“In her verse memoir Orphans, Joan Cusack Handler tackles the big subjects – family history, aging parents, Irish Catholicism, belief and unbelief, and her own impending mortality – with a fierce, wrenching... [continued in Reviews below]”—Elizabeth Spires,
Verse memoir by poet psychologist explores womans ambivalent relationship with aging parents: 3 voices 3 distinct forms
In Orphans, a verse memoir, poet psychologist Joan Cusack Handler explores our most primitive and ambivalent relationships—those with aging parents—meanwhile confronting her own mortality. In a life lesson we’re often unprepared for, Handler presents the reversal of roles and the eruption of unresolved conflicts that persist from childhood.
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Reviews / Endorsements
“In her verse memoir Orphans, Joan Cusack Handler tackles the big subjects – family history, aging parents, Irish Catholicism, belief and unbelief, and her own impending mortality – with a fierce, wrenching fearlessness. She creates portraits of her mother and father that are fully rounded, alive, and moving, the central question for the poet not “Who am I?” but “Who were they?” “Our terrors take over pilot us through/this most shaking of times…,” writes Handler with force and grace, recognizing that the bright and the dark, love and the absence of love, must always coexist with each other. Orphans is a brave, searchingly honest, and compassionate book.”—Elizabeth Spires
“In poems that convey victories and loss in the disruption of family through death and fear, we are brought to the jagged edges of acceptance in this stunning memoir in verse. There is the loss of the mother as woman who gives life, and country as the native land that secures early memories, lending definition to the idea of family. In poems that shift across terrain and time, we see the beauty of an aching for life in the face of . . . trials of the soul . . . The poems here vary in texture as they move through the fields of forgetting and remembering . . . It is an Irish story in that the family is Irish, and the taut strings of Handler's lyric make it indelibly human, assuring us that life continues in many dimensions and that love is the cradle of our eternity.”—Afaa Michael Weaver, poet & prose writer
“A hauntingly moving and beautifully honest collection, Joan Cusack Handler captures intimate experiences of love and loss and love again in her evocative verse memoir of her mother and father. Digging deep into her soul, she creatively transforms conscious and unconscious moments into luminous poetry.”—Bonnie Zindel, literary editor, Psychoanalytic Perspectives
From the Book:
The sea is a granite: morose
succumbing to darkness
like the dark at the bottom
of the hole we placed you in—not
we but they, I want to say, but,
yes, we did it, left you
in that foreign land
& every night now I wake from
the bottom of sleep convinced
I still see you lying there in
simple clothes—khakis, black &
red flannel shirt & the blue-grey
sweater Mom made that you wore daily
these eleven years since she died.
No shoes, just the brown cashmere socks
I insisted would keep you warm.
JOAN CUSACK HANDLER is a poet and memoirist, editor, and psychologist in clinical practice. She has published three books—two poetry collections (GlOrious and The Red Canoe: Love In Its Making) and a memoir (Confessions of Joan the Tall). Recipient of five Pushcart nominations and a Sampler Award from The Boston Review, she is the founder of CavanKerry Press Ltd. A Bronx native, she currently lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and East Hampton, New York.