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A Secret of Long Life: Familial Heartache & Happiness in Elegant, Timeless Fashion

a secret of long life

Poet Liz Dolan paints the ordinary in passionate hues in A Secret of Long Life, a collection of poems that move across the page with the sweet, haunting ache of memory. From now distant days as a Catholic school girl to the death of a young brother that still lingers, Dolan drags us through every human emotion via very simple, very real human experiences.

With a chapbook sliced into four equally heavy parts, Dolan begins our journey with stories of her mother, glimpses into her childhood, and the first gut-wrenching look at a small brother lost too soon. In “The Boy Who Swings on Our Line”, a young girl watches as the ghost of her sibling dances through the family laundry hung out on the line. Dolan writes, “From the open window / I see as he swells my father’s overalls, / crooks the knees and bellows as though / with Dad he flags the six a.m. from Darien.” The poem ends in childlike melancholy, with the girl telling her brother to leave the family alone. “I am not sure / if I want him to stay and play. I lie. / Go, release us all from your awful presence, / airborne shape-shifter, powerful child, so we can smell fresh cotton against our pasty cheeks.”

Dolan depicts the nuns of her youth as elegant, damaged powerhouses, a refreshing step back from a usually stone-like stereotype. Her admiration for her teachers shines through in pieces like “I Longed to Be as Lovely”, in which she describes Sister Purissima “in her opal linen gown / her tanned cheeks backlit by her veil / like an angel surprised.” Each piece continues to sway and swoon from memories of death, family and school days, pausing occasionally to smile and turn to face something purely innocent, as is shown in the lighthearted “Sunday at the German Bakery” where a girl dreams of a boy “who clerked at a bakery, slipping his fingers in and out / tying the knot on the white box.” She is taken with him and delivers imagery we can almost taste, with “hot-crossed lovers nibbling / apple cobbler, yolked together / hobbling along until the glaze wears off.” Part Four carries us into Dolan’s later years, her life still intertwined with life and death, now as a mother and grandmother. With grace she describes her grandson with Down’s syndrome, taking care to maintain her love and admiration for him and the patience of her own daughter.

Dolan’s poetry is real, it is grainy, and in the best way it is plain. Every word crawls from the page with a simplicity that makes it all so very relatable; and that is just what keeps us contemplating the beauty in every piece. A Secret to Long Life is a collection of family history that will remain timeless even after the pages have yellowed.

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Therese Halscheid’s Frozen Latitudes: Coming full circle through tales of life, love and loss.


Therese Halscheid walks us to the edge of a sea of emotions in Frozen Latitudes, a heart-wrenching collection of poems that focuses on a daughter’s flailing attempts to understand a father’s dementia, woven effortlessly with stories of an Alaskan landscape and its people.

Halscheid starts our journey with a quiet forcefulness that even in its modesty rises from the page and pulls us in. “I want to break through/mouth open,” she writes, “sentence after sentence moving words/over the winter earth/my father out of me.” The last line stands alone at the lowest point of the page, already leaving us with something to consider long after the story is over.

The author’s intimate descriptions of an early Alaska sky and the heavy words of the families living below it is evidence enough of her time spent there. Halscheid worked with an Inupiaq Eskimo tribe on White Mountain, and received a residency in Homer. In an aching piece entitled “Clan of the Owl – tale of an Inupiaq tribe”, Halscheid speaks of a man who lost his son when his snowmobile broke through the river’s ice. A white owl appeared in the sky at the time of his son’s death, a symbol of the tribe’s belief in the afterlife and the intimate connection between human and animal. “The way Rose tells it was like the spirit of his son/was in the form of an animal and there/was a strange light around and wind like/a slight brushing of feathers and feathers as/the sound of death passing through to/the other side of the world.” Stitching together this understanding of life and death through the eyes of the Eskimos with her own confusion at her father’s failing health creates a beautiful and undulating story of life from one culture to another.

As Halscheid moves us through more flashing moments of family, illness and those mutual emotions that connect us all as humans, she also interjects with fleeting tales of deep love, and in one poem describes the body as something readable, with “shoulder blades arched/like sides of an open book.” “Love, I want to say, I want to say, love/touches the body, the entire body, Let it be.” By the very end we are swooning, and the author is dancing in our wake. “The room is an open tale, let us say the ceiling has stars:/wishful, burning, exploding to earth.”

