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Wendy Lee Spacek on dreams, poetry and Psychogynecology

A local poet releases a collection focusing on the historical intersection of mental health and misogyny


Wendy Lee Spacek holding her collection of poetry Psychogynecology - PRINTTEXT
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  • Wendy Lee Spacek holding her collection of poetry Psychogynecology

Most of Wendy Lee Spacek's poetry is based on dreams. More specifically the title for her new book comes from a recurring dream that she has had since she was 18 year-old.

In it a male doctor told her she was out of her mind, and that the only way to help her was to put antipsychotics in her vagina; leaving us with the term Psychogynecology.

"It's a combination of psychology and gynecology," says Spacek. "It's just a compound word that I made up. It appears in a few medical journals ... There is no definition that I am aware of. To me, I was thinking of a couple of things."

The made up word is now the title of a short collection of poetry, written over the last four years. The earliest works were written during her studies as a writing student at the Art Institute of Chicago — a time when she was learning about the historical connections between psychology, women's sexuality and mental health. The misconceptions in the medical field long labeled female sexuality as a mental health disorder, and choose reproductive organs to be a false connection to healing. In fact, adds Spacek, it's where we get the word hysteria — from the notion of a hysterectomy.

"Hysteria — being insane, the state of being crazy — the word itself is relating to a woman's uterus," says Spacek. "That history is still embedded in our language now."

At the time treatment went as far as forced sexual acts. A line from one of Spacek's poems show it well:

"I'm in hysterics and she's resolved a regimen of antipsychotics to insert in my vagina"

"The term Psychogynecology, what it means to me, is the intersections between femininity, sexuality, mental health, mental illness, trauma, 'failed feminity' or doing it wrong," says Spacek. "Just even the context of a 'typical woman' is detrimental to our society as a whole."

Although many of the poems tie back to this central theme, there are related branches throughout the work.

Local artist Emily Gable created a series of animations to pair with Spacek's reading earlier this month.
  • Local artist Emily Gable created a series of animations to pair with Spacek's reading earlier this month.

"I am tangentially, or in a related way, interested in how nature has been defiled," says Spacek.

She explains how the same power hierarchy that is given to men over women, all humans unleash over the planet and those around us.

"If you can do that to a field, that's a step to doing that to a person — I think," says Spacek. "I think our relationships to our environment, our immediate environment and our larger environment, is an indication of what other kinds of things people are capable of and the power to perpetrate on each other ... I often think about gender and the constructions of our society that are formulated to separate people and put some groups above other groups, white people over Black people, immigrants under citizens."

Spacek is careful to mention that these are her understandings of the poems right now. That could easily change in a few months. In fact her understanding of them changed from when she sent them to Monster House Publishing to when they returned, having gone through several reorderings.

"I don't know a lot about my poem while I'm making it, that happens later, says Spacek.

"The way that poetry sort of works — for me and I think a lot of writers — is that you write every day and your writing is a creative experience for the most part ... I'm not thinking 'I'm going to write about this thing.' it's an expression of my whole self, and as an expression of my whole self it's all of the things I am thinking about, and all the things I experience and all the things I don't even understand what I think about things yet are embedded in the content of the poem. It's totally an after-the-fact thing. I am still learning what these poems are about. I still don't understand, and I'm still uncovering the connections."

You can buy Wendy's book here


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