Special Thanks to Camille Zajac for the water color
David Swanger to Michael McLaughlin:
Check this out, Sward’s magnum opus, an epic poem made wholly of his wife’s monologue/conversation. She, Gloria, suffers from Alzheimer’s: Robert arranges her lines but changes nothing,
The youtube I forward is a professional actress’ performance of an abbreviated version of the huge (almost 100 page) poem.
Because Robert is in my poetry group–and an old friend–I am intimately familiar with the poem, its inspiration, genesis and progress through revision after revision. I’m not aware of any other poem like this one, and I will be interested in your take on it.
Cheers, David Swanger
Wow, tall order, David! Good!
First thought, best thought- whoever we should attribute that to.
Top of my head (honestly).
How much of this is REALLY Gloria?
How much of this is Sward, projecting, making Alzheimer’s palatable, making an uneasy peace with it, living with her as they live on?
My experience with my mom’s battle involved much more unruliness.
I flash, first, on poet Edward Hirsh’s phenomenal, Gabriel, about the death of his son (have you read it,my god).
I go to Wikipedia (I know!) and find “Pulitzer Prize poet William Meredith saying of one of Robert’s books, “In the animal poems there is a bravery in the face of our limitations, a warmth for our absurdities, a way of life to be gleaned from our failings and ineptitudes… a self-critique that turns our freakishness into an ironic source of fulfillment and transcendence.”
The “warmth for our absurdities” is what shines through most. How can one honestly take on the voice of a victim of Alzheimer’s—perhaps maybe Artaud could, I don’t know.
And then there is, at last one, deeper question. How much of one is his/her memory? I remember my mom, thinking out loud, in front of everyone, that I was an old boyfriend-acting out. It was quite embarrassing the way in which she cozied up to me. Oddly enough, my dad and brother and wife just seemed to think it humorous. . .
The twists and turns in discourse here are real, but the narrative doesn’t FEEL disjointed enough. There seems to be too much sweetening, filling in. Something is being wonderfully rendered-worked through. My sense is that the work, somehow, needs to be more distilled. I don’t want to minimize the achievement, this truly is a magnum opus. Ultimately, what I keep returning to, is who am I to judge?
Sorry I couldn’t offer you more than such a quick take. I need to live with this one for awhile!
Please don’t hesitate to share this if you like.
All the best & thanks,
Hi David, Michael—
Thanks for the response, which I welcome! Gloria diagnosed in 2008. Much still to do (on my part), but those first couple years after diagnosis, hair-raising, as you know from your own experience. Love Has Made Grief Absurd is still a work in progress, one needing to embrace/encompass more fully the hell of those years. The YouTube 20-minute distillation, Ally Eppy stage version, is sampling only.
P.S. Michael, might I include your comments online at monoblogalz.com ?
No problem w/ regards to including my comments, Robert, though Love Has Made Grief Absurd has only really started sinking it. I don’t envy you the struggle one bit. My now 92 year-old dad took round-the-clock care of my mom from age 80-85: I will always stand in awe.
In 2004-5, I did 15 poetry workshops with Alzheimer’s patients, at a center in San Luis Obispo and found that with an approach predicated entirely on affect-mirroring their “absurdities” and offering, whenever possible, loving and equally surrealistic ripostes, they made startling progress in tracking, reassembling memories, recalling entire songs, names of movies, occasionally, even, that I they thought I might be interested in. I grew to find their worlds more interesting, if not coherent, at times, than mine-probably why I relish conducting workshops in prisons, mental health facilities and juvenile detention centers so much. Thirty years ago, I “turned left,” in a sense, eschewing academia (and much more money, sigh) to work as a Contract Artist, primarily (such went the rationale) to feed the poetry. Now what must be admitted is that such endeavors have fed much more than what I formerly used to call “my art.”
Best, Michael McLaughlin
“So it is a lot about the frame you have on this experience, Robert. I believe how we are “holding” things, the larger frame, is huge in how we perceive, make sense and then handle situations… see options or not. You are a true gift to Gloria, and indeed she has been that for you. So it is a tightrope to work out what your own life needs, your soul, your body, your intellect and especially your life’s work—your writing. More and more how can you be true to who you uniquely are and also live in a place of Grace and Service to your beloved in this very difficult chapter in her own life.”