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In the Garden of Illness: I Sit by the Well of Hope
ISBN: 978-1-4303-0081-6
By: Sylvia Thompson

Review by: Deborah L. Humphreys


Poetry can be transformative, but it rarely follows a smooth path. Sylvia Thompson found writing poetry after her diagnosis of cancer in 2005 to be a healing experience. It provided her with a way of ranting and venting as well as understanding what this illness meant in the larger scheme of her life. In “One Day at a Time,” we hear the inner dialogue: “The worry I have over tomorrow is a brick/I clutch tightly in my fist.” We read as well the feelings she has about her oncologist who, she writes, has stopped being like a gardener, but a “weed man” instead. Cancer is not easy on anyone, yet in another poem when she prays to the Heavens for a teacher for enlightenment and she is sent Cancer. The poet does not pull back from the pieces of her life that don’t seem to fit, from the incongruities. Instead, she pushes ahead and incorporates them into her work.

Thompson does not write from perspective of a victim, but refreshingly from that of a person who seeks self-knowledge. Further on in the poem quoted above, she writes:


In my nightmares they tell me
the glass was shattered
from the inside

The thief that stole my sanity
was already in the house.

In this collection of poems, expanded from her chapbook of the same title, she includes other painful experiences—especially the relationship with her own mother and choices she herself has made as a young woman. In “I left you with your father,” she writes about parallels between her life and that of her mother. Her vision accommodates both reality and reconciliation. In a tender poem she conveys a new freedom. The leaf/composting on the ground/forever holds/its luscious color./In the imprint of/eternity,/the air I breathe/contains/my mother.

This is Ms. Thompson’s first collection of poetry. Radio interviews and audio samples of her work are available at http://myspace.com/thompsonpoetry.

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