Showing 71 - 80 of 720 Poetry annotations

Letters to a Stranger

James, Thomas

Last Updated: Jul-25-2010
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Letters to a stranger is a slim volume of poems by Thomas James ((1946 - 1974) posthumously collected and published in 2008 by an admiring reader/ critic, Lucy Brock-Broido. James died by suicide in 1974.

There are 54 poems in all. Forty-one of them were first published in 1973 as James's only published book of verse, Letters to a Stranger. Ms Brock-Broido has collected 13 more from various small magazines. Most have a faint formalistic ring to them with rhymed triplets (a-x-a) predominating.   Preceding the poems is an introduction by Ms Brock-Broido, an introduction that can only be called unusually confessional. (In his characteristically succinct diction, series editor Mark Doty calls it "a love letter, a biography and exorcism all at once".) For subjects, the bulk of the poems have, as we call a type of educational conference in medicine, morbidity and mortality. Indeed, the book might perhaps have been more appropriately entitled "Intimations of morbidity and mortality". Many of the poems are graphic.

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Phenomenal Woman

Angelou, Maya

Last Updated: Jun-08-2010
Annotated by:
Terry, James

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In four proud stanzas, the poet reveals her self-confidence, her graceful rhythm and style, and the inner strength of her femininity. Rather than fashion-magazine beauty, she exults in things like "the stride of my step" or "the swing in my waist "or "the ride of my breasts". In the final stanza she asserts, "When you see me passing / It ought to make you proud." Each stanza closes with the refrain: "I’m a woman / Phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / That’s me."

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Amazing Change

Carroll, Robert

Last Updated: Jun-04-2010
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In his preface to Amazing Change, Robert Carroll speaks directly about the power of poetry to heal. At a time of great personal loss, he says, "I began writing as a way of dealing with the inchoate, yet overwhelming, feelings I was experiencing... hopefully, to facilitate a healing process for myself." The poems collected in Amazing Change, which bears the subtitle "Poetry of Healing and Transformation: The Wisdom That Illness, Death and Dying Provide," reveal the depth and power of that healing process. They show the reader that poetic healing not only engages a person in self-discovery, but also in sharing that discovery with others. Wholeness is a community project.

While Amazing Change deals with serious subjects, many of the poems approach the subjects with humor and a light touch of irony. This is particularly true in "Dr. Bob's Psychomedical Poetics--Infomercial 1" (pp. 78-80) and "Dr. Bob's Psychomedical Poetics--Infomercial 2" (pp. 109-111). "Spiritual Soup" (p. 93) is another example of the value of humor in the good life, along with other core ingredients like marriage, prayer, hospitality, blues, hope, and pot luck.

Among the finest poems in this collection is "Kaddesh for My Father" (pp. 47-53). Written in filial homage to the poet's father, in artistic homage to Allen Ginsberg, and in spiritual homage to the Judaic tradition, "Kaddesh for My Father" seamlessly integrates personal detail and anecdote about his father with ritualized expressions of prayer and emotion.  In this and many other poems, Carroll employs poetic form and/or historical exemplars to enhance the meaning of his work, but never allows them to constrain or dilute his personal vision.

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Dying for Beginners

Clary, Patrick

Last Updated: Jun-04-2010
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Patrick Clary's Dying for Beginners is a collection of vibrant poems about living (as well as dying); about family, friends, music, loss, war and love. The book's title is evocative of the countercultural insight that dying is an essential part of living.  We only become fully human by coming to grips with our own mortality.  This engagement with mortality emerges from love and humor, as well as from suffering and loss.  Clary's poems speak to what he has discovered about himself, as a beginner to his fellow beginners.

The poet's route to discovery traverses Death Valley, where, during a spiritual retreat and vision quest, he has this epiphany: "Suddenly, I find all my wounds are turning into blessings" (p. 1). This inversion of categories is not an exotic, one-off event, but becomes a new way of looking at the world, a perspective in which life events, carefully observed and described, blossom with deeper meanings that can only be expressed by metaphor or paradox. For example, in "Days I Don't Remember," Clary reflects, "And all my roads are turning into rivers" (p. 27). Or, in "Meditation on the Pays d'Oc," he observes, "Instead of dying, I cough up a butterfly, watch it / dry its wings in the sun..." (p. 74). Or the essential quietism of "That silence moving through our lives was me" (p. 33).

