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This collection of contemporary poems published by the National Association for Poetry Therapy Foundation is accompanied by an introduction and materials for use in support groups and poetry therapy groups dealing with loss and grief. Organized under the rubric, “Seasons of the Heart,” in sections entitled “Autumn,” “Winter,” and “Spring,” they reflect a range of responses to loss, both sudden and gradual.
Poets include Rainer Maria Rilke, Naomi Shihab Nye, Billy Collins, William Stafford, Denise Levertov, and other well-known and widely anthologized poets as well as some less known, but well worth reading. The poetry is skillfully selected, of consistent literary quality, and the accompanying materials helpful in suggesting ways and reasons to enter into the work of reading and writing poetry in time of loss.
Helen and Chris are seventeen, living in Sheffield, England, and preparing for their exams in English and music. Both look forward to university and to careers they love. They also love each other. When Helen finds she’s pregnant, she keeps it a secret for awhile.
She and Chris visit with Chris’s tough but sympathetic aunt, who had an abortion years ago. When Helen’s mother finds out, she urges Helen to have an abortion, makes an appointment, signs her in at the hospital, but Helen leaves. Her mother forbids Chris to see her unless he plans to marry her.
Helen begins a series of letters to her unborn baby, chronicling the lonely and also strangely exciting months of pregnancy, decision-making, altered relationship with family and with Chris. (Among other things, she learns that her mother was born out of wedlock, at a time when illegitimacy was a serious social stigma, which accounts in part for her harshness toward Helen now.) Helen addresses her letters to "Dear Nobody," since so many around her who urge abortion want to convince her that what’s in her body isn’t a person.
Chris goes on a hiking trip to France, passes his A-level exams, meets a new girl who is interested in him, and prepares for university, all the time missing Helen. The day she has the baby, he breaks the barrier of silence and bikes to the hospital to meet his daughter. With no clear decisions for the future, the two open a new door at least to friendship and commitment to care for the child.
Summary:Fifteen-year-old Frankilee's sense of justice leads her to conspire with her mother to kidnap Angelica Musseldorf from a home where there is every evidence she has been consistently beaten and abused. With reluctant cooperation from her father, they take the girl in, confront the parents, and install her in Frankilee's room for an indefinite stay. Angelica, who asks to be called Angel, is not only scarred, but needy--indeed, over time, demanding. As her parents shower her new roommate with attention, clothing, lessons, Frankilee struggles with her deepening resentments. She confides them to Wanita, the family cook, an African American whose long service to the family has given her a place of special affection.
Summary:Max, who has lost his wife after a long life and career together as circus acrobats, reluctantly retires to an assisted living home. There he finds unexpected friendship first in his neighbor, Lettie, a widow who has a gift for uncomplicated kindness, and Alison, a thirteen-year-old he meets when he gives juggling and stunt lessons at the local junior high. The unhealed ache of his wife's slow death from cancer makes Max skittish about opening his heart to either of them, though Lettie offers him patient companionship and Alison, full of adolescent restlessness, unfocused intelligence, and need, desperately wants something of the grandfatherly good humor and wit she finds in Max.
The site of the multiple stories interwoven in this novel is a teaching hospital in San Francisco. One of the featured characters is a young single mother who comes in with a swollen arm and finds herself in more medical trouble than she anticipated. She suffers a mild stroke after debatable treatment. Two doctors attend her, but differ markedly in their ideas of how to treat her and their human responses to her. One ends up having a brief affair with her that changes his life.
In addition to these there are stories of a comatose young man and the family that refuses to believe he will not awaken (he does); a volunteer coordinator who observes the politics of hospital life from a privileged margin, and sundry staff people who represent alternative points of view. The single mother recovers, but only after a stay in the hospital has convinced her she may not yet be too old to go to medical school to find a life not in marrying a doctor, but in being one.
