Monday, August 10, 2015

Monday Muse: Bettina Judd

In 2006 I had an ordeal with medicine. To recover, I learn why ghost come to me. . . .
~ Bettina Judd
"In 2006 I Had an Ordeal with Medicine" from patient.

Below is the trailer for Bettina Judd's debut poetry collection patient. (Black Lawrence Press, 2014), winner of the 2013 Hudson Book Prize.

Cover Art

According to Judd, patient. evolved from a series of watercolors she was painting while healing from surgery. (See "How Much Does it Hurt on a Scale from One to Ten?") "These watercolors," Judd says, "were influenced by the work of artists in the service of science and medicine who painted portraits of Native American and African peoples, and bisected women's torsos for the purpose of study." For Judd, that source material raised innumerable ethical questions about the use of black women's bodies (e.g., as exploited medical subjects, as slaves denied their humanity) and eventually led her to write the poems that comprise patient. (Read Judd's notes on her series.)

After seeing the collection's trailer, I ordered patient. The history that Judd resurrects is eye-opening, traumatic, disturbing. She organizes her poems in four sections: "Pathology.", "Use.", "Treason of the body is . . .", and "Parity" (notice that the period is not included in the title of the final section). In "Pathology.", she introduces readers to "the researcher", who is both unnamed and embodied in the character of the antagonist J. Marion Sims, called by some the "father of modern gynecology" but whose medical ethics and experiments on black female slaves were controversial and damnable. Well-known showman and master of the hoax P.T. Barnum also makes appearances in the hard-hitting poems. As the collection unfolds, Judd retells the extraordinary stories of the "patients" including Joice Heth, Anarcha WescottSaartjie Baartman, Betsey Harris, Lucy Zimmerman, and Henrietta Lacks, African-Americans who suffered their own "ordeal[s] with medicine".

"In 2006 I Had an Ordeal with Medicine" from Bettina Judd on Vimeo.

Judd has video-recorded a number of her marvelous and unforgettable poems, including "Binding", "Run on Sentence", and "The Speaking in Tongues Project". Her Website includes the text of two poems from patient.: "Joice Heth Catalogues the Skin" (it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and "The Researcher Discovers Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy". (Read "Forging the Empathy Chain: An Interview with Bettina Judd", Post No Ills Magazine, June 19, 2015; and "Bettina Judd on patient.", The Cloudy House, June 16, 2015.)

This is a strong, remarkable first collection that rescues black women from the shadows of history and resounds in the truths of the women's lives. You'll want to read it more than once.

patient. Website

Bettina Judd on FaceBook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Vimeo

Bettina Judd Blog

Black Lawrence Press

Black Lawrence Press Page for patient.

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