Book Bag: ‘Before the Vote’ by Jane Yolen; ‘Grief Unseen’ by Laura Seftel

Published: 1/12/2017 1:43:52 PM


By Jane Yolen

Levellers Press

Jane Yolen has never been one to rest on her laurels. The poet, children’s author and fantasy/science fiction writer has penned over 350 books, and she’s just added another one: a collection of poems from 2016 that chronicle some of the events that seemed to turn the world upside down, most notably the election of a former reality TV star to the presidency.

“Before the Vote After: A Book of Poems,” published by Levellers Press in Amherst, has a title that can’t be graphically reproduced here. On the book cover, “Before” appears above the words “The Vote,” while “After,” printed upside down and backwards, appears below them. For Yolen, it’s a neat way to encapsulate her pre- and post-election sentiments.

Though Donald Trump (“A monster in expensive clothes / Is monster all the same”) appears in several of her poems, Yolen takes on other issues in her new collection, many of which figured during the election campaign: immigration, environmental protection, gun control, racial and ethnic division, the rise of fake news stories.

In “Grievances,” Yolen recalls the anger and resentment that often seemed to flow at Trump’s campaign rallies, feelings encouraged by the candidate: “Their faces bloated with evening’s rage, / Stoked by the speaker’s Barnum ease, / They lift up guns of imagination, / Firing rounds into immigrant trees.”

Yolen, who splits her time between Hatfield and a home in Scotland, also describes her own “five stages of grief” following Trump’s win, from “After the Vote Blues” to “The Forgiveness of Grass,” in which nature’s resiliency becomes a metaphor for the hope of better times ahead.

And Yolen invokes history in “English Suffering Gettes: A Drinking Song,” looking at how Britain’s suffragettes of the early 20th century went to jail and endured physical abuse to get women the right to vote.

It’s a prelude of sorts for her cautiously hopeful concluding poem, “The Line,” in which she suggests social progress is halting but inevitable: “The arc of justice moves so slowly, / As we walk from dusk to dawn. / Often we see no trains coming, / But the line, the line moves on.”

Jane Yolen will read from her new collection Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Florence Civic Center. She says part of the sales from the book will be donated to progressive causes, starting with the American Civil Liberties Union.



By Laura Seftel

Jessica Kingsley Publishers

In 2006, Florence art therapist and mental health counselor Laura Seftel published a book that looked at ways women could come to terms with a miscarriage. She wrote from firsthand experience: She’d lost her own first pregnancy in 1993. 

A new edition of “Grief Unseen” has now been issued, in which Seftel recounts both her own experience in dealing with loss through art and those of other women who responded to a miscarriage by creating some form of art.

Seftel uses examples from a wide range of women, including well-known artists like Tori Amos and Frida Kahlo, and she also looks at the different kinds of failed pregnancies, including failed fertility treatments and stillbirths.

One woman Seftel profiles, Washington state poet Kara Jones, began writing furiously after her son was stillborn in 1999. But the poems didn’t thrill her professors — Jones was on an academic career path at the time — who thought they were too emotional, Seftel writes.

Jones’ response? She and her husband started their own small press to publish her work and then expanded to offer workshops for grieving mothers and their partners.

Seftel says she hopes her book will continue to help readers develop their own healing journeys: “I am drawn again and again to the potential art holds as a healing force.”

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