Review in Portland Writing Examiner
Portland Writing Examiner September 21, 2009
Karen Braucher Tobin
"Beyond Forgetting anthology illuminates Alzheimer's Disease"
"Beyond Forgetting" is a comprehensive compendium of poetry and short prose written by 100 contemporary writers whose lives have been touched by Alzheimer's disease, a brutal illness which attacks the brain, usually in the later years. There is no cure at present, but there is a great deal of research being done.
This is an important, well-organized, and beautifully written book for everybody. Why everybody? Alzheimer's disease is estimated to affect one in two persons over the age of eighty and is being diagnosed in people as young as fifty. If you are coping with a friend or relative or patients with this disease, you will find this book helpful and surprisingly consoling. The odds that Alzheimer's disease will somehow touch your life are high.
"Beyond Forgetting" is structured to follow the course of the disease and provides much insight into the caretaking roles involved. While it would be natural to think this could be depressing, the sharing of experiences is deeply moving. Many well-known writers have contributions, as well as relative newcomers.
Edited by Holly J. Hughes, who lost her mother to the disease, this book is part of the Literature and Medicine Series of Kent State University Press. When Hughes sent out a call for submissions over the internet, in a few weeks she had 500 entries from around the world. She decided to form an editorial board to confront the difficult task of which entries to include, and asked renowned poet Tess Gallagher, whose mother at the time was living with Alzheimer's, to write the Foreword to the book. Hughes has done a masterful job of combining voices to illuminate this most difficult of diseases. There is excellent writing here as well as profound compassion for both those with Alzheimer's disease and their many caregivers.
Each writer also briefly shares his or her own personal story after each entry. Here we have doctors, nurses, social workers, hospice workers, daughters, sons, wives, husbands, and friends whose lives were touched by the disease. The reader can move beyond stereotypes and honor the dignity of the afflicted and those who struggle to help them on their difficult journey.
A reading from "Beyond Forgetting" at Looking Glass Books last Saturday, September 19, in Portland, Oregon, was one of many happening around the country. Poet Tess Gallagher read from her Foreword and advised the large audience to "get more help earlier." She noted that taking care of her mother had been one of the most unacknowledged jobs she'd ever had but that it also had some gifts: "In mother's company, I had to be more human than I'd ever been." She related that her mother turned to her one day and said impishly, "You're the mommy now." And so roles are reversed. After Gallagher, ten other poets read one poem each from the collection in a beautiful tribute to all who have been touched. The full range of emotions is represented as well as the confusion and awkwardness of trying to help.
This is a comprehensive and deftly edited anthology that is not to be missed.
For more information about the book, upcoming readings in other cities, and how to order "Beyond Forgetting," visit this website: www.beyondforgettingbook.com.