Title: Lessons in Poetry: For a Wayward Child of Sad Eyes and Lonely Heart
Authors: Anita Garman and John Knowlton
When her husband of 58 years dies, Anita is inconsolable at having lost her best friend, life companion, and soulmate. She slips in and out of periods of severe depression, struggling against her own grief and her terror that she may not be reunited with her husband in the afterlife.
However, after a series of dreams, synchronicities, and visits with friends and therapists, Anita becomes sure that her dear departed Johnny is trying to get in touch with her from beyond the grave. When she discovers a hidden poem addressed to her from Johnny tucked away in a poetry book, she begins a journey of healing and transformation that transports her beyond the boundaries of this world while teaching her to savor her life on earth to the fullest.
Diary entries, poems, conversations, and memories are smoothly interwoven with the narrative to bring a multitude of voices into Lessons in Poetry: For a Wayward Child of Sad Eyes and Lonely Heart. Our narrator is also our author (here joined by John Knowlton as co-author) and she writes with striking clarity and insight about the maelstrom of emotions one experiences after the loss of a loved one.
The prose is elegant and clean and entices the reader into the inner world of its narrator within the first few sentences. Long studies of interiority can be boring, but Garman and Knowlton’s lovingly rendered depiction of the quiet days of numb mourning as well as the electric moments of spiritual connection between Johnny and Anita are engaging.
While he comforts and guides her through the autumn of her life, the audience watches her struggle honestly with religious doubt, fear of mortality, supernatural skepticism, and self-interrogation. This gives Anita a three-dimensional quality that makes the reader feel even more invested in the way she combs through Johnny’s old poems and letters seeking to connect with him once again. The finished product is a book which steers clear of being saccharine, yet manages to capture some profound moments of spiritual insight.
The book’s problems are few, though it does fall prey to the same trouble many memoirs face: a difficulty expressing clearly from the beginning where the book is going and why. While the reader soon relaxes into the knowledge that they are being led through Anita’s journey for its own sake, it may take them a chapter or two to understand that this is the intent of the book.
The epilogue transitions from Anita meditating on her husband’s writing to the documentation of a number of memoir vignettes penned by Johnny, and some readers may be confused as to who is narrating or if the vignettes are supposed to be read as a linear narrative or not.
Beautifully written and finely self-reflective, Lessons in Poetry: For a Wayward Child of Sad Eyes and Lonely Heart is a great read for those coping with the loss of a loved one, as well as those who love a sweeping romance or have questions about the life beyond this one. Garman and Knowlton have created a poignant but empowering portrait of grief that serves as a reminder that death is not truly the end.
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