In this collection of poems, the author details her descent into the hell of bipolar disorder and the re-integration of her life, thanks to lithium therapy. In "Other Lives" she describes herself as "mother of none, good friend to all, / who for no apparent reason, / tries to kill herself, twice." She writes angrily to the psychiatrist who misdiagnosed her and prescribed the wrong medication: "Your first mistake was to see me at all. / Your second, prescribing the Elavil." (in "Shocking Treatment") While she misses the productivity and "rush" of her hypomanic episodes, she realizes this is the price she has to pay to avoid another "two years of pain or nothing, numbness."

As the author's health improves, she cares for friends who are dying of AIDS and for the dying father of a friend: "I'm learning, as I nurse / my father that the worst / would be protection from / death's reality." (in "For Jean") The collection is interlaced with a series of poems called "Black Stones" in which the author encounters very directly the reality of death. In the last of these, she cries out the words of her friend Matthew who has just died: "Rika, dear friend, live and live and live!"


While some of the poems in this collection work well as individual poems, All We Need of Hell is best viewed as a unified work, a poetic pathography, describing the author's life experience as a mentally ill person. The clinical features of bipolar disorder are well described. (Evidently, Lesser suffers from the variant of this disorder in which depressive episodes alternate with hypomania, rather than full-blown manic episodes.)


Univ. of North Texas Press

Place Published

Denton, Tex.



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