GRIEF SONGS: A BOOK REVIEW

Grief Songs is a beautiful and haunting collection of poems that has left an indelible impression on my soul.

The book pays homage to the author’s parents, Elliot and Katherine as well as her brother, George. All deceased. The heart and essence are within the minutiae of the detail of each poem; where the everyday objects or events become increasingly poignant and resonate with vitality, a life lived, a life no longer except within memories of a few. Memories such as the crooked smile of her father, the perfect portrait of the siblings, ‘his (her father’s) precious angels’ who are immortalised in a click but belies the earlier unruly behaviour of the children when:

‘George had cried piteous tears
while I railed against my bangs’

A doll during a seaside outing is recalled in the stark awareness that:

‘just Lulubelle and I now
detritus of a beach day’

Each poem within Grief Songs is preceded by a photograph and coupled with the poem these become a powerful and emotional combination.

Grief Songs I, II & III consists of one striking poem each. The majority of the poems in the book are tankas within the Poems of Love and Remembrance section. Tankas are a Japanese form of poetry, a type of short song, over five lines with a 5/7/5/7/7 syllable count format.

The hypnotic poems take on a life of their own as familial love, warmth, kindness and care is recalled. Liz’s mother is described with the memorable and striking words of:

‘for a time she stood fearless
my protector, my mother’

One of the later poems summarises her mother’s life in:

‘sixty years safe under glass
minutes tucked into envelopes
decades left in dresser drawers’

The book is a tribute to her parents, their early life, family trips, love for her brother. An early poem describes how the siblings are enjoying a day on the beach, ‘no diagnosis / his arm around her shoulders’. Another photo and poem describe ‘George Gauffreau enjoys a Coke/classmate, friend, brother deceased’.

Katherine, Elliot, Liz & Geoge Gauffreau at Hannaford Cove Beach in Cape Elizabeth, Maine – photo courtesy of the author, with thanks.

I am deeply moved by the profound inner landscape captured within the ordinary days of family life. Remarkable moments mulled over time. In one poem, entitled ‘Time’, Liz fondly remembers her father’s story-time and her mother’s words of ‘wait till your father gets home / not a threat but a promise’. A father one senses is a hero for young Liz who, as a two-year-old, sits beside him, pen in hand as he writes his sermons. ‘oh the places she will go’. For now, she is happy to be close to her father and recalls on her confirmation day that there is ‘more time with Daddy for me’.

Liz Gauffreau’s book dares to directly approach an emotion that in modern society is often not acknowledged; the universal experience of loss is one of the rawest and most absolute of emotions and one that has become increasingly sidelined in search of ‘happiness’.

Not by Liz Gauffreau who in response to her own close personal losses in life decided to highlight the contradiction of grief. Where dark and light coexist on an existential level, where memories blend with the present, a buffer for living with intense and overwhelming grief. The transient nature of life is explored through these snapshot moments, caught in the black and white of photographs, in the black of the text, through colour images. The memories are retrieved, examined and shared in the most tender and thought-provoking poetry.

Ultimately the book becomes not only a study of Liz Gauffreau’s grief but also of one’s own as well as one’s identity upon losing those closest to us.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Paul Stream Press (September 2021)

Available: Amazon US Kindle $ 2.99 Amazon US Paperback $ 10.57
Amazon UK Kindle £ 2.16 Amazon UK Paperback £ 3.84

About Liz Gauffreau

Elizabeth Gauffreau writes fiction and poetry with a strong connection to family and place. She holds a B.A. in English/Writing from Old Dominion University and an M.A. in English/Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire. She is currently the Assistant Dean of Curriculum & Assessment for Champlain College Online, where she is an Associate Professor. Her fiction and poetry have been published in literary magazines and several themed anthologies. Her debut novel, TELLING SONNY, was published by Adelaide Books in 2018. Liz lives in Nottingham, New Hampshire with her husband.

Read more about Liz Gauffreau on her website and blog. Connect with Liz on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest and BookBub.

IN THE MURK

Private people, political pawns
Scratching for survival on the barren plains.
Tufts of autumn grasses, scraggly skeleton trees
A frozen mist of grey
descends on them all.

Flickering flames fight for life
beneath four large twigs
crossed unevenly above
the mound of ashes.

Vacant eyes stare despairingly.
The route to freedom pushes back
Behind them an equally determined force
hems them in. No return to civilisation.

Trapped, the human hostages wait.
For Life. Or for Death.

As usual the world watches on.
Albeit through distorted crackly images
sent from the migrants’ phones.
The Press refused entry by both sides.

