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Poetry is a natural medicine . . . Poetry helps us feel our lives rather than be numb. So begins John Fox, a Certified Poetry Therapist whose aim in this book is to help the reader see the profound relationship between creativity and healing, and to nudge the reader gently into making his or her own poems.
Fox grounds his work in narrative--stories of suffering persons who were able to transform their experience by writing poems. He illustrates the text with the poems of these persons, as well as those of well-known poets from King David to Lucille Clifton.
Fox carries the reader from the silence that leads to poetry (Chapter 1, "Heart, Who Will You Cry Out To?") through the elements that go into writing (Chapter 3, "Poetic Tools For Your Healing Journey") to writing about specific situations, such as illness, loss, and death (Chapter 6, "When God Sighs"). Each chapter includes a number of suggestions and exercises.
Narrated in the third person, the poem is a telephone conversation between an adult son and his complaining mother. This is the mother's second phone call of the day to her son, who had spent several hours shopping for groceries with her earlier that same day.
She is tired, says the mother, and there is no food in the house worth eating. Replies the son, "Did you take your iron? He wanted to know. / He sincerely wanted to know. Praying daily, / hopelessly, that iron might make a difference." Food is a touchy subject--"it never brought them anything but grief."
Later the mother frets that she is afraid, "afraid of everything. Help me, please." If her son would only help her, then he could go back to "[w]hatever / it was that was so important / I had to take the trouble / to bring you into this world."
Megan was one of the best players on her school basketball team until she accepted a ride home on the back of a motorcycle that slid on gravelly surface, overturned, and left her with a spinal cord injury. Now, a few months later, in a wheelchair, with no sensation in her feet or legs, she is packed up with all her equipment to spend the summer with the family on the island where they've always vacationed.
At first she can hardly bear being confined to watching from windows or negotiating makeshift ramps where she once ran so freely in woods and rowed so happily on the lake. When a boy appears from the neighboring cabin and tries to make friends she resists at first, but is finally drawn into a friendship that gives her the courage to "pick up the pieces" of her broken life and try new ways of being active, including, at the end of the summer, a wheelchair race on the mainland.
She also finds herself befriending the boy's grandmother, an aging actress turning alcoholic because she can't come to terms with aging and the loss of romantic leads in film. As Megan learns to come to terms with her own limitations, she is able indirectly to help the older woman come to terms with her own sense of loss.
The "laboring through what is still undone" is difficult and awkward like a swan's walking. But dying is like the swan leaving dry land. The water "receives him gently" and he moves with grace. The swan appears indifferent as he "condescends to glide." [12 lines]
Imagine bits of conversation you might hear at a meeting of the Hemlock Society. "A very brave woman." "Not wanting to become / a mere vegetable." "A burden to others." Some other people want to hold on, even though the burden is measured in tons. The speaker concludes that he wants to keep his subscription paid up "and keep / the stash handy."[28 lines]
The poet contemplates (metaphorically) an abandoned, overgrown garden. "What god is proud / of this garden / of dead flowers, this underwater / grotto of humanity?" he asks. He sees limbs waving, faces drooping, and voices clawing. He recognizes great medical figures like Charcot and Alzheimer. There are no gardeners. As he turns away, he tries to take solace in the thought that somewhere "there is another / garden, all dew and fragrance." [30 lines]
I have this that I must do / One day." I must take the last step, go down into the "green darkness," and find the "door to myself." There is no map, no assurance, and no way of avoiding the final plunge into darkness.
The novel begins with the death and funeral of a mother, told from the viewpoint of a son. The reader meets other family members, including the father, a sister and a brother. This portion of the work drifts back and forth in time, putting together a history of the family and relationships among its members.
Abruptly, the viewpoint drifts to that of the mother, who tells her secret story--glimpses of her past, memories that come as a surprise in the face of the impressions gained from the opening narrative. Finally, the story returns to the last days of the mother's life, and the power of her love for her son, who once again assumes the role of narrator, as well as the loss of the inhibitions between the two.
This is a personal narrative by one of America's most accomplished authors. For the past thirty years Reynolds Price has written novels, stories, poems, essays. In this memoir Price describes his battle with a spinal tumor detected in 1984 which left him with some neurological impairment. He struggled with his own rehabilitation and eventually recovered with the aid of biofeedback and hypnosis.
The most compelling part of the book is near the end. The author muses about the meaning of his illness, "advice I'd risk conveying to a friend confronted with grave illness or other physical or psychic trauma" (p.182). He puts the travails of life into a philosophical perspective that is almost Zen-like.
As Joanne Trautmann Banks indicates in the Foreword of this fine anthology, "when we are sick, very sick, it is often the nurse who is closest to our bodies, minds, and souls." This experience of closeness to suffering is well-reflected in the poetry and prose of the 49 nurses whose work is collected here. While these writings vary widely in form and style, they focus almost exclusively on the nursing interaction; they are nurses' stories of patients and nurses' reflections on nursing. Two major themes pervade the book. One is the powerlessness of nurses in the face of illness and suffering. The other is their tough, unsentimental devotion to their patients and the profession.
Of the poetry, particularly fine pieces include: "Raiment" (Carol Brendsel); "Daffodil Days" (Celia Brown); Butterfly (Jeanne Bryner; see this database); "What the Nurse Likes" and The Body Flute (Cortney Davis); "Hospital Parking Garage" (Jeanne LeVasseur); and "Euthanasia" (Belle Waring). Among the excellent prose pieces are "Nighthawks" (Carolyn Barbier), a tale in the voice of a ventilator-dependent woman who has elected to discontinue treatment and die; "While His Life Went on Around Him" (Angela Kennedy); "Wisteria" (Leslie Nyman); "Where Are You Now, Ella Wade?" (Joyce Renwick); and "Bev Brown" (Sybil Smith).