The poet had his first lessons in dying when he worked as a medic during the Vietnam War, In "Orientation at Bien Hoa," he discovers, "Yes, gentlemen / This little war here / Exists only / For one reason: / To give you all the pleasure / You can handle" (p. 10).  He also learns how easy it is to kill with an M 16 rifle, which can "Put eighteen holes in / Whatever you point it at / Inside of two seconds" (p. 11). Meanwhile, the human tragedy of Vietnam takes place all around him.  

Clary reflects on the limits of his calling in "Three Variations", where he observes his own hands, "professionally / Tender on demand, but still uneasy / At your easy tenderness" (p. 35). The words "professionally tender on demand" evoke his work in palliative medicine, although the same words could-and should-apply to medical practice in general.  But Clary recognizes that the human capacity for compassion is not inexhaustible. There will always be a tension between the work that needs to be done ("another pair of hands in the emergency room," p. 63) and our limited reserves of kindness and empathy.

The book ends with a humorous and moving short prose narrative ("Origins of the Earwax Patrol," pp. 83-86) about caring for terminally ill patients.

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A Mind Apart

Bauer, Mark

Last Updated: Apr-21-2010
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

Edited by psychiatrist and poet Mark Bauer, this anthology collects poems about mental illness, broadly defined to include such topics as alcoholism and drug abuse, depression and melancholia, and post-traumatic experiences (with World War I's shell-shock and the Vietnam war's PTSD represented by Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Gurney, and Wilfred Owen, and Yusuf Komunyakaa, respectively).  Bauer provides an introductory essay, arranges the selections chronologically rather than thematically, and, in a welcome touch at the end, offers brief biographical sketches of the authors.  A Mind Apart would form a nice companion piece to Poets on Prozac, edited by Richard Berlin

The represented poets are: Thomas Hoccleve, Charles d'Orleans, William Dunbar, Alexander Barclay, Fulke Greville, Thomas Lodge, William Shakespeare, Sir Henry Wotton, Sir John Davies, Robert Burton, John Fletcher and/or Thomas Middleton, Lady Mary Wroth, Robert Herrick, George Herbert, John Milton, Anne Bradstreet, Margaret Cavendish, Thomas Traherne, James Carkesse, Anne Finch, Edward Ward, Isaac Watts, Edward Young, William Harrison, Mary Barber, Matthew Green, William Collins, Thomas Mozeen, Christopher Smart, Thomas Warton, William Cowper, Robert Fergusson, Thomas Chatterton, John Codrington Bampfylde, William Blake, Robert Bloomfield, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Gordon (Lord Byron), Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Clare, John Keats, Thomas Haynes Bayly, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Sydney Dobell, Emily Dickinson, Henry Kendall, Thomas Hardy, Robert Bridges, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A. Mary F. Robinson, Ernest Dowson, Edward Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Gurney, Wilfred Owen, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Louise Bogan, Hart Crane, (John Orley) Allen Tate, Richard David Comstock, Stanley Kunitz, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, J. V. Cunningham, Delmore Schwartz, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell, Weldon Kees, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, Robert Edward Duncan, Howard Nemerov, Hayden Carruth, Philip Larkin, Anthony Hecht, Richard Hugo, James Schuyler, Donald Justice, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Bly, Wiley Clemens, Anne Sexton, Carl Wolfe Solomon, Ned O'Gorman, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Jim Harrison, Les Murray, Sharon Olds, Timothy Dekin, Quincy Troupe, Thomas P. Beresford, R. L. Barth, Jane Kenyon, Yusef Komunyakaa, Joseph Salemi, Aimee Grunberger, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Mark Jarman, Franz Wright, David Baker, Michael Lauchlan, Joe Bolton, Kelly Ann Malone, Brian Turner, Kevin Young, Jeff Holt, Ricky Cantor, Anne Stevenson, and several contributions that are anonymous, including some from nineteenth century popular songs and selections from two collections of poetry by people with mental illness.

