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The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded: Poems

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  568 ratings  ·  104 reviews
Harrowing poems from a dark corner of American history by the winner of the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry.

Haunted by the voices of those committed to the notorious Virginia State Colony, epicenter of the American eugenics movement in the first half of the twentieth century, this evocative debut marks the emergence of a poet of exceptional poise and compas
Paperback, 80 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by Persea
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Start your review of The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded: Poems
I am stunned.


I almost can not move, can not think of how I can convince people who love poetry and people who are terrified of poetry to get a copy of this thin, magnificent book in their hands.


Miss Brown, the poet, was in COLLEGE when she wrote this, and she was not only the John and Renee Grisham Fellow at the University of Mississippi, she was the 2016 recipient of the Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry. And, well, she's a published writer in her early 20s.

Mark my words n
Dave Schaafsma
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Someone left this in a donation pile at the library and I so did not want to read it, but it had an intriguingly off-putting title, and there is a blurb on the back cover by a favorite poet, Beth Ann Fennelly. The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded was a government institution not far from where Brown lived. It’s now called the Central Virginia Training Center. The author used to drive by it, and recalled how she used to think of it, in the one autobiographical poem in the col ...more
I am a sucker
For books with titles like this one.
I know this story, too
How Oliver Wendell Holmes, full of privilege,
Wrote that three generations of imbeciles is enough
And sent Carrie Buck here to her fate.
Sterilized has many meanings.
They tell you that it takes ten years of being blind
before your body gives up dreaming about sight.

Sent her here.
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
This poetry collection was focused on the infamous Virginia hospital where patients were subjected to abuse and neglect as well as forces sterilizations through the 1960s. A harrowing situation to be certain, but the poems, often told through the eyes of one of the patients, still didn’t seem to fully portray the terror and frustration many of these patients likely faced.
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Here in Massachusetts I've walked the grounds of abandoned "hospitals" for people with mental illness and they are creepy alive with ghosts of a sort. Thus, I was naturally attracted to a title like The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded.

The book has a historical basis and was even researched by its young poet, but the characters in the poems are fictional. You'll also be happy to know that the poems are blessedly accessible. For a taste of the poetry, I give you this:

"Grand M
Mark Robison
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Quite an impressive book that I think I'll need to read again to fully appreciate. The book's gimmick (which I don't mean pejoratively) is that there was a real place in Virginia (and presumably elsewhere, too) where people whom the government deemed as not worthy of reproducing were housed and sterilized -- and it appears to have continued into the 1970s. The author could have been one of those people, although her cerebral palsy is never mentioned. Instead, she imagines the thoughts and experi ...more
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a slim collection of verse that is nothing short of haunting. The poet slips into the imaginary minds of the inmates of an asylum that operated in Virginia in the early 1900's through 1950. In an attempt to exercise eugenics, the institute actively proceeded to sterilize many male and female inmates. It's strange how our country went from supporting mental institutions and overreaching treatment of the mentally ill to completely ignoring the mentally ill and supporting few mental institu ...more
Mar 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The characters in these poems are fictional, but are based on the real history of a real institution. Be advised, this history isn't really too distant and it included forced sterilizations.

What adjectives to describe the writing here? Well crafted. Engaging. Haunting. Moving.

Matthew Hall
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is quite possibly the only book i've ever read that approximates the feelings I have around and toward my body and my place in the world. I don't think I knew before this, but I suspected, that reading a great poet who also has CP would be cathartic. It was, and it was, at times, overwhelming. ...more
Jan 10, 2019 added it
The people I know who were victimized in asylums went through something that isn’t really comparable to much else. This book disturbed me. It felt to me like it reduced the most atrociously dehumanizing experiences in the lives of people I care about into a lens for the author to think about her own life. If it hasn’t happened to you, you can’t imagine what someone goes through when she’s covered in surgical scars indicated nowhere in her medical history, or when he enters a place like the one d ...more
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Powerful poems that I found myself reading and rereading. Really great volume.
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Picked this up because of an interview with the poet on fresh air. I don't read books of poetry a lot, but it was EXCELLENT ...more
Jill Bowman
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Poetry is new for me. Luckily a GoodReads regular, Julie, suggested that I read this little book of poems. Little in size but huge in scope, feelings and ideas. I took my time. A few a day, a few rereads, a lot of thinking.
Molly McCully Brown herself has cerebral palsy. She imagines what her own life might have been like if she’d been born 50 years earlier. She imagines it with words that paint terrible and sad pictures for us.

I grew up just a few miles from what we called The State Hospital.
TW: mental health, eugenics, abuse

i need like a break after reading this........IM IN A MESS.

the virginia state colony for the epileptics and feeble minded was a state run instituition for those considered to be "feeble minded" or those with severe mental impairment. the colony opened in 1910 near virginia with the goal of isolating those with mental disabilities and other qualities deemed unfit for reproduction away from society.

the poet writes in the perspective of the people there and imag
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was overwhelmed attempting to tackle this collection in one sitting, and honestly, you shouldn't. These poems appropriately portray feelings of abandonment, isolation, violation, condescension, fear, and yet wonder that could have been running through the minds of the Colony's residents. Brown tackles the subject of forced sterilization with a sharpness that brings the aftermath of the procedure into a vivid, uncomfortable picture.

I immediately purchased the book after returning my copy to th
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
These poems are intense and richly written. They imagine life at the actual institution the collection is named for.
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: newtome2018, 2017, poetry
thoughts coming shortly
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A terrific reimagining of what it might have felt like to be subjected to the eugenics movement in the 1930s. Content is based upon true history-- developmentally delayed and institutionalized women were sterilized without their knowledge in Virginia. This poetry collection is a perfect example of how the humanities can be relevant to current scientific bioethical discussions, such as CRISPR gene editing. Recommend checking out the poem "A Dictionary of Hereditary Defects" to get the best taste ...more
Sam Mauro
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it

These sort of "concept album" poetry collections tend to bug me with their literalism, just as postmodern epic poetry irritates me with its ironic insistence on simulating coherence. Molly McCully Brown is an incredible classical poet, like an old-fashioned songstress or a gothic storytelling. The collection flirts with genre before ditching it, employing literary styles as if they are backwoods from Brown's childhood. These are distinct poems with a clear overarching vision, somber and po
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Brilliant, brilliant poems. Deeply rooted in historical significance and yet felt personally. Beautiful and haunting. Complicated.
Apr 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing

The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded is an amazing book. This is a great example of a poet really getting something right on every level.

I especially appreciated the courage and empathy present in the poems, and how this was accomplished with an outstanding level of poetic maturity. The tone is consistent, the voice(s) clear and resonant. The choices made in the poem selection are deliberate in a way that fits and feels right.

This book was carefully written and edited, and i
Barton Smock
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a child, I worried that if those around me lived longer and longer, and that if those I didn’t know remained healthy, then the ghosts I so badly wanted to see would get lonely. Or, as a child, I worried about ghosts. I mention this, here, as I’ve recently read Molly McCully Brown’s The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, a firsthand recreation that doubles origin, and any actual age seems now an exit for distance. These poems, patient and unsparing, do not give voice to, no ...more
James Korsmo
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I found this collection of poems stunning. Molly McCully Brown imaginatively weaves an entire series of chronologically linked poems set in the mid 1930s around the real-life setting of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feelbeminded. She probes what existence must have been like in such a place. She also delves into the issue of forced sterilizations, which were carried out there under the banner of eugenics. The poems are smooth but often vivid. And she explores many deep issues alon ...more
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Baby, what becomes a body is strange.

What becomes beautiful is the wildest thing.
You are made from all that and a thicket
of thistle, a boat full of cardamom pods,
a room in a house in Virginia.
Beloved, you are held in every
improbable thing I've ever done.
Rocco Versaci
Mar 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Powerful collection of poems set in and around the institution of the collection's title. McCully Brown delivers a powerful act of poetic personae by imagining the lives and minds of both patients and staff, and her vision addresses both the horrible, dehumanizing conditions of a mid-1930s mental institution during the height of the eugenics movements and the humanity of those who suffered there. ...more
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Spare, deeply felt poems about the interior lives of people who walled away from society and forgotten until Molly Brown came to speak for their dead mouths. This book is a heart-rending testament from a poet who bears witness.
May 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A dark imagining of life at a government run institution.

More information can be found at
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
To be developmentally, intellectually, or physically disabled in the States is to be intimately familiar with the uncomfortable history of eugenics and how recently the laws determining whether it was ethical were changed. I feel like having a ASD diagnosis made this book less shocking than it would have otherwise been, honestly, especially given that assumed competence--or, assuming that though someone is nonverbal--is still not assumed of developmentally or intellectually disabled folks even i ...more
Sophia Surname
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
I’m not going to mince words or dance around the subject; this is an extremely hard read. The subject matter is heavy as hell and it doesn’t shy away from it. The only reason it speaks about things in metaphor is emphasized in the last few poems: the people whose POV it’s from weren’t told what was happening to them, at least in part because the people doing it thought they couldn’t understand. So trigger warnings: This book is about eugenics. This book is about the mistreatment of those who the ...more
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read Harder 2019 Challenge: A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads

This book definitely deserves more reviews. It's completely haunting. It's also in that poetry sweet spot where some things are spelled out bluntly, while others are obscured and invite further reflection. There's something amazingly tactile about it, too. You can see the dust collecting on bibles, the cloth stuffed into inmates' mouths, the silent darkness of the rooms inmates were loc
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