In the Foreword to this collection, poet John Graham-Pole writes, "Children have uncovered for me the last and greatest lesson: souls thriving on failing at bigger and bigger things" (xvii). The heroes of these poems are just such children, transformed by serious illness. For example, Dominic in "Waiting" who "rests on his airbubble cot / awaiting life’s flight from its earthly beat" (10); Ruby in "Ruby Red": "And so poor Ruby meets her final test, in gentle hemolysis rolled to res" (35); the lovely young woman in "Elegy": "You’re newly dead, sans wig, / seventeen year old virgin whom / I’d loved." (57).

"I try through writing poems to lay a finger on the purpose of illness, on its pulse .  . Poems turn denial and withdrawal into compassion--feeling with. They turn fear into mercy--thank you" (xvii). The poet’s eye remains dispassionate, even though his heart may be breaking, as in "Last Rites" (32), in which a dead toddler’s father and his companion "sluice down the flooring with their hoses. After the vomit and blood the water runs clear." He understands the limits of communication about loss, but recognizes, too, that we must make the attempt; and the attempt has meaning in itself: "Afterward the circles of our talk / snap . . . - Within, we write our / separate texts of it. Between, the tension / stands: this no talk could break." ("Circles," p. 87)


John Graham-Pole is a pediatric oncologist who understands that "detached concern" is a failure of compassion, rather than a heroic stance toward illness and suffering. In these poems he explores the transformative power of serious illness in children--how the dying child may be able to teach his family and caregivers. However, the lessons may be far from somber; in "Rx" the poet shares what he has learned with others: "Try giggling at nothing in particular . . . Be downright wild, wooly, and / irresponsible for a spell . . . Have a tantrum in your car." "Can’t harm, might help," he concludes (99--100).

Dr. David Crown illustrates "Quick" with 21 remarkable mezzotints. Brown is a physician and also president of the International Mezzotint Society. Each of the illustrations contributes to the poem with which it is associated and to the book as a whole. The mezzotints are simple and whimsical, light and deep. I feel that Paul Klee, Hans Arp, Pablo Picasso, and perhaps Dr. Seuss have walked this way before, but though David Crown enjoys his companions, he walks in his own footsteps.


Illustrations by David Crown, MD


Writers Club Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count