Radium Girl (Wisconsin Poetry Series) (Paperback)
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The poems in Radium Girl hold dual citizenship in the land of the sick and the kingdom of the well. The point where illusion ends and reality begins is never clear, as Celeste Lipkes evokes saints, magicians, scientists, and caregivers in the process of surviving both medical illness and medical training. Slippery metaphors of rabbits in hats, doves in cages, and elaborate escapes explore the inhabitation of a female body as a kind of powerful and violent performance—where the magician’s trick of cutting a woman in half is never as far away as we’d like.
With humor (“When the doctor says, ‘We found something,’ / I don’t say: ‘no shit’ or ‘oh thank God, / I’ve been looking for that sweater everywhere,’”) and heartbreak (“Every evening I count the dwindling brass coins / of my patient’s platelets while his wife ices / cups of ginger ale he will never drink”), Lipkes reminds us what it means to feel human, to feel afraid, to feel hopeful, to feel.
I am the magician, even,
some nights alone,
finding inside the darkness
a small, trembling thing
I won’t acknowledge as my own.
This is someone else’s rabbit,
I say, and the silence nods back.
—Excerpt from “Rabbit”
About the Author
Celeste Lipkes is a writer and psychiatrist residing in Asheville, North Carolina. Prior to medical school, she received an MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia.
“In the breathtaking ‘escape room’ of Celeste Lipkes’s Radium Girl, our ardent guide dons, by turns, the snow-flaked robe of patient, the white coat of physician, the lustrous cape of magician. The word ‘magic’ is rooted in the PIE ‘magh’—‘to be able, to have power’— and in this radiant debut, body and mystery exchange their secrets about what can and cannot be controlled—in illness, in love, and in the salvific art of poetry itself.”—Lisa Russ Spaar, author of Madrigalia: New & Selected Poems and Paradise Close: A Novel
“Celeste Lipkes, poet and clinical psychiatrist, is Dr. Oliver Sacks and Stevie Smith rolled into one. With perspicacity, her luminous first book meditates on many odd juxtapositions including Houdini and medical school, Crohn’s disease and love. Dividing her idiosyncratic lyrics into four sections—‘Rabbit,’ ‘Dove,’ ‘Hemicorporectomy,’ and ‘Escape’—Radium Girl brings us close to a young speaker under pressure to honor the Hippocratic oath and make her way in the world. Annie Dillard said poets to be poets should study something else. Lipkes did, to great success: by the last page, her poetry radiates with talent, acuity, and originality.”—Spencer Reece, author of The Clerk’s Tale and The Secret Gospel of Mark: A Poet’s Memoir
“[A] sage debut. . . . Lipkes’s holistic perspective offers uncommon insight into the unrelenting and miraculous will of the body and consciousness.”—Publishers Weekly