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Book Review: Body of Diminishing Motion - Poems and a Memoir
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Body of Diminishing Motion: Poems and a Memoir
Joan Seliger Sidney

Book Details:
Published: March 2005
ISBN: 0-9723045-2-5
Publisher: CavanKerry Press
Price: $14.00

Press Release:
Body of Diminishing Motion is the second title from LaurelBooks, CavanKerry"s Literature of Illness imprint, which features poetry and prose that explore the many poignant issues associated with confronting serious physical and/or psychological illness. Collecting poems and a prose memoir by Joan Seliger Sidney, this poignant, life-affirming volume speaks to the author's experiences living with multiple sclerosis for four decades, as well as her personal legacy as the daughter of a strong-willed Holocaust survivor.

Body of Diminishing Motion makes a rare conjunction between the personal and private and the public and communal, writes award-winning poet Robert Cording in his preface. To set healing in motion the speaker knows that she must accept the difference between her spirit's healing and the cure she has sought, but which will never be found, for her body's breakdown. She knows, too, that she must accept the paradox of the past – the way it is both a prison and the path to freedom. It is the past, and particularly the speaker's mother's past, that is suffocating – How many have you dragged/into your Holocaust past? the speaker asks her mother... To live again, the speaker must learn to forge links with this past without allowing it to imprison her.

The poems that open the book are placed into three sections. The first, Preserves, returns to childhood and before, where the lingering despair over family lost to Nazi butchery mingles with pleasant if fleeting memories of happier times, all now tempered by the new disappointments that have come with discovery of disease. But with every step on these wobbling legs, I know/ I disappoint you, the poet laments. The poems in the next section, Betrayal, confront the MS Head-on, the pleasures that have been stolen, the frustrations and the anger that must be faced, The final section, Castoffs, forges links between the parents' Holocaust truths and the truth of the here and now -- the retreat to a country without words.

Sidney follows her poetry with a prose memoir that begins with the first indications of stealth-like illness that will eventually take control of her life. The slow progress of the disease allows her to live a normal life for a time, raising four children, teaching, and writing. Eventually, she seeks holistic healing in a small village in the French Alps, all the time doing psychic battle with her elderly mother, from whom she keeps her condition a secret for many years. As she struggles to heal from this illness with no cure, she struggles, too, with a mother's expectations, warped by the dark past of the Holocaust. Even with a loving husband by her side, Sidney must make the spiritual and physical journey on her own.

Ultimately, Body of Diminishing Motion is a sympathetic, if unapologetic evocation of building a life despite living with a chronic illness. Sidney's portrait of life with MS is fresh and sensitive, and very much needed, writes Bruce R. Ransom, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the department of neurology at the University of Washington. Wielding her art in a brave and unflinching way, she provides a wonderfully nuanced and emotionally true account of living with an unpredictable but relentless enemy bent on sabotaging communications within her brain.... She is our correspondent on the front lines of this disease, and her reports, some of them anguished, tell of humbling losses, unexpected family dilemmas and victories in the pursuit of personal goals.

Profound in its candor and eloquence, Body of Diminishing Motion is a brave, enduring work that will speak to anyone who had been touched by illness and refused to succumb to its power.

Even the Saguaros,
split by lightning
or disease, die in thick armor.
Even the cactus
can't count on its red blooms

For thirty years I denied
the day might come
when to walk across a room
Would be too far.

Now shriveled,
my leg muscles will not
bear my body.

A climber's legs
once, they stretched
across rock faults, hiked
the hard way up a dike.

I slid the rope
through my fingers,
rappelled my body
rock to rock.

Back and forth
I crawl across this room,
opposite leg and arm.
I try to train my nerve cells
to reconnect, as if
there's method to disease
The voice inside
guides: Test of faith.
Don't hope, expect.
Hope leaves room
for doubt.

Articles, stories, books --
every day I read how
people heal themselves.

In every cell memory.
Every pain, every emotion
imprinted and passed on.

Grandparents I never knew,
their bodies tossed
into a pit for Zurawno's Jews.

Last night in bed
my bowels erupted, spewing
across my sheets and thighs.
Was I my great-aunt in Auschwitz
dysentery draining her skeletal body?

So many voices
through me trying to speak.
Shechinah, female face of God,
free my body from their shadows.
Let me tell their stories and mine.

About the Author:
Joan Seliger Sidney is writer-in-residence at the University of Connecticut's Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life and Lecturer in the Department of English. She also facilitates: Writing for Your Life, and adult writing workshop. Her dream-come-true job was teaching creative writing at the Univeriste de Grenoble, France. She has published two chapbooks, Deep Between the Rocks (Andrew Mountain, 1985) and The Way the Past Comes Back (The Kootenai Press 1991). Her poems have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Massachusetts Review, Louisville Review, Kaleidoscope, and Anthology of Magazine Verse & Yearbook of American Poetry. She has received fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, and the Vermont Studio Center. Her poems published in 2003 were nominated for a Pushcart Prize XXIX. She lives in Storrs, Connecticut, with her husband. Their four adult children are thriving.


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