. have. my. daughter. (47)
Her mother is disoriented, the current doctor being confused with images of Mengele, but her fierce love for her daughter remains clear.
The love between Lampe and her mother is a hurricane itself, a powerful force that couldn’t be shaken by her mother’s abuse or mental illness. There is pain in these poems, but there are flashes of joy too, and beneath it all, in the shadow of every line, is that complicated love.
Talk Smack to a Hurricane by Lynne Jensen Lampe
Ice Floe Press, September 2022, $17.99 [paper] ISBN Number 978-1-895637-16-8
Gabby Gilliam is a writer, an aspiring teacher, and a mom. She lives in the DC metro area with her husband and son. Her poetry has appeared in One Art, Anti-Heroin Chic, Vermillion and others. It has also appeared in anthologies from Pure Slush, White Stag Publishing, Devil’s Party Press, and more. You can find her online at gabbygilliam.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GabbyGilliamAuthor.