Pittsburgh Friends Meeting Library

“A Leading to Read”
A regular column by the Library Committee reviewing books in the Meetinghouse Library
THE DURATION OF GRIEF by Liane Ellison Norman. Reviewed by Pat May
Liane Ellison Norman, at one time a vital member of our Meeting, is well known to those of us whose attendance goes back some years. She is the author of Hammer of Justice, which is in our library; Mozart’s Mother, and three more recent books of poetry: Driving Near the Old Federal Arsenal; Keep, and Breathing the West: Great Basin Poems.
In the preface to The Duration of Grief the author says that she was “without words to try to understand an experience I could not—cannot—fathom. Then I found that poetry, which I had not attempted for over 40 years, worked for me better than my familiar medium—prose.” The experience of which she speaks is the “impossible loss” of her daughter, Emily Norman Davidson, a gifted musician and the mother of Katie Rose, to cancer at age 36. Liane writes in the hope that “my experience and what I have to say about it will be of use to others than me.”
This is the story in poetry of a mother’s love, of shock and disbelief, of the daily reality of fighting for the life of your child, and finally of sharing the dying. This is the story of families, Liane and Bob’s family together, Liane’s family of origin, and her experience with a friend. She tells something of their living and of their dying and some of what has formed her.
The beauty and the pain in nature, in music, in architecture, in gardening, in everyday tasks, in loving fiercely, in her daughter’s life and courage, are painted in words and feeling throughout the poems. Her friend George Zedenstein says of this collection that the poems touched him “in the place where every grief I’ve known in my own life is stored. I feel that somehow, and without diluting the concentration of . . . personal experience, [she has] spoken for each of us who grieves.”
I find that to be my experience as well, but I also find the poems to be about more than grief. For me, they are about the full range of the experience of life in its many forms and stages, in the universal language of poetry, which gives voice to that which we sometimes cannot name.
The holdings in our Meeting library can be checked from your computer at home at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/PittsburghFriendsMtg..

With gratitude and good wishes, Eric Starbuck

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