By EDIE SCHMIERBACH, La Presse Libre
ST. PETER, Minn. (AP) – A housewife in St. Paul has used poetry not only to express her feelings, but to help her cope throughout the seven years she has been confined to the State Hospital of St. Peter in the late 1920s.
These excerpts are taken from two poems by Martha Nasch:
“… I’m judged as an idiot and a weirdo,
And rated much less than a mule
Behind thick walls, where Satan is now calling,
I play the asylum madman.
“… To those I once knew
I’ll send them my thoughts in a poem.
A century after the late Martha Nasch was released from the mental hospital, the words she wrote reached two of her descendants, a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter who live in the Phoenix area, reports The Free Press of Mankato.
Jodi Nasch Decker and Janelle Molony decided that Nasch’s poems and a specific story of his experiences deserved attention.
“We’re going to do our grandmother some good,” Decker told her daughter Molony when they started writing their labor of love.
Molony served as the research-based book historian. Decker tackled his editing duties.
Their recently published book “Poems from the Asylum” includes some basic information they gathered about Nasch.
Her son, Ralph, was 5 years old when she was imprisoned. Decker is Ralph’s daughter. After her death in 2019, she inherited her albums and Martha’s notebook filled with poems.
A review copy of the book was sent to Beth Zabel, the volunteer services coordinator at the now-state-run hospital of Minnesota.
“I think they have done a remarkable job,” she said.
Zabel enjoyed hearing more about Martha’s stay in Saint-Pierre.
Current staff have only rudimentary information on former patients, she said.
“It’s nice to see pictures, to link a name to a face. “
Decker said his father didn’t give him much information about his mother, except that his father, Louis, had taken him to Saint-Pierre to visit him.
Louis, Martha’s first husband, signed her engagement papers after she developed mysterious symptoms shortly after an operation.
Molony was unable to determine what type of procedure had been used on her great-grandmother, but she found documents indicating that Martha had lost most of her sense of taste and suffered from severe insomnia.
“A lot of the things they considered back then to be causes of mental illness that we now know are not, although they could be triggers,” Zabel said.
Through their research and Martha’s poems, Decker and Molony discovered that she was unsure of her role as a mother and worried that Louis was having an affair. The couple had an argument in front of their son, and there may have been physical abuse in the marriage.
Zabel supports creative projects to help patients.
The arts can help someone overcome emotional stress, she said.
Decker is proud of the creativity of his ancestor. Martha’s formal education ended in elementary school.
After her release, Martha returned to Saint-Paul. After Ralph graduated from high school, she and Louis divorced.
Martha then remarried and moved to the Gaylord area.
Molony and Decker don’t believe that she continued to write poems after leaving Saint-Pierre. They know Martha never felt that she had recovered from her illness.
On top of that, she became a victim of “yellow journalism,” Decker said.
The albums Ralph kept included several articles written about Martha’s mysterious symptoms. The original piece included an interview in which she described how she couldn’t eat like everyone else and had trouble sleeping. Several publications borrowed from this story, each condensing its length and editing its formulation.
When the heavily edited story reached Time readers, it was an inaccurate paragraph and a headline shouting “Woman claims she never eats nor sleeps.”
“Its story has boiled down to a punchline,” Decker said.
“They played a joke on him; How could they do that? “
“We wanted to set the record straight,” Decker said, reiterating the book’s purpose.
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