Regenerate: Poems of Mad Women

About the Book

Juxtaposing poems about historical and literary madwomen and their physicians with poems about unhappy young girls, unsettled new wives, and dissatisfied mothers, this collection explores how the social and domestic spaces women inhabit lead to legacies of insanity, as well as the fierce ways women react, resist, and regenerate.


"Regenerate: Poems of Mad Women by Sarah Fawn Montgomery is a mad, mad book. Mad with truth- telling, mad with beautiful language and striking metaphor. She says: 'I’m going to drop a limb/like a starfish leaves a leg/behind to appease a predator.' She says: 'when the burden of gender becomes unbearable.' This poet lays bare the cultural rituals of labeling women 'mad' and 'deficient'—busting open the tyranny of categories, the violence of tradition. A necessary book." — Jan Beatty, Jackknife: New and Selected Poems
"'Lurch, prescription doll, body propelled, / emotion compelled back to normalcy.' From Daisy Buchanan to Chopin's Awakening, Sarah Fawn Montgomery interrogates and re-presents with a contemporary eye a variety of scenes where women have, one way or another, gone awry. As in, they have existed in disobedience. Noncompliant. This is not a catalog of conventional courage to applaud, but rather, is a series of 'unseemly' resistances that have been met with various 'cures' and even institutionalization. 'Woman' has been pathologized for so long, we are no longer certain if we're straying, resisting, or simply becoming what we want. But Montgomery sorts through, untangles and names these moments necessary on the path to self-actualization,'Speak now, Bertha—thrash and dance, leave mythmakers / wide-eyed at all you have done in spite of them.'" — Amy King, author of The Missing Museum
"In Regenerate: Poems of Mad Women, Sarah Fawn Montgomery brings alive the victims of the Rest Cure, electroshock therapy, and other misguided remedies of fin de siècle psychology. These poems tell stories of women twisted open by the very cures designed to save them—and by the very men inflicting these cures. 'We're all mad here,' the women seem to say, but it's the dysfunction of society that's the real focus of Montgomery's piercing lens, the rottenness of a culture where any woman who does not submit is deemed dangerous. Montgomery's poems are like these women, at once fractured and beautiful." — SJ Sindu, author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies


After Electric I

After the electricity
her mouth slipped open
and her tongue loosened
all over—spilled out
what doctors wanted.
She was no longer silent
as a fish or gentle snail,
but leaked words,
a dropped stone
in a murky pond,
rings multiplying,
widening and concentric.

She jolted,
sounds pulled
from her gut,
swollen heart,
teeth chattering
from the current,
the hinges on her jaw
broken and slack,
her mouth running
like water.

After electric she cried
when she talked,
couldn’t stop,
and soon no one
was listening to what
she didn’t want to say,
mouth flying fast,
sparking from the heat
charging though her.
It was a wonder
she didn’t flare
fast right there,
light up fluorescent,
the story of her bones
laid bare for all to see.

*Originally appeared in Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine


There’s a pit lurking
in the bottom of your gut,
dense walnut wrinkle
weighing down walking,
rolling around your stomach,
bruising the tender lining,
making laughing ache loads,
speaking impossible, the stone
traveling up your smooth throat.
Who swallows a seed
in the first place? they ask.
Shame for being so careless.
And after the deed is done:
Who thinks something can grow
out of bile and darkness?
Bear the burden of your ignorance.

Slowly the pit becomes a pearl
luminescent, there in the quiet.
When it opens at last, divides
with elegance unexpected,
tendrils creep out to caress,
filling your stomach
with fiddleheads that mist,
vine up through time
and the body verdant,
until you’ve got flowers
peeping through the cage
of your repentant ribs,
bright against the white,
bursting wide clenched jaw,
spilling forth secrets.

And on your truth-telling breath—
the slightest hint of jasmine.

*Originally appeared in Arroyo Literary Review

Prescription Doll

—after ads for the antidepressant Pristiq

Prescription dolls simply need a windup,
pinprick pills to turn keys
in the centers of their tired backs,
gears grinding forward once more.
The melancholy of motherhood—
daily anxiety of a lonely house,
laundry and silence for companionship,
the growing, desperate surge that this aching
nothing is the sweetest life will get—
forgotten once chemicals coerce the cogs.

Lurch, prescription doll, body propelled,
emotion compelled back to normalcy.
Arms wide in Warrior Pose,
homemade chocolate cake for husband,
Frisbee with family and golden dog,
now that you’ve swallowed
the ability to be a good mother.
Stand in front of the mirror,
highlights replacing housedress.
Wind yourself up, rosebud mouth. Smile.

Imaginary Friends

"It is easier to smash the world of fantasy, to cut down upon the emotional interest that the child pays to his inner experiences, than it is to redirect his behavior in the socially acceptable channels"
—Dr. Walter Freeman and Dr. James Watts on performing child lobotomies.

Imaginary friends are not baby dolls
to cradle, plastic bottles to painted lips,
not soft like girls or as quiet.
They do not listen to reason—
heard but never seen,
laughing giraffes
or elephants in overalls
that prefer paints to petticoats,
jacks to jump ropes. They shout.

Imaginary friends lead to wandering—
from the piano to the ball field,
the kitchen to the river’s edge,
dreams of real babies and bottles
drifting away like the mind.
Probe the elephant until mere grey
matter, use icepick to jostle giraffe.
Silence is the desired side effect,
perfect for rocking dolls once more.

Someone hold a cup to her unmoving lips.