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Annotated by:
Terry, James

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry — Secondary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The seven sections of this long poem (128 lines) take the author from admission through a bone-marrow procedure (in front of student nurses), surgical prep, post-op recovery, urinary catheterization, and finally, a melancholic post-discharge confrontation with the decay and death of the natural world in late autumn. Sissman directs a sometimes withering sarcasm against both himself and his caregivers, nevertheless controlling a temptation to overdramatize his suffering or attack the hospital environment too harshly. Keen observation and carefully clever metaphors make poetry his best defense against his own impending death from Hodgkin’s disease.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry — Secondary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The title recalls Clotho, the Fate charged with spinning the thread of life which would someday be clipped by her sister, Atropos. The two-stanza poem describes the circumstances of illness within a hospital setting. In stanza one, with a patient unable to urinate on his own, the poet employs desert images to suggest the dryness felt by the incapacitated sufferer ("throat-filling Gobi," "dry as Arabia," sunburnt cage of bone," "shekel," "rugs," "camel," etc.).

Stanza two begins with the riddle of the sphinx, another reiteration of desert imagery, but moves quickly to modern medical intervention by substituting the cane, the third leg of the elderly, with an IV pole for liquid sustenance and the "snake-handlers fist of catheters," ridding the body of its wastes. Clotho's role has been usurped by technology's miracles, and an appeal is made for the "kind, withdrawn face trained in the arts of love."

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A Deathplace

Sissman, L. E. (Louis Edward)

Last Updated: Feb-22-2010
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry — Secondary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In "A Deathplace" the speaker recounts, with seeming nonchalance, the predictable sequence of his own death. He describes the hospital he knows so well, the details of surgery (down to "the buttered catheter goes in"), the "malignant plum," and finally "the hour / when the authorities shut off the power . . ." Sissman uses the power shut-off to signify his own death, but soon the lights go up and throughout the hospital the "business of life" resumes. Part of that business is to move his body to the morgue, then to the undertaker, then "That's all."

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A Deathplace

Sissman, L. E. (Louis Edward)

Last Updated: Feb-22-2010
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry — Secondary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Sissman, whose chronic illness inspired him to incorporate illness experiences into his writings, muses about where he is likely to die. Like an archaeologist he begins with a vivid description of factors and events contributing to various wings and pavilions. He knows this hospital well: its external facades with "Aeolian embrasures" and "marble piping" associated with certain patrons or patronesses such as "the Maud Wiggin Building . . . commemorat[ing] a dog-jawed Boston bitch".

Slowly the narrator moves from the hospital's exterior layerings to imagine himself, a patient on a gurney, wearing the "skimpy chiton" while being subjected to syringes, "buttered catheter[s]," and IV "lisps and drips." Just before death his blood will "go thin, go white" and finally, there will be a journey through the hallways to the morgue and then to the undertaker. "That's all." The account is prosaic, an inventory or catalogue of steps familiar to anyone who has worked in a hospital setting. As a poet, however, Sissman transforms the ordinary into vividly fresh portrayals.

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Let's Talk About It

Rinaldi, David

Last Updated: Feb-22-2010
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker in this short poem is a physician whose father's "castrated body" is "crooked in prostatic pain." From the family home in Tennessee, the dying man's wife provides daily phone reports to the son about her husband's deteriorating condition. The speaker's mind swirls with conflicting feelings: he thinks about "Dr. Death," whose efforts he has just come to understand; he thinks about the suffering experienced by his father and his mother's "terminal voice"; and he considers "how many of those little pain killers it might take."

Similarly, recollection of the Hippocratic vows intrudes to counsel against the kind of assistance his filial nature wants to provide. The internal debate about choices directs readers back to the title's imperative, "let's talk about it," suggesting, I believe, the need for social and professional discourse about quality of life, futility, and physician-assisted-suicide.

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