Larissa's Blog

Blow-by-Blow: My Beating as a Psychiatric Patient at Mount Sinai Hospital

2014, October, close to Halloween: A brain-shaking blow to my left-temple, then one to my right.
It was a bad episode, unexpected; I hadn’t been in a hospital for bipolar disorder since 1997. The last thing I remember before coming to at Mount Sinai was lying on my belly on the floor of my bedroom, surrounded by five cops, enormous from my vantage point. They talked among themselves and on their radios, ignoring me. Finally, they cuffed me behind my back; I begged them to tell me what I had done, but I was not worth a word.
I don’t remember my first two days at Mount Sinai; when I did come to, they were giving me Haldol, which gave me horrible dyskinesia, an unbearable restlessness in the legs, arms, and mouth. I did not realize that the incorrect medication was the cause of my discomfort; I thought this was part of my episode, and didn’t tell the doctors as they rushed by, trying to avoid the patients.
How did I get into the empty room with the orderly?
It was night. He led me into the room. He told me to sit down on the bed. He then drew his arm back and gave me two powerful, calculated blows with the palm of his hand against my temples, first left, then right. Something practiced about the beating, as though he knew this would leave no marks, only unconsciousness or concussion. I remained conscious. I saw a thick jagged scar on the length of his arm, from inches below his armpit to inches below the elbow crease, stitched broadly.
“Lie down,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” I quietly replied. He left, and I lay my head on a bare pillow, and wished, willed myself to die.
I would see the orderly often on the ward. I had no clothing and the hospital uniform stretched in embarrassing gaps across my obese form. And the Haldol was causing horrible twitching, a torture of restless limbs. Could I have imagined the beating? No.
I approached a nurse to ask his name. Before I could say a word, she exclaimed, “You are not the same person that came in! You were horrible.”
This is your fault, the staff seemed to say; not sick, murmured the walls, bad. What was his name? I was afraid to ask.
He took my blood pressure, even gave me meds. “You were horrible, inhuman, bad,” his co-workers said. Yes, people like you should be beaten, thrown to the floor, cuffed. We are saints who love the damaged like you.
Indeed, I was subhuman in my uniform and with my twitching limbs. I did something to the orderly, that was it! I finally got the courage to ask him.
“You spilt on my shirt.”
Oh.
Emboldened, I asked him about the scar. He laughed wildly and said he was crazy when young. From Queens or Qatar? What planet do such men come from?
A few days later on the ward, a senior psychiatrist who knew I was a writer asked me to speak to her students about Otto Kernberg’s borderline personality diagnosis, ordinarily a favorite subject of mine. “They don’t know,” she said, pointing to the residents.
I haltingly tried to describe Kernberg’s theory of introjects in the borderline personality, cornerstone of that useless and damning label; all the “borderline” needs to do is to treat her addictions, food, drugs, sex, codependence, and the “instability” and “psychotic episodes” disappear. But I was too conscious of my ill-fitting uniform, and mumbled an excuse; the residents were deprived of their show, the patient who has read psychology.
When I was released, I related the events surrounding my beating to two therapists at the Karen Horney Clinic, later, to two residents at Payne Whitney. They stared into space, smiled, changed the subject. Because I am mentally ill, I don’t have perceptions, sensations, memories. More, their silence seemed to say, because I am mentally ill I can be abused, beaten with impunity, and my caregivers don’t have to care. I must have medication and this treatment is paid for by my insurance, so I let it go. But it comes back, often.
I have tried to forget this episode, go along with the clinicians who ignore a patient being beaten, and cannot. Fat and mentally ill, I have evoked new heights of condescension from mental health workers who find it easier to talk of mechanics, medication up or down, calories to consume. Meanwhile, Long Scar and his ilk continue to offer their “treatments” in mental hospitals everywhere. Some have said, and will continue to say, that people like me had it coming. All I can do is breathe, rest, and speak my truth until someone listens.



"I am not your insect" prose poem in The Bug Book anthology

I am very pleased that my poem, "I am not your insect," appears in the new creepy-crawly anthology, The Bug Book (Poets Wear Prada). Thanks to editor/publisher Roxanne Hoffman.
I am not your insect
Your underfoot, your exterminated, your bug. My unabashedly hairy legs, whose gymnopédies twitch like a chorus for a fatal Sharon Stone, delight in ces mouvements qui déplace les lignes, in the motion, the quiver, the mort, the catch. Mother Kali, you have made me what I am: feminine, brilliant, entirely without fear. Like my mother, I watch and pray for  prey—that it be there, that it give gore, that I feel it die, that there be more.