In the glare of publicity, but not.
In our sights, but not.

Days become nights.
Tens of migrants become hundreds.
Hundreds turn to thousands.

In an area bereft of anything
There is even less than nothing.

The masses gather
at hastily slung up rolls of barbed wire.

The Border.

Words are thrown through the
gaping holes of mesh,
Stones are hurled across the countries.
SNIP SNAP.
Shears ineptly
attack the coiled boundary.

15,000 official soldiers ahead.
Unknown army thugs to the rear.
2,000 imprisoned, homeless, unrepresented.
No voice. No advocate.

Humanity at its basest.

As the verbose political volleys
a
re strewn across the air waves,
As political threats are met by counter-threats
People Die. All hope diminished.

Resolutions are passed in amiable assemblies
Discussions continued over replete repasts.
Morsels from these luncheon tables
But a dream to the
Trapped.

Flown in by a malfeasant country
on the wings of promises,
of easy access to the West, of bright futures.

However much one might question
such nativity. The truth remains:
No one leaves their home for uncertainty.
No one endures such hardship.
Without real and absolute cause.

As the hoards gather in the frozen murk
Ghostly beings wander the earth
Human beings abandoned by the world.

For once, why not take the high ground?
For once, why not do what is morally right?

Let governments continue their wrangling,
Let world organisations issue
their impotent irresolute decrees
.

For NOW

At the border, save the people.
Allow orderly documented entry
From there seek the best way forward.

For NOW

May humanity take a step forward,
Through the murk, across the wire.

©Annika Perry, November 2021

LIFE’S RICH TAPESTRY Woven in Words: A Book Review

Thank goodness for the blogging challenges that inspired Sally Cronin’s Life’s Rich Tapestry Woven in Words. An enriching and engaging collection of verse, micro fiction and short stories, her work is mesmerising, always uplifting and often humorous. Throughout humanity and the spirits of humans (and some animals) is a beacon of hope for us all.

Sally’s poetry is enticing, thoughtful and soothing; they are written tightly within the framework of syllables for various formats such as haikus and tankas yet explore a vast range of topics encompassing the wonder of the seasons, recognising human frailties and celebrating the warmth of togetherness. She manages to take us on a journey from cave drawings to digital code across the universe, from the mystical of the ugly troll with his bewitching music in The Moonlight Concerto to the enchantment of Fairies!

As a writer, one poem – an ode to writing – particularly struck a chord with me:

The Freedom to write

The freedom
and time to create
written words
to be read
by those open to our thoughts
intoxicating.


by Sally Cronin

Sally Cronin is a master storyteller and I was immediately drawn into the lives of the characters in all her short stories. Her writing flows with ease and self-assurance within this diverse selection of short stories. I was moved by the reunion of siblings, impressed how a story told through the point of view of a polar bear both touched me and touched on environmental issues. The reason for a black sheep was raised in one story and had me smiling as did My Mouse, a clever play on words and a predicament experienced by most of us!

The superb stories in The Underdogs section had me in awe of the strength of the individual personalities of the dogs. Later, in For the Love of Lily, I was cheering on as eighty-year-old Millicent found her courage to stand up to her overbearing son with the help of her cat Lily and her kindly neighbour Eric. This was an excellent depiction of what I hope isn’t a scenario that takes place often.

The final longer pieces in the book are under the title of Speculative Fiction and these are all exceptional and shows Sally Cronin’s incredible imagination and ability in writing across all genres.

A moment of alignment is superlative and left me with goosebumps (of the happy variety!) as a child, following her death, manages to cross from the other world for the briefest of times on certain occasions to talk to her mother. Great Aunt Georgina left me tear-eyed and is a wonderful and powerful story partly told through the use of old letters; a deft use of an evocative writing technique. The Enhancement Project combines the tantalising hint of romance between a surgeon and her patient cyborg, all against the backdrop of the end of civilisation. It is a terrific blend of human and futuristic, of dark and light, love and destruction.

I can’t recommend Life’s Rich Tapestry Woven with Words highly enough and look forward to reading more of Sally Cronon’s books.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Available: Amazon US : $4.53 (Kindle) Amazon UK: £3.50(Kindle)

ABOUT SALLY CRONIN

Sally Cronin

Sally Cronin is the author of fifteen books including her memoir Size Matters: Especially when you weigh 330lb first published in 2001. This has been followed by another fourteen books both fiction and non-fiction including multi-genre collections of short stories and poetry.

Her latest release, Life is Like a Mosaic: Random fragments in harmony is a collection of 50 + images and poems on life, nature, love and a touch of humour.

