A poetry collection that shows the devastating, exhausting effects of chronic pain and illness.
Ling offers a series of poems about a real-life woman who lived the latter part of her life in extreme physical pain. Alice grew up ballroom dancing and, as an adult, became one of the first female managers in the textile industry. When her body began to decline due to rheumatoid arthritis and Ménière’s syndrome, a disorder of the inner ear, her world became considerably smaller and more difficult to navigate. Ling presents the poems from his ownperspective as one of Alice’s friends, caretakers and admirers. The verses provide empathetic accounts of Alice’s suffering and her courageous, admirable attempts to stay connected to the outside world, through church, family and the Internet. The stronger poems contemplate how pain can take over the body, the mind and the spirit. “PAIN!” for example, plays on the idea that even Alice’s hair hurts: “[H]air should not hurt / you cannot comb pain / brush it away like hair / on the shoulder its there / getting bolder making me / feel older stiff and colder.” “HOSTAGE” describes pain as terrorists who have “hijacked the body. / Sometimes there seem to be / more gunmen than passengers, / she is all pain and no body.” Other poems explore how Alice survives as her own advocate—with doctors, emergency medical technicians and people who can’t fully understand the impact of living with chronic pain. In one of the more poignant verses, the narrator feels guilty for being able to live an “ordinary life” when “any other life to her / would be so rich.” Ling deftly and beautifully expresses one of the most significant challenges of chronic illness when it comes to visitors, including friends and family: “They do notcome. / They cannot bear / to live their lives, / to sit and listen, / ask how are you, / and hear the honest answer.” Although the narrator clearly admires and loves his subject and sees her pain, he also recognizes that healing works both ways. In the collection’s title poem, he states, “[S]he would find me out and turn me round, / lift me up and gently put me down, / she in need of healing, healing me.”
An evocative poetry book about the powers of healing and connection.
A collection of poetry focuses on everyday beauty and wonder.
Over the course of 50 poems with straightforward titles, retired high school English teacher Hathwell (Between Dog and Wolf, 2017, etc.) explores the world around him. Nature is a touchstone of his poetry. In “Poplar,” he expertly describes the titular tree “catching a breeze, flutter sage and silver wings” while in “Sunflower,” he lingers on the “wide blank face” of the “saddest flower.” The author also showcases culture in his poems. “Fred’s Girl” is a propulsive ode to the Fred Astaire–Paulette Goddard duet in the film Second Chorus, and “Sunday at the Symphony” captures the ethereal experience of live classical music. But the poems aren’t limited to the author’s immediate surroundings. A visit to the Spanish Steps, where Keats died in 1821, is the subject of “Readiness Is Everything,” which encourages readers to “imagine the world without you.” Hathwell plays with humor in “Dust Is Winning,” about the futile fight to keep things clean, and shows his cynical side in “Red Dress,” which describes the “ruby radiance” of an ensemble depicted in advertising. The act of writing is another recurring theme in this collection. “Song” depicts a successful writing day, in which “I rise from my desk, / Majestic, and I dance,” while “Sure Thing” warns readers “that language is prepared to lie / When you ask it to.” Quiet moments are also rich material for the poet. Throughout, he matches his message to the pacing of the poem, creating an immersive experience for readers. In “Finding Myself in the Morning,” readers sink into Hathwell’s serene, solitary scene where he can finally “not wonder / who is speaking, or what comes next.” In “Ten O’Clock,” the audience can sense the descent into a “deep, forgiving sleep.” The one flaw of this collection is its breadth. Because everything from Astaire to flora is fair game, the individual poems don’t always flow from one to the next, and transitions can be jarring.
Like the demigod from which it takes its name, Defining Atlas is a durable, uplifting volume.
A strong current of self-affirmation, self-love, and self-confidence runs through this work, and readers will come away feeling their spirits improved. We feel some of this current in the clever “Limited”; Michaels takes the titular subject and turns it on its head: “I’m new, but I’m old / Not limited beyond my means and methods / But limited because I’m special / Special beyond the heavens and everything that surrounds me / That I’m among…limited.” Elsewhere in “From the ashes…I am,” he sings a hard-won song of renewal and rebirth: “I am victory in its rawest form / I am hope that never conform / I am the will, the drive, and the truth / I am like everyone, like you.” But Michaels does not hoard specialness or victory for himself; he wants it for his reader too, and in “Wake Up!” he urges us on toward a bright future: “There’s something good here for you / Your purpose can never be defined by just one blue / Your destiny awaits you.” Underpinning Michaels’ stirring message is a strong faith in God, whose presence infuses many of the poems here: “But I always thank God for the latter / For the strength and will it takes / Shines so bright / Shines so right.” Michaels often adopts a loose scheme of rhyming couplets, and this decision leads to one of the book’s few weaknesses. Too often, the poet picks awkward or odd pairings; e.g., “And if I could become a perfect saint / I would make believers out of the ones who say they ain’t” and the “you/blue” couplet mentioned above. But such missteps are infrequent, and they don’t dim the warm light that emanates from Michaels’ fine volume.