Monday, August 16, 2010

_Old Women Look Like This_: an ebook

I have a new ebook from Argotist Press on-line, available for free download here. I don't use my Kindle, but perhaps you do yours! (You can also print it out in troglodyte fashion and read it off paper.) The chapbook is an off-shoot of the Dementia Blog project (and of that project's several off-shoots), and takes seriously the simile that old age is like childhood. It tests that too-simple comparison by placing very old people into children's stories--Pippi Longstocking, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Are You My Mother?, A Mother for Choco, Anne of Green Gables--and gauging what happens to them. I guess it's fair to say that the version of Pippi Longstocking (independent, high-spirited, living alone) does not work so well for a woman with dementia. Or that an 85-year old woman looking for her mother is bound not to find her. Sadly fascinating that children's stories, which so often praise the virtues of independence and even orphanhood, seem to maintain their power in American culture, despite evidence to the contrary. Or is it Ralph Waldo Emerson again (my favorite bogeyman these days)? (I can hear Ben Friedlander reminding me that Emerson himself suffered from dementia late in his life.) It's a power that turns against the elderly, prevents many of them from agreeing to care and from deciding how they want their final years to be lived. I'd link to another post, but there are so many at this point!

The project had its origins at Honolulu's Contemporary Art Museum. The Educational Curator, Quala-Lynn Young, was my student in two poetry classes last year. She organized a tour for writers of the museum's special exhibit of art about the body. After the tour, we went home and wrote poems about our favorite pieces. Mine were a series of portraits of old women by Elizabeth Berdann. You can find some of them here. There's a blog post about the event here, as well. I worked off google searches "old women look like," as well as off the paintings themselves.

After writing about her portraits, I began using residents of my mother's Alzheimer's home as "models" for other poems in the series. Along with those that use children's stories, I wrote one that adapted Wallace Stevens's "To an Old Philosopher in Rome" into a poem about Alzheimer's care, another about the World Cup, as if it were taking place in the common area of my mother's home. I also took the liberty to transcribe Ronald Reagan's later memory of his famous Challenger disaster speech--from the point at which Alzheimer's had undone him. Finally, I adapted one of those heart-wrenching lists of "waiting children," which an adoption agency sends us nearly each month, into a poem about Alzheimer's patients. On re-reading it, I'm not sure what it is they're waiting for, but perhaps that is part of the problem. Perhaps that is the problem.

In any case, I hope you'll make the free download. If you prefer books that you pay for, consider investing in a Tinfish book or in Dementia Blog, the book.


nomoola said...

congratulations susan. Elizabeth's image works well on the cover.

Jonathan Morse said...

"It looks good" is the wrong thing to say, but what you've done in the way of "what to make of a diminished thing" is very moving. And thanks for posting it online, as free and curative (because free) as birdsong.

Alfred Corn said...

Congratulations. You caontinue to do the unexpected, which is what I've come to expect of you.