As an author she understands how important it is to have support in marketing books and offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities in the Café and Bookstore on her blog and across her social media.

Her podcast shares book reviews and short stories Soundcloud Sally Cronin

After leading a nomadic existence exploring the world, she now lives with her husband on the coast of Southern Ireland enjoying the seasonal fluctuations in the temperature of the rain.

Sally’s magazine blog for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general is Smorgasbord Blog Magazine.

Connect directly with Sally on Twitter Facebook LinkedIn.

SWAYING ENIGMA

As I headed out into the garden one sunny February afternoon a movement caught my eye; upon the decking the wooden swing seat was gently swaying and for a moment or two endless possibilities swarmed to my mind. A ghostly being seemed to have taken comfort upon the seat, enjoying the wintry sunlight. Alas, the reality is most likely far more mundane and the breeze caught the slats as if a sail.

However, the image would not go away. Luckily I’d taken a video and soon poems came unbidden to me. Here are a couple of them.

The first is in a traditional Haiku format composed of only three lines. The first line of Haiku has 5 syllables, the second line has 7 syllables, and the third has 5 syllables.

ROCKING

Childhood memories
Sway with mysterious ease
Gentle cosseting.

©Annika Perry, March 2021

My second poem is a form called Eyeverse and is a four-line poem based around an image. The name was coined by mslexia, a British magazine for women writers founded in 1999 which releases four editions a year.

MOMENTS

Tea spilled on your torn jeans
My curls tousled through your fingers
Our first youthful kisses
A mere ghostly presence.


©Annika Perry, March 2021

Beckoning Light

Hushed serenity
Mystic blue embraces all,
Giving thanks for peace.

©Annika Perry

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Lone tree, spirit strong
Bedecked with icy jewels
Awaiting warm Spring.

©Annika Perry

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

CHITTER-CHATTER

I recall a time of hugs
Welcomes by a handshake,
        a kiss.

Now young children dutifully step
        back
From the ‘danger’ of me,
        others, all.

They only run towards their friends
        Pull up
        Short!
        Stop!

Embarrassed glances at their shoes
Shy peeks at each other.

Laughter breaks the frightened spell.
Chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter.
Their magic world
            Reactivated.

by Annika Perry

My sister is not a statistic

Statistics. So cold and harsh. So black and white. Or so it seems for most of the time. Figures are just that, bland numbers that do not touch us directly, relating to the inanimate rather than the animate.

But statistics of deaths are another matter.

As day in, day out, the news networks report on the tally for today’s dead from the virus, we are in danger of becoming immune from what they really mean … each one a precious life.

The tragic daily role-call of death, captured in merely a couple of minutes, has shaken me to the core. It’s as if so many forget that behind each individual number is a person. No longer alive. Mourned by so many, loved ones who could not even be by their side in their last moments.

One lady sought refuge within her grief to pen a poem in memory of her beloved sister. A poem that speaks for all who have lost a family member these months, and alas the months ahead.

A poem that should survive and be a legacy of this cruel time.

Dorothy Duffy wrote the poem in honour of her sister Rose ‘Billy’ Mitchell who died alone in a nursing home in the UK as a result of the virus. Rose and Dorothy are both of Irish descent, living in England.

Dorothy (right) & Rose

Below is Dorothy Duffy’s poem and beneath is a radio interview with her where she reads her work aloud. Do listen and follow the words of the poem for an unforgettable, heartfelt and moving anthem to loss and suffering.

Rose Duffy

My sister is not a statistic

Tomorrow, when the latest Deathometer of Covid is announced
in sonorous tones,
Whilst all the bodies still mount and curl towards the middle of the curve
Heaped one atop and alongside the other
My sister will be among those numbers, among the throwaway lines
Among the platitudes and lowered eyes,
an older person with underlying health conditions,
A pitiful way to lay rest the bare bones of a life.

My sister is not a statistic 

Her underlying conditions were
Love
Kindness
Belief in the essential goodness of mankind
Uproarious laughter
Forgiveness
Compassion
A storyteller
A survivor
A comforter
A force of nature
And so much more

My sister is not a statistic 

She died without the soft touch of a loved one’s hand
Without the feathered kiss upon her forehead
Without the muted murmur of familiar family voices gathered around her bed,
Without the gentle roar of laughter that comes with memories recalled
Evoked from a time that already seems distant, when we were connected by the simplicity
of touch, of voice, of presence.

