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Lessons in Forgetting Paperback – August 6, 2010
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Alzheimer's affects countless American families including mine my step-grandmother was diagnosed with it around a decade ago. It s often a painful illness to deal with because of the havoc it wreaks on a loved one s mind and memory. I could begin this review by going into more detail, but I think that Malaika King Albrecht's poem An Ordinary Morning (here reproduced in full) sums up the personal side of Alzheimer's more succinctly and effectively than most medical professionals can.
Sitting in her wheelchair in her yellow nightgown, she seems herself. She knows my name and that I am her daughter. She bites the banana I ve just given her with the peel still on and chews.
Moments like these are the focus of Albrecht s latest chapbook, aptly and powerfully titled Lessons In Forgetting. The lessons of which she writes, however, are not solely those of the book s title poem ( Learn to see dead family members/ in the dark. Over/ and over, call to them.), but also those her family learns in caring for their mother, grandmother, daughter, and wife. These are lessons in honesty, patience, humor and, ultimately, a love that transcends family bonds.
Throughout Lessons in Forgetting Albrecht provides snapshots of her mother s life before Alzheimer s, allowing the reader to get a powerful and intimate sense of her and a clear idea of how the illness has changed her. In Go Fly a Hat, the poet s mother, then a child, hooks her brand new Sunday hat onto a fishing line and gleefully attempts to use it as a kite. My Mother as Tiger Tamer at the PsychiatricDayCenter recounts her creative circus presentation for an audience of amused schizophrenics while What Grandpa Wrote to Mom is a funny anecdote about her mother s marriage and her great-grandfather s low opinions of her suitors. This lively presentation of an equally lively woman draws the reader into the chapbook and provides a frame for the stories that follow.
The stories that Albrecht tells about her mother's Alzheimer s are equally small and intimate the anecdotal stuff of memory. The unpeeled banana of An Ordinary Morning, her mother making a dollhouse fit for a rat's inhabitation ( Grandma Bean and Amani Playing with the Dollhouse ), her mother and grandmother dancing together ( The Last Dance ), her patient father taking a break from caretaking to visit Cat Point Creek ( How to Stay Afloat ). Albrecht's ability to acquaint the reader with these family members personalities, kindnesses, and hopes in just a few lines make her words as striking as they are memorable. Consider, for example, the sweetness of The Pact, in which Alzheimer's touches a familiar, tender moment between grandmother and granddaughter.
Amani waits by the bathtub for the steaming hot water to cool before she talks my mother into folding up her long legs, so that she can slip into the water too.
She says, Pretend we're mermaids, and we ve followed a ship far away. Everyone misses us, but we can t get back home. My daughter splashes her hand like a tail, and my mother's hand follows, swimming behind her. Wait up, Malaika. My mother says, calling her by my name. My daughter stops playing. I'm Amani. Remember? My mother apologizes Of course, Weasel. I know that.
Don't worry, Bean. If you forget, I remember. It's like this: I'm your granddaughter. I'm probably your favorite. We like Patty Ratty, your pet rat, and playing mermaids. I can fix your hair in twists but not braids, and you read to me in the green chair.
My mother laughs. Yes, and we like your mommy s chocolate that she hides in a drawer. You ll just have to remind me which one. --JoSelle Vanderhooft In Pedestal Magazine
Poet s Book Deals With Alzheimer s By Stephen Smith - Wednesday, June 30, 2010
It s a testament to the pliancy of contemporary poetry and the talent of poet Malaika King Albrecht that her first book, Lessons in Forgetting (Main Street Rag Publishing Company. 47 pages. $7), can grapple so powerfully with an affliction that in recent years seems almost an epidemic Alzheimer s.
In choosing this most tragic of diseases, Albrecht traces the terrible affliction s progression in this case Alzheimer s has chosen the poet s mother from its onset to its sad conclusion, sprinkling images and insights throughout.
In the early stages of the disease, the poet observes her mother searching for a lost word:
Years before we knew Of her Alzheimer s, Watching a great blue heron Startle the fog on Menokin Bay, she struggled to find the bird s name. She spread her arms and said Oh, flappity flap jack and laughed, winging the air. The bird s wings skimmed so close to the water, I thought he d break the surface. The early stage of Alzheimer s, marked lapses in judgment, memory loss, changes in personality, evolve into the more debilitating stages and Albrecht employs objects and experiences to illustrate the disease s sad progression.
In My Mother s Transformation, the final stages are lovingly but graphically presented.
