Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Evening Sun: A Widow's Journey

Recently, I had the privilege of reading and reviewing a stunning new book by poet and essayist Aline Soules. As a professional grief counselor, I recommend it to women who have lost a beloved husband or partner. As a male reader/reviewer, I am certain it would touch the hearts of widowers, as well. 

The review is below, followed by an enlightening interview with the author.
“The 29 poems in Aline Soules’s chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey, are a gripping plunge into one woman’s emptiness, after sudden death deprived her of physical companionship and romance. This is not a philosophical search for meaning in a life bereft of aliveness. It is the poet’s clear-sighted recounting of everyday moments no longer shared in intimacy and joy. If this sounds depressing, it is far from that. Evening Sun is a celebration of two lovers caught in the act of wholehearted loving. It is the story of a woman’s ongoing struggle to fuel her future with the energy of stored recollections.” – Reviewed by Alfred J. Garrotto, author of TheWisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean

WLM:  Would you share with us the time span during with these 29 poems were written?

Aline Soules:  I began writing these poems about six months after my husband died.  Because he died suddenly, I was in shock for a long time and, for the first time in my life, didn’t write very much.  As I came out of that shock, I began to write again on a couple of projects, both of which turned into published works.  The poems in this work came intermittently over the next four to five years, as ideas and experiences presented themselves and as my grieving process moved from stage to stage.  As Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey emerged as a chapbook, I wanted to document various stages of grief, but not unrelieved grief.  I also wanted to share memories of our life together and reflect on the path through the grief to acceptance and the discovery or re-discovery of joy in the world.

WLM:  Your book is subtitled, “A Widow’s Journey.” As you have engaged in public readings of this work, what kinds of response have you received from other widows (and widowers)?

Aline: My book is new enough that I haven’t given many readings yet; however, some of these poems have appeared previously and one of them was published in a book called The Widow’s Handbook.  That anthology includes about thirty women authors who have experienced the loss of a partner.  While those women are around the country, several are in the Bay Area and we have given a couple of readings to audiences of widows and widowers and bonded in the process.  Audience responses often depend on the stage of the listener’s grief.  A close friend was widowed about a year ago and told me that she couldn’t come to my reading because she would just sit there and sob.  At the other end of the spectrum, one widower in the audience had been widowed the week before and sat stony-faced through the entire reading. Between those extremes, we have had only praise and appreciation for a reflection of the emotions of widowhood we so rarely discuss.  

The other thing I notice—and I’ve noticed it with all my work, not just this one—is that each person resonates to different poems, whether listening at a reading or reading the work and emailing me afterwards.  For those who have experience with transplantation, “Apart” is the poem that draws them in.  A married man I know read the book and responded to “I’ve changed my mind,” where I reflect on irritating habits that are now completely inconsequential and would be a joy to see again.  Another person responded to “Stranger in a Strange Land.”  Who knows what will speak to others?  The gratitude comes in knowing that somewhere, someone finds value in each one of them.

WLM:  How would describe your purpose or intent in writing these poems?
                           
Aline: As I emerged from shock, I began with the simple need to write my own experiences as a way to work through the various grief stages. As the poems formed and as I worked to edit them into finished work, I began to see them as a “whole” and wanted to craft not only the poems, but also a composite work that turned into this chapbook.  My evolving intentions reflect the emotional changes I experienced over the years and also my general desire to share my work.  I have never been a person to want to shove my poems or any of my writing in a closet.  Ultimately, when I think it’s ready and good enough, I want it “out there.” 

WLM:  What motivated you to publish these deeply personal verses, sharing them with the world.

Aline: As I wrote over the five-year period, documenting what I felt as time passed, I also began to experience the “invisibility” of widowhood.  There are so many of us and widowhood is not something we discuss in the workplace or at the grocery store or even with many of our friends, especially couples.  Somewhere in that five-year period, I also wrote an essay for a practical anthology on widowhood.  As part of that, I discovered in the U.S. Census that approximately thirteen million people are widowed annually in this country and that two million are men and eleven million are women.  While each of our grief journeys is unique, I thought we had to have something in common and that these poems could resonate with others’ experiences, perhaps helping people to feel less alone in their journeys. 

WLM:  What relationship might you have intended between Evening Sun and your previous book, Meditation on Woman?