My sister is not a statistic 

She was a woman who spanned the seven ages.
A mother
A grandmother
A great grandmother
A sister
A Friend
An aunt
A carer
A giver

My sister is not a statistic

And so, she joins the mounting thousands

They are not statistics on the Deathometer of Covid

They are the wives, mothers, children, fathers, sisters, brothers,
The layers of all our loved ones
If she could, believe me when I say, she would hold every last one of your loved ones, croon
to and comfort them and say – you were loved.
Whilst we who have been left behind mourn deep, keening the loss, the injustice, the rage.
One day we will smile and laugh again, we will remember with joy that, once, we shared a
life, we knew joy and survived sadness.

You are my sister…….. and I love you.

Copyright Dorothy Duffy 2020

Finally, although Dorothy has featured on numerous radio and television/youtube interviews and many of you might have already seen and heard her poem, I am grateful to Roy McCarthy for sharing a post about her poem on his blog Back on the Rock.

ON THE SOUND OF WINGS

After hours, days, weeks,
My body and mind in constant turmoil,
I find myself enjoying the warmth of the sun.

Lunch time sandwiches finished, I sit back.
The silence deafening.
My ears ringing.

No cars, no voices
No planes, no lawnmowers.

The world stopped.

Only now are we learning to cease.
To recall that we can think, feel.

Be one with nature.

In the loudness of nothing
I hear the buzz of a dozy bee
Just waking to a world
It thinks is the same
As before.

A constant cracking noise has my head swivelling
Where is it coming from?

I notice a blue tit on the seeds
With infinite peace, nibbling the inner goodness,
Cracking, cracking them open
To reveal the heart.

I move my legs and startle the bird.

In this moment a whoosh of spirit overcomes me.

With intense clarity.
I hear the flap of the wings
.

A light breeze wafts through the lilac tree
And in the process picks up my spirit
Sends it along the path of the departing bird.

A spirit that floats with oneness of the nature surrounding me.

A peace of such infinity overwhelms me,
I look back and see myself on the wooden chair.

Should I fly on, should I return?

The me looks a bit confused, lost, serene.
A bundle of emotions … I look forward,
Reminding myself never to forget
Reminding myself never to fear.

I drift back, re-joined, re-coupled.

An epic ephemeral epiphany.

©Annika Perry

MYSTERY OF SAILS

Recently a dear friend who was moving house gave me four magnificent sailing ship prints and their majesty astounded me. The first of these is the Brig Fride of Göteborg seen above.

The sight of sailing ships is always awe-inspiring. This is true even of pictures featuring them and they evoke an uplifting sense of wonder and adventure.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” — William Faulkner

As always, I wanted to know a bit of the story behind them? Who painted them? I headed to the trusty internet to learn about the artist behind paintings such as the Clipper Ship Challenger pictured above.

However, this time the web failed me and the mystery of sails began.

“Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.” — Kahlil Gibran

I could find the prints for auction at one auction house in Sweden. Two of the prints seems to be connected to two different artists: Peter Christian Holm (1823 – 1888) for the steamboat and Signe Marin for the Brig.

Here the trail went cold! I would be intrigued if anyone could shed anymore light on the history of these paintings.

Meanwhile, my mind wondered towards the pull of the ocean, its reverential hold upon us all. Writers not only find it a source of inspiration and rejuvenation but also cannot help but note down the power of this vast expanse. Perhaps even when aboard boats such as the Three-mast Barque Gefion pictured above.

“If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.” ― Rachel Carson

I decided to seek out ocean-related sayings and here the internet proved much more willing. I’ve chosen four from authors whose books are some of my favourites.

The last of the four ship prints is the Steamship Gustaf Adolf pictured here.

Finally, do you have any favourite quotations, poetry or songs related to the ocean? Please feel free to share here and if possible I look forward to collating these in a separate post. For all writers, if you have written a piece based around the seas please include it in the comments or link to your post! I look forward to a discussion all about the ocean!

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” — Louisa May Alcott

A PURPLE PASSION

Revered for thousands of years, Lavender still holds us enthralled. The fragrant plants are a delight themselves whilst its distilled essential oils have been used for millenniums for aromatherapy, perfume, herbal medicines, culinary herbs.

It was with excitement and joy I found myself at Jersey Lavender within a couple of hours of landing on this jewel of an island of Jersey. Established in 1983, the lavender farm boosts 9 acres with 55,000 lavender plants of six varieties.

As if in a trance I wandered amongst this haven, my palms gently sweeping across the flowers, inhaling the heavenly scent. I found myself closing my eyes … my emotions filled, a dream realised on this first day of my anniversary break.

Luscious lavender

Its fervent purple promise

With forced steam distilled

The golden essence freed.

©Annika Perry, July 2019