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 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

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