Kinga Stefaniec’s Nuthouse Episode is an impressionistic, emotionally charged collection of 50 free-verse poems that traces the journey of an itinerant speaker through periods of homelessness, hallucinatory episodes, romantic heartbreak, and treatment in a psychiatric hospital.
The non-linear structure and stream-of-consciousness style of these poems are well-suited to the collection’s subject matter, as they help to illustrate the speaker’s tenuous relationship with time and external reality. Her unique experiences and perspectives give rise to unexpected and striking images like “I eat graffiti for breakfast,” “I was only an eye hanging under the ceiling,” “Terrarium. I am the hundred characters and the key inside,” “climbing glass mountains,” and “on a leash of clean society.” The inclusion of many concrete details and startling metaphors is a notable strength of this collection.
Nuthouse Episode lacks the organization and polish of traditionally published collections. There’s no table of contents to orient readers, and the poems follow no clear pattern of order or design. It’s often difficult to discern where one poem ends and another begins because titles are the same font size as the text; they are not bolded and many are lower case. Some poems are centered, while others are left-aligned.
Throughout, lines are enjambed haphazardly, as in “I can see layers of reality flaking of [sic] an ancient mural out of my,/ eyes,/.” In a poem with many lines of similar lengths, the presence of “eyes” on a line by itself is visually jarring and seems careless rather than precise. Likewise, there are many misspellings (e.g. “silluettos” and “boundries,”) and typos (e.g. “I take bath in a light” and “I stuck in that reality”), which undercut the power of the poems.
The poems require more deliberate shaping, trimming, streamlining, and proofreading. Nonetheless, Stefaniec’s work shows great potential in terms of her speaker’s distinctive voice, complex subject position, and memorable image-making. Readers will find much to appreciate in these pages.
Also available as an ebook.