Friday, August 12, 2011

Poetry Friday: The Radiation Sonnets

This summer I found a copy of a book of poetry by the wonderful Jane Yolen called The Radiation Sonnets. I read the book in two sittings - actually two lying downs. I read a couple of them aloud to my husband with tears running into my ears.

Yolen wrote these poems while her husband was undergoing radiation treatment. Each night she would write one sonnet, and she says in the preface:
"It was a way to sort through my emotions while holding myself to a difficult task. In fact it was the only thing in my day I seemed to have any control over. For me it was unthinkable to look straight on the possibility of Death without poetic discourse."

I have found writing poetry equally therapeutic, and I loved reading these clear-eyed, unsentimental poems. My favorites include a description of her husband, weakened, taking his seven year old granddaughter birding. Yolen says that her caregiving has made her husband feel less strong as she frets about his eating and his hair loss. By contrast, being with his granddaughter restores him. "There's nothing so strengthening than to be told/ That you are a god by a seven-year-old." I also loved the one called "Letting Go," where she writes of a day when a friend takes her husband to his radiation appointment with these beautiful lines:
Yet in this first pained time we've been apart
I sensed, my dear, an infinite rehearsal:
A gap, a hole, a pinpoint in my heart,
A space for which I fear there's no reversal.

Yolen's husband died in 2006, three years after this book was published. These poems stand as a record of suffering, pain, hope, and love. I am celebrating an anniversary of many years with my husband, and have recently said goodbye to family and friends to return to Haiti; the ideas of love and loss fill my mind these days. This book made very appropriate reading.

Here's today's roundup.


Matsu said...

Thank you for sharing. And, happy anniversary. Miss you guys, lots!

Doraine Bennett said...

Jane's poems are masterful. Thanks for sharing the excepts. Best wishes to you as you make the transition.

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks said...

This post has moved me today. Dealing with life, love, and loss is truly daunting without 'poetic discourse' as you have pointed out. For some reason, it's the cryptic quality of poems and the structure in its verses that somehow carve some form of meaning from painful experiences.

I also believe that books come to you for a reason at a given point in time. Thank you for sharing this, and happy anniversary! =)

Tabatha said...

Thank you for sharing this book with us, Ruth. I hadn't heard about it before. Great post.

Mary Lee said...

The snippet you shared at the end of your post made tears jump into my eyes -- I can well imagine reading them, as you did, with tears running down my face and into my ears!

Love and loss. That's about the sum of it.

Janet said...

Happy anniversary, Ruth.

These poems sound heartbreaking, but strangely appropriate for where you are right now too.

Carlie said...

I love the idea of poetry each night as therapy for impossible things life hands us. Have never known Jane before now...thank you for sharing. Makes me think of Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall too.

K. said...

I just ordered the book - Had no idea it even existed. Thanks so much for posting this!