The author of this chapbook of poems is the chaplain of a large geriatric outpatient unit in Iowa City. Her In Strange Places is a series of 23 "poem portraits," each one of them a short narrative that speaks for one of the patients who is "not to be defined by illness and years and deserve(s) to be free of the condescending devaluing attitudes" that the elderly often encounter." (p. 3)

The poems are particularly eloquent in speaking of the progressive losses of aging. For example, there is "At Ninety: Embers of a World," which depicts two elderly persons as they "decompensate in sorrow." (pp. 8-9); and "Of Late I Have Taken to Falling," in which a patient describes her recent falls, but concludes, "I shall not / fall again." (p. 16-17).

Other portraits deal lovingly with an "impressively calm" dying matriarch ("CHF and the Matriarch, p. 6) and "The Good Storyteller" (pp. 18-19), who "wants her life / to begin again / to call her out / to play her part / once more with / cleaner closets / open doors." In "Funeral Plan" (p. 22), we meet an elderly woman carefully considering the magnificent array of flowers she plans to have at her funeral, "no hot house roses please," but great expanses of seasonal flowers: "ditch lilies / apple blossoms / naked ladies . . . " and so forth.


This is the second of three chapbooks of "portraits" by Nancy Adams Cogan. The others are Snap Shots (38 pages, 1995) [see annotation in this database] and Over There (34 pages, 2002), all published by Cellar Doors Press. Almost all of the portraits describe or evoke geriatric patients, although in the more recent Over There the author writes that as she grows older herself she is less likely "to cap each poem with a judgment call" and she envisions herself going back to some of the poems in the first two books, written at an earlier stage of life, and snipping off "the last line or two." Where the earlier poems present sharp portraits that tie up the loose ends, leaving the reader satisfied, in the later work the portraits are more ambiguous, more open to interpretation.

These three chapbooks are excellent sources of poems for geriatric seminars or courses that deal with the human dimension of aging. They cover a wide variety of situations, including elder abuse ("Adult Protection Visit," pp. 24-25, In Strange Places) and smoldering embers of domestic violence ("Burnt Offerings," p. 25, Snap Shots). Over There also contains a wonderful love poem written in memory of the author's deceased husband ["Marriage Blanket (1959-1988," p. 32].


In Strange Places, Over There, and Snap Shots may be purchased from Cellar Doors Press, 1117 St. Clement's Alley, Iowa City, IA 52245, or or by e-mail at


Cellar Doors Press

Place Published

Iowa City, Iowa



Page Count