In three sections of remarkable narrative poems, Fraser reviews how his own and his family's lives are utterly changed by the birth of his youngest brother, Jonathan, who is profoundly disabled by spina bifida and has survived into adulthood--long beyond what doctors predicted. An introduction provides the context: the poems chronicle a hard journey from denial, shame, and anger to acceptance. As Fraser writes toward the end of the final, title poem: "We must learn to cherish chance to have one." But chance has dealt his brother, and so his family, a particularly hard blow.
The first section focuses primarily on his own remembered reactions and reflections--his guilt, his cluelessness--as a child and adolescent; the second on relationships with family and friends as an adult, all of them partly shaped and shaded by the ongoing suffering of his disabled brother; the third and longest, an exercise in empathy-with his mother and with Jonathan, neither of whose suffering, he realizes, is entirely imaginable to him. The poems are regular free verse, rich with allusion, emotional precision, and narrative detail.
Summary:This collection traces the writer/speaker's journey through her husband's diagnosis to his death of cancer and through the first year after loss, ending with an eight-part poem entitled "The First Yahrzeit," (69) that commemorates the one-year anniversary of her husband's death. The poems vary richly in tone, structure, and focus, some vividly descriptive of the experience, some obliquely figurative, some simple pauses over a moment or an object that has become evocative or sacralized in the course of mourning. Every one offers a surprise line or image that is worth returning to. The whole chronicles a journey of a kind many have had to take, and offers a testimony of hard-won, ambiguous healing.
The Way We Live Now consists entirely of fragments of conversation among friends concerned about a friend with AIDS. They confer on the telephone, over coffee, in the halls of the hospital, about the patient and his illness. They speculate, prognosticate, share anxieties, trade innuendoes of guilt and blame, pool their medical knowledge, and criticize the medical establishment.
The patient never appears, and indeed, we never meet a fully-fledged character, but only hear the orchestra of voices that wryly and accurately reflect the mediated and fragmented character of modern community life. News travels among them like an electric current, carrying shock waves of fear and pain. Their pooling of medical lore results in an eclectic mix of remedies that reach from chicken soup to the patient's favorite jelly beans.
By the end, several of the characters, represented only by voices in the conversation, have had to come to terms not only with the impending loss of their friend, but with their own various and unsettling responses. The disease, clearly AIDS, is never mentioned by name.
The aim of this collage of anecdotes from medical history is largely to entertain, though it is pointedly instructive in its focus on reasons for and results of medical mistakes, misapprehensions, and serendipitous breakthroughs. Gordon's dryly humorous skepticism and general irreverence is balanced by an obvious delight in the intellectual play that characterizes the history of science.
The stories he tells range from Hippocrates to the present with a heavy focus on the 18th and 19th centuries. The book includes a good representative collection of visual art and photography documenting moments in medical history upon which Gordon casts a cold but twinkling eye. Chapter titles such as "Discoveries in the Dark," "Sex and its Snags," "Odd Practices," and "Freud, the English Governess and the Smell of Burnt Pudding" give a bit of the book's flavor.
The title of this variegated narrative hardly does it justice. Though some of the most eloquent passages are about the lingering death of the author's mother, Ruth Johnson, from esophageal cancer, it is, just as centrally, the writer's memoir of growing up with the woman she has just seen through her final years of diminishment and loss, and commentary on her mother's art as testimony to her quirky, original, unconstrained, sometimes jaundiced, often hilarious view of the human comedy.
Hillary Johnson returned to Minneapolis from New York to be with her mother and stepfather after years of only intermittent contact and in the process of reentering her mother's life, came to reassess her own. Ruth chain-smoked, drank freely, lived spontaneously, painted uninhibitedly (40 illustrations include examples of her artwork) and often bestowed her art without price wherever it was appreciated. She was a local celebrity and the daughter, who has achieved her own success, finds in her mother's life a new measure of her own. In retrospect, she recognizes the costs, both to her mother and to herself, of the bohemian way of life she knew as a child, and the pain she didn't at the time fully recognize as such.