Poem in Lorca anthology Verde que te quiero verde

Delighted that the second edition of Verde que te quiero verde: Poems after Federico Garcia Lorca is now out with my poem, "To the Thanatos Within Me," in it! (text below). Thanks to the editors!TO THE THANATOS WITHIN MEDear friend of ferment,
who unearths the wormsthat enrich this blissful human soil,
promising the end of eternal roil:I embrace you, dear shadow,
my revelatory friend;dear suicidal impulse; today
I dream of the parapets aboveA la Vielle Russie, and
of splattering near the Plazawhere Woody Allen wooed young girls,
leaving a bit of meon the Strand Bookstand,
near the park and the seals—but this is too vibrant and real.Better to find myself alone
in a porcelain tubwith chamomile bath oil . . .
(as if I needed to be calm;there is eternity for that),
listening to Verdi’s Requiem,holding a razor, or better still,
to poison myself with smallscored pills, avoiding arsenic
and the Bovary trapsof indigestion, detection;
best with caplets, red carafesof wine or Guinness brew —
(who wouldn’t want to quaff a few?)What catharsis there is in the dive,
the gesture, the infinite jest,the slash, the brush (its own fire),
the dance with death?Ah, this: as I flirt, you draw near,
chingon to my chingadabite my ear, stop my breath—
who else could do that?Te quiero, my Mescal, my absinthe,
my blue cyanosing corps, my Mayakovsky,my you …Was this a mistake? Is it too late… ?
You bite my ear, take up my rear, whisper:Yes.

Dear Steve Bannon

Dear Steve Bannon:
Thank you so much for your letter. It is a comfort to know that President Trump is saving the white Christian orphans from Hillary Clinton's cannibalism. And thank you for Mr. Hitler's book. My daughter says it is poorly written, but she has become a real liberal elite since she came back from college. We look forward to reading Mr. Hitler's ideas about health care. And don't worry about the Jews: we understand that you have to deal with the Muslims first, so we will be patient. Oh, it is so good to finally have a president who is "one of us." MAGA and God bless parts of America!

Review in The Lit Pub of Medusa's Country

Medusa's Country by Larissa Shmailo06/27/17Medusa peels herself from the pages of mythology to become a denizen of New York City’s margins. There, she waltzes with Thanatos: “The dance with death? / Ah, this: as I flirt, you draw near.” When Eros shows up, he lures Medusa on a peregrination toward a broken self: “My naked heart unrobes, undressed of anguished cries.”Shmailo adds, “Larissa’s rose is sick and is consuming me.” This alludes to William Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose,” pertaining to self-destructive sexuality. While beautiful, the rose has become infected by a worm. Addressing herself in an epistolary moment, Shmailo states, “Dear Friend of ferment / who unearths worms // that enrich this blissful human soil.”Here lies one of many moments of transformation. The poet, though brutally honest about her bouts with mental illness, mania, and deleterious behaviors, also acknowledges the alchemy available by casting pain into language. Purged, the expectation for starting anew enriches this “human soil,” fecund with possibility and, surprisingly, hope. Here is one of the many strengths of this collection of poems—it is relentlessly honest and (therefore) resilient.These qualities guide the poet’s exploration. Along the way, the gorgon assumes other personae, including a prostitute named Nora, a reluctant villain, not unlike Medusa herself. Once, one of Athena’s priestesses, she was raped by Poseidon. Instead of being seen as the victim, Medusa was held responsible by Athena, who turned the gorgon’s curls into snakes (Blake’s worm?) and made all who gazed upon her turn to stone. Medusa was ostracized by her own power. Shmailo avers, “His eyes transfixed by my serpents / that hardened, froze, and pleased.” Indeed, misogyny has—from antiquity to Ibsen’s era to the present—castigated women who dared to exhibit intelligence and power. Many of these poems lead the reader through histories of misogyny and sexual abuse (as in the myth itself). In a poem titled “Rapes,” Shmailo confesses:I abandoned myself to invisible hands,
the known vice and the strong vise of my nerves and my glands.
I half-screwed and cat-moaned and imagined your stare
in the stranger, his knife slowly teasing my hair.She unpacks her poet’s suitcase of prosody and nuanced rhymes, knowing that a poem is not only about a given topic, but also about the agency of language itself. Like a stab, she writes, “The rapist called me fat.” Again, the victim, not the perpetrator, is rebuked. Nonetheless, these poems ultimately serve a triumphant voice—a brave and audacious “I.” Convinced of her prowess, this Medusa stares into her own mirror, where she confronts distorted notions of normalcy: “You, my reflection, in pain,” and, “We live in parts.”Despite landing on a psychiatric ward, she frees herself with sardonic wit and blade-sharp language: “Bellevue, Bellevue, where nurses’ crazy laughter / rings through the night.” The writing is so visceral, the reader feels trapped in the “locked ward,” along with the author. One can hear the howls and smell the disinfectants.However, with verve, with chutzpah, with urgency, Shmailo’s poems become spells, freeing her, transforming stone into flesh:I spent my whole life seeking it,
wrecking, reeking, eking it,
in hydra-headed phalluses;
in aliases & pal-louses;
in papapapapaMedusas;
in mirrors & seducers.Ultimately, she magicks death into an affirmation of life: “I love love’s desert and its snow.” Indeed, she has led us from one extreme terrain to another—and back to the silence of the page, where we marvel at her hard-won wholeness. As we read this book, it becomes our own.

