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In a fascinating and wide-ranging series of chapters organized by categories of disease or disability that have afflicted known artists, writers, and musicians, Sandblom examines the multifaceted relationship between creative work and illness. He begins his discussions of particular artists usually with basic information about the nature of the affliction and its manifestations; where available, introduces the artist’s own comments upon his or her condition; and then analyzes how particular works represent or implicitly allude to the illness. In some cases the disease is a context; in others a theme; in others a vehicle or tenor of metaphor.
The book is richly illustrated with reproductions of paintings, parts of musical scores, and poems or prose excerpts. Artists and writers under discussion include Bacon, Beethoven, Jorge Luis Borges, the Brontes, George Gordon Byron, Cezanne, Anton P.Chekhov, Chopin, Emily Dickinson, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Franz Kafka, John Keats, Mahler, Thomas Mann, Herman Melville, John Milton, Flannery O’Connor, Proust, Rainer Maria Rilke, William Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, Titian, John Updike, William Wordsworth, and Yeats, to name a few.
Although doctors have told her that things will get better, Jyl’s odds of surviving cancer are only five percent. She lives alone in a mountain cabin and receives cancer treatments at the hospital in town. She sleeps much of the day. “Her intestines had been scalded, cauterized as if by volcanic flow” [p 67], and Jyl continues to experience problem with digestion. She feels fatigued and is easily short of breath.
Her closest neighbors are the Workman’s, a Christian fundamentalist family of seven. They live miles away in a mountain valley near the creek. Without telephone, electricity, or indoor plumbing, they live off the land and toil day and night. Jyl starts carving small boats toting messages to send down the creek for the Workman children to find. Soon 15-year-old Stephan and 7-year-old Shayna visit Jyl. The two children bring her food that the Workman’s have hunted and gathered. They cut and stack firewood for the recluse. Jyl teaches them about geology and gives them small gemstones that her father had collected. The children’s visits revitalize the ill woman.
When Stephan and Shayna do not return to see her, Jyl is overcome by loneliness. She acknowledges that being alone is far worse than any aspect of her disease and treatment. Jyl makes the difficult trek to the Workman’s property to call on the children but finds that the place is deserted. Nothing remains in their boarded-up cabin except a stack of the small boats that she had crafted. Jyl sits outside their cabin and cries. The falling snow and silence envelop everything.
Summary:The eight-line poem frustrates expectations about poetry. It stands like a small aside, a voice suggesting in rather emphatic terms, "so much depends upon," that the seemingly simple, often overlooked elements of life are what really matters. In fact, the short aside is akin to the wheelbarrow and "white chickens" in the poem--essential, but easily ignored. Pay attention, the speaker advises, to the ordinary, to the quotidian.
Wagoner dedicates his poem "to the students of anatomy at Indiana University" and later confirms this clue that he is writing about the donated bodies of his parents. He briefly connects the post-mortem physical characteristics of the couple to the lives they led. Then he pleads for respect: "You should treat them / One last time as they would have treated you." Wagoner hopes students will learn from the bodies "as he did" and begs them to learn "politely and truly." Then the kicker as third person: "They gave away the gift of those useful bodies / Against his wish" and closes: "be gentle to everybody."
Summary:One night Old Eben Flood is climbing the hill from town to his home. At one point he stops and invites himself to take a drink from the jug he went to town to fill. As he walks the lonely road, he continues to talk to himself, inviting himself to have a drink in honor of his return, and for old time's sake, for "There was not much that was ahead of him, / And there was nothing in the town below -- / Where strangers would have shut the many doors / That many friends had opened long ago."
Summary:A seven-part poem reflecting facets of indigence, homelessness, and helplessness. "How many old men last winter / Hungry and frightened by namelessness prowled / The Mississippi shore . . . ? " This poem enters into the lives of the nameless persons who live in the same place, but not the same world as the "Walker Art Center crowd." The speaker cries out that he "could not bear / To allow my poor brother my body to die . . . . " Even here, in the midst of his desperation, the speaker finds a glimmer of possibility: "I want to be lifted up / By some great white bird . . . . "
This is a sequence of six poems that form the centerpiece of Doty's book of the same name. The scene is the coast (Provincetown) where the author's companion, Wally, is dying of AIDS: "sometimes / when I put my head to his chest / I can hear the virus humming . . . . " The poet dreams of a dog they don't have. He dreams of saving Wally. Wally tells him of a dream of light and beckoning.
Michael dreams of "helping Randy out of bed" and, suddenly, Randy steps out of his body. Among these coastal dreams of caring and dying, Atlantis emerges "from the waters again: our continent, where it always was / . . . unforgettable, / drenched, unchanged." In the end (and before Wally's end), they do get a new dog who "licks Wally's face" and "bathes every / irreplaceable inch / of his head."
Summary:Poe asks why science preys on the poet. Science is peering, destructive and interested only in cold realities. It will not allow the poet to soar in fantasy or even to sit peacefully dreaming beneath a tree.
Summary:The poem describes a theater performance. The play is the tragedy "Man" and it is watched by a horde of angels. As the actors run in circles, a "crawling shape" emerges. It is the hero of the play, the worm. It eats the actors and the curtain falls.
Summary:A dying man gives thanks that his "lingering illness," life, is finally over. He is now beyond pain and suffering. But no one, he says, should think pityingly of him. After all, everyone will lie in the same bed he does. Moreover, his death is not final. As his lover, Annie, looks on him and cries because she thinks he is dead, he declares that his heart and his thoughts are more alive than ever, for they are filled with the sight of Annie's love. Though dead, he lives on because of her love.