Chad Parmenter

Introductory note for Vivienne's Recovery


Vivienne's Recovery is a book-length sequence drawn partly from the experiences and writing of Vivien Eliot, T.S. Eliot's wife and, some say, uncredited co-author of "The Waste Land."

What's true is that she finished out her life, still his wife, in the Northumberland Asylum, and what seems likely is that he included the below stanza in the "Elegy" section of "He Do the Police In Different Voices" as a kind of parody of her situation, betraying fear:

The sweat transpired from my pores!
I saw sepulchral gates, thrown wide,
Reveal (as in a tale by Poe)
The features of the injured bride!

My project has been to imagine that one in her situation, locked away from the husband she'd helped and the world she'd known, could have turned to the writing of journal entries as a way to recover, but that she might have only that singsong, quatrain form to draw from—the one she'd been, in a sense, imprisoned in. But making it her own, parodying the parody, might lead to some sense of empowerment, and maybe of self-recovery.

This project isn't meant as an attempt to imagine the thoughts and feelings of a historical figure whose voice has, sadly, been mostly lost. It is maybe a faint tribute, a mourning of her silence (as Aliki Barnstone told me), and a use of the mode her own tremendous contributions to literature made possible.