I’ve just come back from a “literature” tour in the UK. Our group combined touring places of literary renown with meeting living authors. One of the most interesting experiences was comparing biography and biographical fiction. At the Ways with Words festival at Dartington Hall, Claire Tomalin spoke about writing biography, specifically her two works on Dickens and on Dickens and his mistress, Nelly Ternan. At one point, she considered fictionalizing the latter work because there is less information about Ternan than about Dickens; however, in the end, she chose to stay with biography. I then thought of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, both of which present Thomas Cromwell through fiction while resorting to Mantel’s extensive research into the details of his life. This raises the age-old question: how do we get at “truth” or, at least, “truth” as each of us sees it? What makes one writer write biography, choosing what to include and not include about a subject? What makes another decide to fictionalize a subject? Which path offers the closest “truth” of a subject, particularly one who can no longer refute what is said? The answer is probably both routes, depending on the author and on the subject, but the subject is endlessly fascinating.
Months in the making (what book isn’t?), The Widows’ Handbook now has its own blog. I have been privileged to have one of my poems (“Apart”) included in this anthology, along with poems from the known and the not-so-known.
One of the exciting elements about submitting one’s work to an anthology is not having a clue about who else will be included and I had never expected to share space with such respected poets as Mary Oliver, Tess Gallagher, and Maxine Kumin, who sadly died on Feb. 6 of this year.
Equally honoring is sharing space with poets whose names have been unknown to me until now. As I read through this amazing collection, I was stunned by the quality of work I encountered. I read works by Elizabeth Page Roberts (“the sun holds no sway”) or Marean Jordan (“Farewell to Sorrow”), or Pat Parnell (“Memory Foam”) and I resonate to the words.
That’s what poetry does—reaches the emotional self of the reader and resonates as the poet and the reader share an experience and the words mingle with the emotions of both to create a sense of shared life. Nothing could be more communicative or important than the connections between the poet and reader through the written word.