By the end of the book things have come full circle, and while there is a small bit of resolve there is also new darkness on the horizon that leaves us with tension in our shoulders, a pang in our hearts and a strange understanding of the sometimes grisly workings of the universe. Therese Halscheid’s collection is one to keep on your nightstand, with each page dog-eared in a continuing attempt to uncover every secret behind her words.

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Hopping Right on the AHS Bandwagon

*WARNING: This post may include a few spoilers.*

But I figured this picture might get you to read. Did it work? Good.


My love affair with American Horror Story began at the first episode. Let me begin by saying if you haven’t checked out this show on FX yet, please do. If you’re a creep-lovin’ weirdo like me and thousands of others, you’ll adore it. If you’re easily offended, you probably won’t.

I am not easily offended.

It could certainly be considered a show that “pushes boundaries”, when Constance refers to her daughter Addie (a character and real-life actress with Down Syndrome), as a “mongoloid” more than once, or when Tate remembers shooting several of his classmates during a school shooting. (That scene was pretty cringe-worthy.)

But it’s also wacky in the most interesting of ways: the ghostly maid appears old and wrinkled to women, young and sexy and scantily clad to men. Constance is completely deranged, not to mention a total cougar. (But I give her huge props for the physique of her much younger lover.) And what about the kinky murderer demon thing in the suit of leather? These details are enough to draw you in for a closer look, even if your initial reaction makes you question your own morale.

A new episode premiers tonight at 10PM! But if you are taking a look for the first time, catch up on the awesomeness On Demand beforehand, and bask in all its haunting glory.

Go here for 2 interviews with Jamie Brewer (Addie).

On the NaNoWriMo front: things are going swell, but a little frustrating, which I expect. Been running into that wall a few times this week.


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Look At Me

A witty, deep, funny, intriguing, entertaining novel by Jennifer Egan. (Perched ever so delicately on my nightstand! Next to my water bottle.)

“My eyes still shut, I reached for the iron railing. curled my fingers around it and climbed over. Now I was balancing the narrow heels of my high-heeled shoes on maybe two inches of concrete still left to stand on. I gripped the railing behind me. The wind pummeled me, as if I were strapped to the prow of an icebreaking ship. Twenty-five stories of dazzling emptiness sucked at me from below. My head was spinning. Don’t open your eyes. Chin down. Let them see you.

I let go of the railing and jumped.

It felt like an instant later that I hit concrete. I lay there, amazed to find myself conscious. Or was I dead? I was, had to be — how could I survive a fall of twenty-five stories? And yet I was conscious, or at least able to think. I lay in a heap, testing my crumpled limbs with tiny, fragile movements. When  I opened my eyes, I saw double, as I had after the accident. I seemed to be looking at a pane of glass. Light spilled from behind it and there was noise, faint, intermittent noise…voices. A voice. I lay on the pavement, my eyes open, and listened, trying to understand, Deberr…sister…chillrrn…because the voice was familiar, it was the voice of a friend, an acquaintance or possibly a lover. No…no. It was the basso voice of Robert Stack, the iron-haired narrator of Unsolved Mysteries.

I was on someone else’s balcony.”

Look At Me makes me feel smart. Charlotte Swenson is a smart-ass, confident, aging model that uses big words and is involved in a car accident she has barely any memory of, but is reminded of constantly by the eighty titanium screws that have been implanted in her face  in order to reassemble it. Nearly everyone Charlotte knew before the accident sees her as a strange after; her looks have changed, drastically.

Jennifer Egan delves much deeper than physical appearance in her novel, combing through the past and present of a woman that for most of her life had relied on her looks to get what she wanted. While still very beautiful, Charlotte Swenson is given the rare opportunity to reinvent herself. (Who wouldn’t pounce on that chance?)

Egan also jumps to the POV of several other characters, who are somehow intertwined with the main and are also struggling to find themselves. (Michael West is overwhelmed by his first Big Mac…Trust me, it’s worth reading.)

This is the first novel by Egan that I have read (at the suggestion of a professor) and so far, I am not disappointed. Her sarcasm is intelligent, and Charlotte is a confident bitch – I can relate.



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