Dean Kostos’s forthcoming poetry collection is Pierced by Night-Colored Threads. His books include This Is Not a Skyscraper (recipient of the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, selected by Mark Doty), RiveringLast Supper of the SensesThe Sentence That Ends with a Comma, and Celestial Rust. He edited Mama’s Boy and Pomegranate Seeds.

The Awakening

My Awakened White Self: Trump supporters hate Obama because he is black.
My Naive White Self: Yes, some, but others are just disenfranchised workers voting against their interests.
MAWS: Trump supporters hate Obama because he is successful and black.
MNWS: That's impossible! A third of the electorate?
MAWS: Wall, Mexican judge, birth certificate, travel ban - they hear it and like it.
MNWS: But . . . .
MAWS: Larissa, grow up. We have a big fight ahead.

Happy Bloomsday! Lotus Eaters Erasure

ERASURE, THE LOTUS EATERS, ULYSSES*
BY LORRIES ALONG SIR JOHN ROGERSON'S QUAY past Nichols' the undertaker's. Eleven, daresay.Sent his right hand with slow grace over his hair: Where was the chap I saw in that picture somewhere? Ah, in the dead sea, floating on his back;It's a law like that. Curriculum. Crack.It's the force of gravity of the earth is the weight.Per second, per second. Post office. Too late.Eleven, is it? I only heard it last night. What's wrong with him? Dead. And, he filled up, all right.Chloroform. Laudanum. Sleeping draughts. Phlegm. Better leave him the paper and get shut of him.

*Lines in this found poem are taken in order between erasures from “The Lotus Eaters” episode of Ulysses by James Joyce.

The Most Insidious Trump Tactic

The most insidious tactic of the Trump presidency is the message to us, the vast majority of Americans who are against him, is that we can do nothing to depose him. It is true that we have seen the Teflon Don survive innumerable scandals, that executive secrecy, doublespeak, and attacks on the media hamper freedom of information, and that Trump's autocratic threats are intimidating. And the craven Republican response to all this does not help. But remember: We are the majority. We have powerful leaders and allies. And we are informed and motivated. Let's keep sharing information, support one another, and work toward defeating the Republican majorities in the midterms in 2018 to impeach and convict Trump.

"Abortion Hallucination" to Appear in Anthology

I  am proud to announce that my poem, "Abortion Hallucination," will appear in the anthology, Choice Words: Poems about Abortion edited by Annie Finch. Keep abortion safe and legal for all women!

Schadenfreude

Special Prosecutor Mueller has hired a specialist to review Trump orbit financials and an expert in obstruction of justice prosecution; Jared Kushner will appear before the Senate Intelligence committee June 23rd; committees in the House and Senate are calling for tapes and for Jeff Sessions to testify. Mike Flynn has handed over 600 pages of documents, and if he gets the immunity he wants, well, there will be a story to tell. Forgive my schadenfreude, friends, but I am really going to enjoy watching Trumpworld unravel.

Book Launch Party for Medusa's Country

Come celebrate the launch of my new book of poetry, Medusa's Country - and wish me a happy birthday! Readings by Marc Vincenz, Lee Ann Brown, Tim Fitts, Ron Kolm,and Irina Mashinski. Hosted by Dean Kostos. Refreshments will be served.
Tuesday, May 30, 6:00 pm
Cornelia Street Cafe
29 Cornelia Street  
New York, NY
$10 includes bar drink.



