'Renovating Madness' - a poetry collection by Karen Knight and Liz McQuilkin
The history of the treatment of mental illness is a story of neglect and ignorance, resilience and rebellion, and, in the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, outright cruelty. There is much to be learnt from that history. This poignant and provocative collection is a maverick biography of an institution established in New Norfolk in Tasmania in 1827, finally closing in 2001. The poems, narratives, reflections, records past and present collude to create powerful reminders of forgotten or forsaken lives and the impetus to treat mental illness with compassion and open-mindedness.
What is the shape of madness? Is it a signature element within a Tasmanian imaginary? Read this book and you will have your answer. Here are poems that shed an uncompromising light on that other and lesser known island shame, the institution I grew up calling ‘the loony bin’. Here are poems brave and scintillating, poems edged in frost, raw poems that take not one backward step, poems that showcase the literary verve of two of the island’s most original and accomplished talents. Knight and McQuilkin have given us a book about ‘the bruising shout of power’. It demands to be read.