Monday, August 24, 2009

After Shocks reviewed in International Journal of Healing and Caring

The following review, written by by Martina Steiger, ThD, BEd, MA, appeared in a recent issue of The International Journal of Healing and Caring. You may find the review at

Lombardo, Tom. (ed.) After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events. Atlanta, GA: Sante Lucia Books, 2008. 387 pp. Contributors’ bios 53 pp. $19.95

What an accomplishment for the editor Tom Lombardo, who put together this anthology in which 115 poets from 15 nations come together to share their poems of recovery! Indeed, the theme of recovery with a focus on acceptance, hope and healing, however strong or faint it may be, runs through the entire collection that comprises twelve sections. These include the Recovery from Death of a Spouse, from War, Exile, Abuse, Addiction, Bigotry, Loss of a Child, Divorce or Loss of Lover, Loss of Innocence, Illness or Injury, Death of Family or Friends, and Stresses of Living. This diversity surprised me initially. The editor clearly shows the personal and subjective experience of life-shattering events and manages, through his clever selection of poems and their arrangement in the anthology, to validate precisely those experiences. No loss or devastating event is considered more or less important than any other. That alone offers a place for healing and comfort to the reader - at least we know we are not alone, regardless of the circumstances.

The selection of poems in After Shocks crosses and transcends many boundaries and highlights the grief and yearnings of the human soul, common to us as human beings. Although the geographical setting, the language, melody, styles, emotions, and modes of expression vary almost from page to page, we, the readers, never lose track of the underlying and overriding theme – the resilience of the human being who can and does survive the initial trauma and succeeds in living the story of grief. The poets’ voices convey their experiences of pain, loss, love and connection in a deeply compelling manner. The many paradoxes inherent in the grieving process and in recovery, regardless of culture, belief system, or age become apparent. Surrender or letting go on the one hand and forever living with the events of the past on the other hand, develop simultaneously. The poems also illustrate for us clearly how the poetic language of symbols and metaphors powerfully conveys the deeply universal and uniquely personal aspects of the journey of loss, grief, and healing. We also become keenly aware that the process of recovery is just that – an open-ended, unscripted process with no finite point. Each poem invites us to reflect, to empathize, to open our hearts and allow ourselves to receive the images painted in this colourful compilation of poetic imagery.

Many of the poets, whose short biography is included in the biography section at the end of the book, are distinguished poets in their countries, to whom a huge array of awards is attributed. Only a few, it seems, wanted to share with the readers their brief personal stories that motivated them to write a particular poem or series of poems on the topic of recovery. When they did, Lombardo inserted their words in the biographical section, which I greatly appreciate – as this decision allows the poetry to stand completely on its own, while readers still have the information available to them.

Tom Lombardo, the sole editor and publisher of this substantial collection, has presented us all with a gift that may serve to ease grief and restore hope and faith so we can heal or be present to others who find themselves on this journey of recovery. Quite understandably, it seems most poems were written many years, even up to thirty years after the event described. Therefore, I would be cautious in recommending this book to individuals for at least two reasons. When the initial shock of any life-shattering event has not yet worn off, the sheer size of the book is likely to surpass their ability to focus. More importantly, the paradox of loss and grief remains impossible to grasp for many individuals in the early stages of dealing with their experiences because the absence of the presence, the pain and anger, the numbness or shock may render the future incomprehensible and out of reach. And, of course, the opposite might also be true. Others might find solace and comfort in knowing where their path might lead them eventually.

Poetry speaks directly to my heart. This review is not intended to serve as literary criticism of After Shocks but rather as an assessment of resonance. In other words, I turned within, inside my heart, where I listened to my heart and allowed myself to tune in to the emotions and compassion that were swelling up inside me and stirred me. With other books I might include a sample of the text. With this book, I feel that selecting one or two poems as samples from among the enormous variety of topics, poets, and styles in this anthology would only reveal my strong personal bias that is informed through my poetic tastes and my life experiences in general, rather than do justice to the skillfully arranged anthology.

Lombardo’s dedication and deep commitment to his project inspired the generosity of many poets to contribute to this anthology that consists of previously published materials, all of which are carefully cited – a true treasure chest for those of us who feel captivated by a particular poem or poet and are yearning for more. True to the nature of an anthology, we have the luxury of choosing only one poem at a time, randomly, in sequence or by topic, or of reading entire sections. Particularly during this chaotic period throughout the world, the poetic pictures, gems, and insights offered to us in After Shocks may carry us through transitions and remind us of our ever-transitioning stories that we call life. The poems provide us with the opportunity to remember once more the common and shared experiences in the cycle of life, death and rebirth through which we are all connected.

Book Review by Martina Steiger, ThD, BEd, MA

No comments: