The Naked Room

Poetry is a form of writing ideally suited to the expression of emotion and the most profound and subtle workings of the mind. But what if that mind is shattered, and those emotions in disarray? Such is the subject explored in Willa Schneberg’s new poetry collection The Naked Room, which draws on her experiences as a therapist to take us on a journey through the disturbing history of psychotherapy and the treatment of mental illness, and into the current state of the art and state of the world. What keeps this from being a somber undertaking is the sheer beauty and precision of her language, as in this passage from “Tiny Monuments” describing the urns that hold the cremated remains of patients at the Oregon State Hospital (depicted on the cover of the book in a photograph by the poet): “These tiny monuments to the scorned and unknown, / wear patinas of pink, burnt sienna, ocher, aqua, / and if you look closely you will find / moon craters, archipelagos, frozen waterfalls, / Big Dippers and dunes with lone tracks.” The goal of healing that drives her therapeutic practice informs these poems as well, ending in the necessity of love, her closing image that of a long-time couple spooning in bed, “as if we would always / fit that way.” These poems, too, fit that way, a comforting reassurance.


Willa’s first review by Ronnie K. Stephens in The Poetry Question is stellar

Great review by Brenna Crotty for Calyx: A Journal of Art & Literature by Women!

Willa was interviewed for Oregon ArtsWatch by Amy Leona Havin

The Jewish Review - Article appears on Page 7. Click to download a PDF of the article.

Review by Alan Catlin in Misfit Magazine - click to download


"The Naked Room is an astonishing and vivid journey into the secret world of psychotherapist and patient. Arranged in six sections—Asylum, Case History, Straitjacket, Fifty Minute Hour, Reality Testing and Termination (and, spoiler alert here, Termination is not just about ending therapy)—the poems bring to life in sad, terrifying and powerful images and voices the reality and precariousness of mental disturbance and the psychotherapist’s work to help the patient heal their self. The often barbaric treatment history of the profession, the traumas that shatter people’s balance—sexual or physical abuse, torture, war, poverty, dysfunctional families, social indifference and discrimination--, the delicate, difficult work of the therapist—“it’s like holding a dragonfly by its wings/trying not to tear them off”—are presented in persona poems, found poems, powerful character sketches and meditations on the therapist’s work. I think of poems by Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell, and Anne Sexton whom Schneberg references, about their time in mental institutions. Willa Schneberg is an excellent poet who, from the perspective of the therapist, has opened up for us a world we don’t usually see in poetry. The Naked Room should be required reading for those going into the profession of clinical psychology."

Pamela Annas, Professor Emerita of English, University of Massachusetts Boston; Poetry Editor,
Radical Teacher

"Are you curious to visit the darkest corners of rooms on the edges of the spectrum of humanity? Do you want a peek inside the asylums and the minds of these asylums’ inhabitants? Willa Schneberg’s The Naked Room, a mix of persona poems, found poetry and personal narrative, takes us on an international tour of the dysregulated.

Although the journey through The Naked Room may be frightening at times, in the hands of this masterful poet and her beautiful visceral language, the journey is somehow magnificent."

Leanne Grabel, author of Brontosaurus Illustrated & My Husband’s Eyebrows

"With The Naked Room, Willa Schneberg offers a conceptual framework — fully realized, deeply effective, intricately rendered—that tells a story of madness and attempted healing.  Each poem is a polished stone that also retains its raw-and-rough texture, leaving readers moved by beauty and invariably changed."

Lee Kravetz, author of The Last Confessions of Sylvia P.

Willa Schneberg’s, The Naked Room is an insightful, evocative, and often harrowing journey across time and place that depicts how we have tried, and often failed, to come to grips with what it means to be sane in an insane world.

Matthew Smith, FRJHisS, Professor of Health History, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow; author of The First Resort: The History Of Social Psychiatry In The United States

"In this welcome book of poems psyche bursts into words, Life bursts into words.  Do we care for Life, does Life care for us?  Feelings from many levels of being have their say and open cracks and nuances of who and what we are. At once a celebration, exploration and a caution about our precious gift of experience."

Michael Eigen, Ph.D., author of The Challenge of Being Human, The Sensitive Self and The Psychoanalytic Mystic

"These staggering poems, written in direct, potent language, cast an eye over the history of psychological care —hundreds of years. Brave, moving, virtuosic, and unflinching words that will stick with you."

Shawn Levy, author of A Year in the Life of DeathThe Castle on Sunset, and In on the Joke