Interview about Medusa's Country

Interview about my new book of poetry, Medusa's Country

Monday, April 3, 2017
Interview with author Larissa Shmailo in BookMarketing Buzz        Medusa’s Country                            1. What really inspired you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and conveying it into a book? I write for two reasons: to sort out my life and to experiment with language. In the case of Medusa, I was experimenting with something new to me, formal poetry (I had mostly been an experimentalist and spoken word poet before).So what would prostitution, addiction, misogyny and obsessive love look like in form? Medusa’s  Country is the answer.           2. What is it about and whom do you believe is your targeted reader? Like all my work, it is about traumata, the female kind, and also about pushing the envelope of poetic style. I think women will identify and men will learn something.                    3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thought for readers who finish your book? What should remain with them long after putting it down? The main thought, I hope, will be about the power of literature to help people transcend horrors, to grow beyond trauma to victory and inner peace.           4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow  writers? Keep writing. Certainly keep your eye out for what is good in other people’s work, but always trust your own voice, your own inspiration, your own truth first.                       5. What trends in the book world do you see and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? A blurring of the line between big mainstream publishers and small press, as some of the latter get bigger, use big distribution outlets, find their way into big media coverage, grow audiences as my publisher has.           6. What great challenges did you have in writing your book? None. Those all came before I became a writer. It’s been pretty smooth sailing ever since.                7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours? People who say they don’t like poetry inevitably say about mine, “Hey, this is good.” And the book tells a story of redemption from despair and degradation to a beautiful life of love and creativity. I think the book entertains and inspires.
Larissa’s work appears in Measure for Measure (Everyman's Library / Penguin Random House), Words for the Wedding (Perigee / Penguin Putnam), Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey Archive Press), Resist Much / Obey Little (Spuyten Duyvil Press), and over thirty other anthologies. Larissa's poetry collections are Medusa’s Country (MadHat Press). #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books]), and the chapbook A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press), and e-book Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks). Her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (SongCrew); tracks are available from Spotify, iTunes, Muze, and Amazon. Larissa translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's celebrated reconstruction of the first Futurist opera; the libretto has been used for productions at Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Smithsonian, and the Garage Museum of Moscow. Larissa edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry (Big Bridge Press) and has also been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society. Her novel, Patient Women, is now available from Amazon, BN.com 
http://bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com/2017/04/interview-with-author-larissa-shmailo.html

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: A WOMAN’S RAGE, LOVE, IDENTITY: MEDUSA’S COUNTRY

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:A WOMAN’S RAGE, LOVE, IDENTITY: MEDUSA’S COUNTRY
Contact:    Marc Vincenz 
               Marc.l.vincenz@gmail.com (617) 821-1915              or
               Larissa Shmailo
               larissa@larissashmailo.com, (212) 712-9865
Poet, novelist, translator, editor, and critic Larissa Shmailo presents her third book of poetry, Medusa’s Country. Channeling the powerful female monster Medusa, she sings about addiction, toxic relationships, real love, and the path to finding one’s identity: From “To the Thanatos within Me”:What catharsis there is in the dive,
the gesture, the infinite jest,the slash, the brush (its own fire),
the dance with death?Larissa Shmailo’s translations from Russian include the iconic avant-garde opera Victory over the Sun; her latest novel is Patient Women. For more information please see Ms. Shmailo’s Wikipedia page at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larissa_Shmailo and her website at www.LarissaShmailo.com, including the Electronic Press Kit (with high-resolution photos) at www.larissashmailo.com/sites/default/files/larissa_shmailo_electronic_press_kit.pdf. Ms. Shmailo is available for booking at (212) 712-9865. Medusa’s Country is available for purchase through Amazon, www.madhat-press.com, and at major distributors and bookstores. Review copies are available upon request.
Praise for Medusa’s Country“Gut-wrenching honesty, spiritual courage, and unflinching vision are what it takes to visit Medusa’s Country. [Larissa draws] on the experience of her immense challenges—prostitution, alcoholism, drugs and insanity—and her immense advantages—a gift for poetic form, a razor-sharp mind, the spirit of a mystic, and a deep intimacy with world literature and culture— to share with us precious and hard-learned lessons: the necessity not only to survive but to triumph, and the crucial place of art and culture in that achievement.”—Annie Finch, author of A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry“Medusa peels herself from the pages of mythology to become a denizen of New York City’s margins. . . Along the way, the gorgon assumes other personae, including a whore named Nora. These poems lead the reader through histories of misogyny and sexual abuse. Convinced of her prowess, this Medusa stares into the mirror, where she confronts distorted notions of normalcy. Despite landing on a psychiatric ward, she frees herself with sardonic wit and blade-sharp language. With verve, with chutzpah, with urgency, Larissa Shmailo’s poems are spells, transforming stone into flesh and death into an affirmation of life.”—Dean Kostos, author of This Is Not a Skyscraper# # #

