In this devastating collection, Bettina Judd confronts the sanitizing effect of history, and the depersonalized language of industrial medicine. Through a dreamlike, interlocking narrative, her poems explore how these influences combine, both retroactively and currently, to exploit, destabilize, and destroy.
Like wounds on a body, the past remains present. Healing is a question, not an inevitability.
Poetry. African American Studies. Women's Studies. "Bettina Judd's phenomenal debut poetry collection, PATIENT., is about recovery in many senses: recovery of the subjectivity of several historical figures, through the recovery, reconstitution, and telling of their stories among them Anarcha Westcott, Betsey Harris, Lucy Zimmerman, Joice Heth, Saartjie Baartman, and Henrietta Lacks, who were infamously 'patients' or subjects of inspection and 'plunder' by, among others, J. Marion Sims, the controversial gynecologist, and P.T. Barnum, showman and circus founder. Sims (and the speculum) and Barnum are the featured antagonists in many of these flawlessly empathetic poems, but an unnamed speaker who adds a contemporary voice to the lyric chorus implicates those in charge of her care during a present-day hospital stay at Johns Hopkins suggesting the linkage of modern medical treatment to the traumas vulnerable Black women, enslaved and not, suffered at the hands of unethical scientists and physicians in earlier eras.
In the collection's opening poem, the speaker reckons, '...verdicts come in a bloodline' and she determines 'to recover' from 'an ordeal with medicine' by 'learn ing] why ghosts come to me.' She ends her testimony by asking, 'Why am I patient?' (Read that line in however many nuanced ways you want.) In this profoundly layered witnessing, the subject might be 'in the dark ghetto of my body, ' or 'an idea of metaphors that live where bodies cannot.' Yet even as Judd vividly evokes the precise brutalities visited upon the Black female body and psyche letting us see and hear women who 'quieted / broke into many pieces' these poems also speak of 'shedding something, ' 'another kind of sloughing.' Ultimately, PATIENT. enacts a healing and move toward wholeness, recovery of, as one speaker puts it, 'spirit that] flees the body and / its treacherous / tearing.'" Sharan Strange
"Bettina Judd's stunning poetry invites us to imagine the experiences of enslaved women subjected to gynecological experiments-the blood, pain, loss, shame, and survival. Linking past and present, Patient brilliantly condemns the inhumanity of professionals who infringe black women's bodies and celebrates the humanity of those who resist them. It will disturb and move your spirit." Dorothy Roberts
"Joice Heth. Lucy Zimmerman. Betsey Harris. Anarcha Wescott. Bettina Judd ensures you will remember the names of four women assaulted by science, violated by curiosity--survivors of physical invasion and torturous experiments. She presents their dignity, heretofore denied, as imagined in their own voices in conversation and parallel with a modern speaker, similarly (coldly) ensnared by a medical machine powered by detachment at best, cruelty at worst. Judd re-centers the narrative, however, to where it belongs--on the person(s) confronted, examined, in pain-not on the problem to be studied or solved. In visceral language that indicts, worships, haunts, and empowers, Patient illuminates 'a dynasty, a bloodline, a body' imbued with the full human spectrum of emotion and brilliance." Khadijah Queen.