Wisconsin Poetry Series
Sean Bishop and Jesse Lee Kercheval, Series Editors
Ronald Wallace, Founding Series Editor
“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.”
Even poems are a trap / to break free from
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”
“Lipkes deftly conjures a world replete with fear and wonder, juggling the tropes of magic and medicine in order to track their speaker’s unlikely transformation from dangerously ill patient to practicing physician. Formally varied, sonically rich, and thematically complex, this dazzling first collection reminds its readers of the longing behind the original lyric impulse, the wish to execute a narrow escape.”
—Kathleen Graber, author of The River Twice
“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. 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
Table of Contents
Instructions for My Lover
La Brea Tar Pits
A Kite Addresses Benjamin Franklin
a pair of impossible objects
Hospital through a Teleidoscope
infusion room praise song
two small fish
Of Related Interest
LC: 2022028869 PS
96 pp. 6 x 9
1 b/w illus.