Modern Medicine, Lucy Hurst
Fly on the Wall Press, 2021 £5.99
Are you sitting uncomfortably?
In Modern Medicine, Lucy Hurst uses jarring techniques to discuss difficult topics such as pain and illness. By creating a discordant reading experience, Hurst mimics the disruptions of illness.
One of the ways in which this a jarring experience is created is by using slashes to break up the lines, as in the title sequence of five poems. For instance, in the section subtitled ‘Light a Fire’, the speaker tells us
pain is a survival technique / & hurting takes effort / who cares if it’s rage / courage / determination / or spite?
The slashes act as stumbling blocks, causing the reader to pause awkwardly, to metaphorically gasp before continuing.
Additionally, Hurst makes use of juxtaposition to further add to the disharmonious reading experience. This is notable in the opening poem, ‘At the Museum’. Here, the poet discusses looking at a skeleton in a glass display cabinet, comparing it with an ‘incubator in NICU’. The speaker tells us ‘my menstruating womb throbs when I look at his bones.’
By contrasting birth (and the reproductive cycle) with death, Hurst jars the reader into greater understanding of painful experience — both that of the speaker and the dead man whose death was ‘pure brutality’. ‘i want to lean in and caress his big bony head’, says the speaker, juxtaposing tenderness with violence.
These moments of tenderness are significant. Hurst doesn’t jar her readers simply to mimic pain and suffering, but to invite empathy with those experiencing chronic pain or illness.
In the final poem, ‘The Walk to Rome’, she speaks of ‘kindness’ as ‘a thing beaten into [...] us’ and of ‘strength as a side effect of brutality’. Through this discordant reading experience, and through mimicking the disruptions of pain and illness, Hurst perhaps beats kindness into her readers. Her greatest achievement in Modern Medicine is to create poems that are at once experimental, challenging and deeply compassionate.