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Annotation in NYU's Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database

Hughes, Holly, J., ed. 
Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer's Disease

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres) (247 pp.)

Keywords: Aging, Body Self-Image, Caregivers, Death and Dying, Dementia, Empathy, Family Relationships, Human Worth, Love, Memory, Mourning, Suffering

Summary: The idea for this anthology of poetry and prose about Alzheimer's disease patients and their caregivers arose from the editor's own experience writing about her mother. Encouraged by Tess Gallagher, Edward Hirsch, and others, Holly Hughes invited writers to contribute poems and short prose pieces that witnessed to the human experience of Alzheimer's disease. The resulting anthology includes about 120 pieces chosen from over 500 submitted. The editor has arranged these in a series of thematic sections, one of which, "Missing Pieces," contains the nine prose contributions to this primarily-poetry anthology. At the end of each work, the author has provided the reader with a brief (two or three sentence) comment on the circumstances that led he or she to write it. Tess Gallagher's Foreword describes her experience living with, and caring for, her mother who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, two "widows together" (p. xv), during the months and years after Raymond Carver's death (Gallagher was married to Carver).

The works address an array of closely related themes in a wonderful variety of voices. A major focus is the Alzheimer's patient's slipping away, withdrawing, changing, whether it be toward dissolution, or into a different country. Sometimes the change reveals "your true life: / the bright unruffled water, / a sudden lift of wings," as in Linda Alexander's "Your True Life" (p. 23). Sometimes life has fled elsewhere, as in "No Destination" by Penny Harter (p. 67), or gradually dissolved ("Verbal Charms" by Melanie Martin, p. 41). Other poems evoke the unexpected and sometimes humorous antics of the demented. Witness, for example, Len Roberts' "My Uncle Chauncey Drove My Aunt Eleanor" (p. 36) and "Early Alzheimer's" by Sheryl L. Neims (p. 55). Another theme is the loving commitment of spouses who are taking care of a demented partner so many years after saying "I do" "This is what you signed on for / in such bodily earnest before the distractible / justice of the peace 64 runaway years ago" (E. A. Axelberg, p. 79). Parent-child relationships also take on new meaning, as in the touching poems "Bath" by Holly Hughes (p. 119) and "Pacific Sunset" by Arthur Ginsberg (p. 127). Finally, the inevitable themes of death and mourning pervade the anthology's last section entitled, appropriately, "Still Life."

Commentary: This fine collection of poetry and short prose moves "beyond forgetting" in two ways. First, it evokes the manifold dimensions and consequences of Alzheimer's disease, bringing the reader into a fuller realization of its human meaning. Secondly, it leads the reader toward a deeper understanding (beyond his or her own forgetting) of respect, compassion, humility, and human dignity. Almost every piece in this anthology is a free-standing work of art that needs no explanation. However, the brief comments at the end of each piece help the reader "link" his or her circumstances more closely with those of the author.

Source: Beyond Forgetting. Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer's Disease.
Publisher: Kent State University Press
Edition: 2009
Editors: Holly J. Hughes
Place Published: Kent, Ohio
Annotated by: Coulehan, Jack

Date of Entry: 08/05/09

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