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Saturday, October 19, 2013

What The Heart Knows, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin Books, Thomas Allen. 2013. $19.99 all ages

"I wrote these poems for comfort, for understanding, for hope: to remind myself of things I keep learning and forgetting and learning again. They're about repairing friendship, slowing down time, understanding happiness, facing the worst kind of loss. They are words to speak in the face of loneliness, fear, delight or confusion. I hope they work for you. I hope you're inspired to write some of your own -"

The above comes from Joyce Sidman's introduction to her newest book of poetry. There are almost fifty poems, and they are beautifully and thoughtfully written, as we have come to expect from this outstanding writer. Here's just one of my favorites:


           A voice.
           A touch.
Not caring.

Saying to yourself:
            I am too old to do this.
            I am too young to do this.
            I am too smart to do this.
            It's not my fault.
            It is my fault.
            It is my fault, and I will fix it.

            I can do this."

The author has chosen to divide her book into four sections: Chants and Charms, Spells and Invocations, Laments and Remembrances, and finally, Praise Songs and Blessings. They are poems to be read by all ages. They are about the lives we live, and all of its many facets.

We could all use a charm for sleep at some point in our lives, right?

"This bed is the perfect bed.
Sink into its healing
cheek against cool pillow-white.
Forget everything you ever wanted,
hoped, or feared.
One by one, those cares will drop
from you like stones
into deep water."

Once again, Ms. Sidman's poems are visually interpreted in the beautiful mixed media artwork of Pamela Zagarenski. Her illustrations match the tone of each poem perfectly, it seems to me. There are times when white space takes up most of the facing page, allowing readers a chance to focus on the peaceful beauty of the poetry it illustrates. At other times, the art fills every available space inviting careful consideration and reflection on the artist's interpretation of the written words.

There are poems here about peace and love, about heartbreak and hope, about courage and forgiveness. Today as dear friends try to come to terms with the death of a loved one, far too young to have left her husband and children, family and friends, I found this lament that speaks to what they must be feeling:

"It's so far
from what
you expect:
the difference
a "heroic battle"
the actual blow
to the face.
The pain:
so blindingly
and vicious,
to wound in a way
you will never forget,
how you breathe,
leave the hollow air
with shock.
Even when you know
it's coming,
it arrives
out of nowhere:
so quick,
so uncalled for,
such a terrible
between before
and after."

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