“HYSTERIA” by Stephanie Wytovich (Book Review)
The photographs—rendered in stark, blown out black and white—are striking: There stands dark poetess extraordinaire Stephanie Wytovich in the basement of the purportedly haunted abandoned hospital Hill View Manor, an oppressive blackness and who-knows-what-else closing in. All of it, held at bay only by this beacon of fearlessness, beauty, and joie de vivre smiling out at the camera.
“[W]hen you investigate, you act,” Wytovich writes in her account of the ensuing ten hour supernatural soiree. “You become someone that’s not afraid to push through barriers and try to find answers. You become someone that is daring, courageous and willing to take a risk. It’s a performance. And probably my favorite one to act out.”
This method acting clearly carries over from ghost hunting to writing for Wytovich, as readers of her elegant-yet-harrowing, twisting-knife-plunged-directly-into-the-heart debut poetry collection HYSTERIA will quickly realize.
Dedicating the tome to “the madness inside us all—the madness we know is there, and the madness we don’t,” Wytovich hopscotches from one lyrical surrealist vignette to the next, deftly covering an impressively wide array of aesthetic grounds ranging from classic gothic dread and gore-festooned splatterpunk to heart-rending imagined confessionals and pitch black humor.
Here is a collection wherein gut-punches like “Bracelet of Blades” (“And when she dropped to her knees/Her skin stuck to the hair-sprayed tiles/Like a bathing suit suctioned to wet flesh”) and “Energy Surge” (“He likes me because I’m quiet/Not because he knows I’m eating his spirits/As he walks on by”) can somehow nestle snugly up against strangely kindred poems such as, say, “Necro-let-me-feel-ya” (“There’s no safe word when you’re dead”) and coup de grace book closer “Word Vomit,” which is worth excerpting at some length:
I tried to bite my tongue,
Tried to think of anything else
Other than your head
Spiked on a stick,
But I could feel the words
Climbing up my throat,
Spelling out curses as they
Crawled around in my esophagus
Like spiders spinning
Webs of witty comebacks
And clever clichés
Along the way, Wytovich avers in her opening Author’s Note, “hysteria” transmogrified from a conceptual framework to an almost anthropomorphized companion:
“We spent insomnia-fueled nights together in the asylum as we explored the breaking points of the mind,” she writes. “We looked into the eyes of a killer, played inside the head of the deranged, and explored the psychosis of the truly insane. She held my hand as we walked down the wards and into the treatment rooms so she could shock me full of reality. Hysteria showed me the truth about people, and more importantly, she showed me what they were capable of.”
This danse macabre between creator and muse captured encapsulated within HYSTERIA is enthralling, but—fair warning—not for the feint of heart. Slip between the covers at your own risk.