Aline:  The first piece I wrote when I began to recover from my initial shock was a piece called “Possessions.”  This is a prose poem about a woman who eats her way through her house from the attic on down.  When she gets to the basement, she finishes her husband’s unfinished projects.  This piece emerged from the process of going through my husband’s things and getting rid of them, a difficult process for any widowed person.  I suddenly thought about how I’d like to absorb all those things to be able to keep him somehow and I ended the piece with the unfinished projects because, of course, partnerships are never truly finished and we want them to go on.  Other pieces in that book are also reflective, such as “Chill” and “Love Book,” although I wanted Meditation on Woman to be about “über woman /everywoman,” so only some of the pieces involve a partner and only from the woman’s perspective.  When I began to write the pieces for that work, I wanted to reflect personal, emotional, intellectual, societal, and other aspects of a woman and her life experience. 

The poems in Evening Sun are more traditional.  I never intended or didn’t intend a connection between Meditation on Woman and Evening Sun, but it’s there in some of the pieces.  I wrote them in the same general time period, working on both of them at once.  As a result, there’s bound to be connection because I’m the same person and I speak and write with the same unique voice.  Voice is so important in writing. Yes, there are different stories or different poems or different essays, but the voice that threads through them is what makes the writer unique.

WLM:  Is there anything else you would like your readers to know a) about this book or b) your previous work? Or anything else?

Aline:  As the book was going to press, I had an opportunity to add a form of “codicil” to the book.  Books tend to come in certain page lengths, which harks back to the centuries-old concept of folios.  There was an extra leaf, which gave me an opportunity to speak directly to the reader in a practical way.  On the right side of the page, I listed my previous works, but on the left, I explained that my poetry collection focused on my emotional journey and provided a short list of web site links for those who needed practical help and connection to others. 

I hope people find value in my work, whether it’s in the content or the craft or the language—something.  If so, then I’m content.  Short reviews are already appearing on my amazon page and they tell me that I’m reaching out to people with some success.  No writer can ask for more.

WLM:  Thank you, Aline, for sharing so openly about your life experience. Thanks, too, for giving us an opportunity to "read between the lines" of this beautiful book. 


(c) 2014 by Alfred J, Garrotto


Evening Sun: a Widow's Journey (a chapbook)
Meditation on Woman

Aline's blog:  http://alinesoules.com






Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Under the Influence of Jesus" -- A Book Review

Under the Influence of Jesus
by Joe Paprocki, D.Min.
Loyola Press (2014)
168 pages


Joe Paprocki’s latest book, Under the Influence of Jesus, models adult faith formation at its best: faith-full, contemporary, and applicable to everyday life. Readers who approach this book  with “same-old, same-old” expectations risk missing both its stirring evangelical passion and its down-to-earth/up-to-heaven spirituality. Paprocki invites his readers to imbibe the Spirit-filled joy that marked the original Pentecost event, as described in Acts 2. After spending days in seclusion, fearing for their lives, Jesus’ reenergized band of followers took to the streets of Jerusalem early on a Sunday morning. Instead of blending into the city’s normal life, they started proclaiming the “good news” that the Jews’ long-awaited Messiah had indeed come and had risen from the dead And they did it with such Spirit-filled enthusiasm that the mocking bystanders’ first reaction was to accuse the noisemakers of being “under the influence” of too much wine. As Paprocki reminds us, “The crowds . . . weren’t ‘wowed’ by miracles or . . . soaring rhetoric. Rather, what captured their imagination was the [disciples’] total lack of inhibition.” Relying heavily throughout the book on examples from familiar movies, literature, and music, the author compares the infectious joy of that first Pentecost to every movie buff’s favorite line from When Harry Met Sally: “I’ll have what she’s having.” Three thousand people joined the Jesus movement in a single day. Paprocki then fastforwards to later periods of Church history (including our own) when Catholics “instituted some kind of ‘prohibition’ against the inebriating influence of the Holy Spirit.” 


Under the Influence of Jesus invites today’s Catholics to indulge in the same intoxicating submission to the mystery of the Risen Christ that sparked the birth of Christianity. This book does more than inspire renewal of the reader’s faith. Chapter upon chapter offers practical methodologies for uninhibited kingdom dwellers. RCIA teams, in particular, will draw inspiration from chapters on the “baskets” of discipleship and the stages of conversion (drawing on St. Paul’s experience in Acts 9). 

“Ultimately,” Paprocki says, “the goal of discipleship is contagion: ‘infecting’ others with the Good News through our words and actions.” 

(Reviewed by Alfred J. Garrotto for the June 2014 Issue of US Catholic Magazine)

Monday, February 17, 2014

There’s More . . .

(beta version of cover)
[ I am 40,000+ words into my current work-in-progress, a novella titled, There's More . . .  Recently, the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch (to which I belong), challenged our members to tell a story, not in thousands of words, but in 100 or less. I accepted the task. The following is my novella from start to finish. ]


A bat. A ball. A swing. A bullet.
A death. A guide. A life.