Blurbs for Medusa's Country

PRAISE FOR MEDUSA'S COUNTRYWhat a gift: a new book of searingly intelligent poems from a uniquely eloquent poet. Gut-wrenching honesty, spiritual courage, and unflinching vision are what it takes to visit Medusa’s Country. It’s not easy to find a guide to take you there, but Larissa Shmailo is ready for the job. She spares herself—and her reader—no pains in the search for home, drawing on the experience of her immense challenges—prostitution, alcoholism, drugs and insanity—and her immense advantages—a gift for poetic form, a razor-sharp mind, the spirit of a mystic, and a deep intimacy with world literature and culture— to share with us precious and hard-learned lessons: the necessity not only to survive but to triumph, and the crucial place of art and culture in that achievement. Brace yourself. Medusa’s Country is a book to savor, and Larissa Shmailo, novelist, translator, and poet of urgent maturity and resonant depth, is a writer to watch.—Annie Finch, author of A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry
Reading Larissa Shmailo's hypnotic Medusa's Country feels to me like cracking open a rare blue lobster to find a cache of rich, luscious green stuff contained within a living thing. At the heart of this viscerally dictioned masterwork of myth and ritual is an uncompromising dedication to formal poetic innovation. These poems parse matters of sex and literature, of life and death, not only of "I, Shmailo, dervish, a lover signed," but of all who walk the questioning edges of sound, sense and what poetry can do to you. —Lee Ann Brown, author of Other Archer and In the Laurels, Caught Medusa peels herself from the pages of mythology to become a denizen of New York City’s margins. There, she waltzes with Thanatos: “The dance with death? / Ah, this: as I flirt, you draw near.” When Eros shows up, he lures Medusa on a peregrination toward self. She packs her poet’s suitcase of prosody and nuanced rhymes. Along the way, the gorgon assumes other personae, including a whore named Nora. These poems lead the reader through histories of misogyny and sexual abuse. Convinced of her prowess, this Medusa stares into the mirror, where she confronts distorted notions of normalcy. Despite landing on a psychiatric ward, she frees herself with sardonic wit and blade-sharp language. With verve, with chutzpah, with urgency, Larissa Shmailo’s poems are spells, transforming stone into flesh and death into an affirmation of life.—Dean Kostos, author of This Is Not a Skyscraper
Medusa’s Country lies somewhere between the medulla oblongata & the soul. piercing the body as you enter into it. lying in wait for the reader are many headed poems, some venomous, others painfully sweet, yet filled with melancholy & longing. some are songs about songs. arrhythmic rhymes that seduce the psyche. brutally honest & at times, frightening. rarely serene. all based in the mythology of what we refer to as “reality.” engaged with & trapped within their own freedoms. greco-roman images lying naked beside woody allen’s bad jokes, engulfing the elements, earth, stone, air, water with their “suicidal impulses,” varied forms & dreams. what is revealed is a mind tortured by its own beauty, anger & distress. a heart filled with emotions, denials, betrayals & refusals. self-denial & self-assurance. pride. pimps. hookers. lonely homeless “aliens.” this is a dance with death, love & an abundant ability to caress language & all its nuances. “the dead are dead, but not within me, my holocaust today, forever my bread.” a new archaic modernism much needed in a world of false romanticism & post-post language-oriented verse where the beauty of word/image has all but been subverted, seduced, abandoned & forgotten. even as shmailo decries “larissa’s rose is sick & consuming me” what we feel, beside extreme empathy, is the strength of her life force/breath as it forges onward while pondering even plundering itself. there are love poems that “crack…the force of gravity.” pleas. accusations. threats. drug induced psychoses. confessions of an often poisoned “being” who is so aware of the poison in others. “your heart beats not for me…your empty heart…you’ll be my heart / a numb flexible pleasure.” reach out & allow these poems touch you with their passions as they “turn particles into power.”—steve dalachinsky nyc sept. 2016
There are days I am bored with poetry and days I think it is a waste of human effort. Reading Larissa Shmailo’s collection reminds me why I love the genre and proves what kinds of beauty and intelligence can exist in language. There is a lyric lift to every line and a direct honesty in every message that heartens me and renews me. The poems in this book deserve to be read and read again. I thank the poet for the renewal of faith.—Okla Elliott, author of The Cartographer’s Ink and From the Crooked Timber

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