This woman whose feet have curled into bird s claws. This woman who no longer speaks, who sometimes whistles a note, whose lungs knock like a woodpecker. whose arms bend so close, they re wings and putting on a nightgown is nearly impossible.... This woman whose white plume of hair grows wilder: she will not leave this hospital bed feathered with stuffed animals. She will not jump. She cannot even perch on the bed s edge. She will not jump. She will not fly, and no one can push her.
Alzheimer s is a thief: Something inside its victims takes back every word, every memory, they were ever given. But there s more going on with these poems than the obvious attention to detail. What the poet knows and she tells us this implicitly as her poetic cycle moves to completion is that the image, unlike the truth which it spurns and distorts, will never set us free, even if its providential deception implies a degree of closure, and only the grinding, implacable attrition of time will heal. It s surely a lesson worth sharing.
Albrecht lives in Pinehurst with her family, too many cats, a dog, birds, fish and horses and is a therapeutic riding instructor. She has published in many literary magazines and anthologies, and her poems have been translated into Farsi and Hindi.
She is the editor of Redheaded Stepchild, which accepts poems that have been rejected elsewhere. She has taught creative writing to sexual abuse/assault survivors and to addicts and alcoholics in therapy groups. --The Pilot
Reviewing Malaika King Albrecht s debut collection of poems, Lessons in Forgetting, feels a bit self-congratulatory. After all, I helped her revise some of these poems; I published three of them in Wild Goose Poetry Review; I helped her determine the arrangement of the poems; and I was the author who recommended the collection for Main Street Rag s Author s Choice Chapbook Series. I am certain that somewhere someone will say that it is inappropriate, maybe unprofessional, for me to write this review. The truth is, however, I don t care, and if you read the book, neither will you.
Considering how strong these poems are and how vital this collection is, it would be a disservice to poetry readers not to recommend it. Poetry, it could be said, is the perfect blending of sound, imagery, meaning, and emotion. And each of the poems in Lessons in Forgetting succeeds on each of these levels. As a teacher of contemporary poetry and creative writing, one of the most difficult questions I face, repeatedly, is what makes a contemporary poem good. It s a complicated question that can only be answered in sentences containing phrases like yes, but or that, and. It is easier and probably more useful to simply provide examples, and virtually all of the poems here can used for that purpose.
Take, for example, the poem Riddle Song:
Grocery bags in my arms, I hip the front door open and hear my father singing to my mother, I gave my love a cherry that had no stone. He stretches her right leg, then slowly rotates it in circles. She hasn t walked in three years or gotten out of bed in two. I gave my love a baby with no crying. Her legs resist, the muscles tight as fists. He massages her leg nearly straight, moves to the next one still singing. A baby when it s sleeping it s not crying. The story of how I love you it has no end.
Of course I m crying in the kitchen doorway. I can t see her from here, but I m hoping that she s awake, looking directly into his eyes. He moves to her left arm, tucked beside her body like a broken wing, and gently spreads it out.
The first thing one notices about this poem is the careful, methodical pace of the words, created by a preponderance of stressed syllables (typically 4 in as few as 6 syllables, lines 2 and 15 for example), and the precise attention to detail, which echo the patient gentleness of the father in the poem. One might also note the pointed alliteration in places, such as the beginning of the third stanza where the repetition of the velar k creates a sense of broken speech as the speaker struggles with her emotions. And finally, any reader would sense the almost-magical, gentle lyricism of the last line whether or not they could explain that it is created by the use of the word gently, the sounds (three alveolars-- g and s twice and a final diphthong--unique as an endsound in this poem), and the fact that this line is the only perfectly iambic line in the poem.
Such subtle technical mastery is common throughout the poems in this book. There is, for example, the subtle separation of an adjective from its noun in Winging It ( she struggled to find the bird s / name. The extra moment the reader spends returning to the beginning of the next line to complete the thought seems to mimic the hesitancy and uncertainty of Alzheimer s. There are clever internal rhymes, like Benadryl pills in One Last Time, and vital assonances that link one stanza to the next, unsweetened tea / / She reaches . . . retrieves, from that same poem.
Thus, any of these poems could be used as illustration of good contemporary poetry. What is more, however, confronted with the question, What makes a good contemporary book of poems, one need only extend one s arm with Lessons in Forgett --Wild Goose Review by Scott Owens
About the Author
Malaika King Albrecht s chapbook Lessons in Forgetting was recently published by Main Street Rag. Her poems have been published in many literary magazines and anthologies and have recently won awards at the North Carolina Poetry Council, Salem College and Press 53. She s the founding editor of Redheaded Stepchild, an online magazine that only accepts poems that have been rejected elsewhere. A former rape crisis counselor and substance abuse counselor, she has often facilitated Poetry Therapy Groups for her clients. She lives in Pinehurst, N.C. with her family and is a therapeutic riding instructor.
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