A bat—black-varnished, rays of setting sun splintering north, south, east, west, until tension-stilled,
at the ready. 

A ball—Virginal white. Never pitched, nor struck. Rocketing from hurler’s hand. 
A swing—fluid, potent contact, ball arrowing moundward. 
A bullet—fired in revenge, racing ball to target. 
A death. Accident? Murder? Projectiles: protagonists in this unplotted drama. The pitcher falls, forehead concaved,
a blackening hole deep at crater ’s base. 

A guide. Heaven-sent to assist at this unexpected crossing-over. 
A life—“There’s more, my son . . . .”

The End

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Valentine--Caring For Your Most Important Relationship

[ My guest blogger is Rev. Charles Ara, married Catholic Priest/Marital Therapist and author of the book, THE GRASS IS GREENER WHERE IT’S WATERED. Charlie and I were schoolmates back in . . . well, let's just say, 'Back in the day.']

On this Valentine’s Day, I offer 10 suggestions on caring for the most important relationship in your life:

1.     Have specific times when the TV, Cell phones and the computer are OFF.
2.     Make dates at least a month in advance and write them own on your mutual calendars.
3.     Take an evening walk at least once a week enjoying the evening air and holding hands.
4.     Get away to a hotel or motel once every three months for two nights and three days.
5.     Go to the beach or park in the early evening and enjoy the sunset.
6.     Exercise together in the morning or in the evening
7.     Take a long auto drive getting out of the car every few miles to take a short walk together.
8.     Have breakfast together at a restaurant on a Saturday morning without the kids.
9.     Have a good strong lock for your bedroom door.
10. Every day, find your partner, look into their eyes and say THANK YOU FOR BEING MY LOVER, MY PARTNER, MY COMPANION IN LIFE, MY PAL AND MY BEST FRIEND.

Some of these activities may cost money, but what better thing to spend your money on than taking care of the most important relationship in your life.

(c) 2014 by Charles Ara
Father Ara can be reached at (562) 865-4075, His e-mail address is cara@sprintmail.com.
Website: http://home.sprintmail.com/~cara/frcharlieara/


Pablo Neruda Love Poem: When I die . . . (Cuando yo muera)


[ Happy Valentine's Day  to all!]

When I die I want your hands on my eyes:
I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me one more time
to feel the smoothness that changed my destiny.

I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,
I want for your ears to go on hearing the wind,
for you to smell the sea that we loved together

and for you to go on walking the sand where we walked.
I want for what I love to go on living
and as for you I loved you and sang you above everything,
for that, go on flowering, flowery one,

so that you reach all that my love orders for you,
so that my shadow passes through your hair,
so that they know by this the reason for my song.




*  *  *  *

Cuando yo muera quiero tus manos en mis ojos:
quiero la luz y el trigo de tus manos amadas
pasar una vez más sobre  su frescura:
sentir la suavidad que cambió mi destino.

Quiero que vivas mientras yodormidote espero,
quiero que tus oídos sigan oyendo el viento,
que huelas el aroma del mar que amamos juntos
que sigas pisando la arena que pisamos.

Quiero que lo que amo siga vivo
y a ti te amé y canté sobre todas las cosas,
por eso sigue  floreciendoflorida,

para que alcances todo lo que mi amor te ordena,
para que se pasee mi sombra por tu pelo,
para que así conozcan la razón de mi canto.

Pablo Neruda, Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperadaCien Sonetos de Amor.
Plaza y 
Janés. Ave Fénix 205-2. Sexta ediciónjunio 1998. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Favorite Books of 2013



               

2013 Fiction = The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Pulitzer Prize)

A peek inside the craziness that characterizes North Korea's closed and insanely dangerous society. I've always wondered what was behind what I see and read in the press. Adam Johnson's amazing tale of daily half-life and slow death north of the DMZ leaves the reader mesmerized by the illusions supporting that dark country.

2013 Fiction (Audio Book) = Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghese


I had read the book, but listening to Sunil Malhotra's melodic audio rendition of the story of twin brothers Marion and Shiva Stone doubled the pleasure of this wonderful, sad, and often gut-wrenching narrative.

2013 Nonfiction = In the Beginning Was the Spirit: Science, Religion, and Indigenous Spirituality by Diarmuid O’Murchu


O'Murchu expands the Christian consciousness to allow for a bigger, more mysterious deity than most of us allow. As the subtitle promises, the author melds the findings of science with "modern" and more primitive religious beliefs. Christians, prepare for a mind-bending but totally faith-filled reading experience.


Commentaries (c) 2013 by Alfred J. Garrotto