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Book Review :: Songs From The Dementia Suitcase by Karen Massey

Guest Post by Susan Kay Anderson

In response to Karen Massey’s Songs From The Dementia Suitcase, I wonder who would want these songs, let alone be handed this suitcase, when the whole world is at odds with memory (past wrongs/wars/devastation)? Well, what I found inside this excellent work was a surprise in the form of a short poem of found material called “Two Blue Songs,” which Massey notes uses Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves” as a source text. “Two Blue Songs” is folded into narrative poems having to do with family and caregiving. Not that the work is bereft of these; what surprises me is the wonderful short parts to it, divided “1.” and “2.” which look a little old-fashioned, yet so familiar and comforting when the poem glides into the unknown: “all the world thick with swans” and “it is summer it is winter.” Stumbling upon this poem was a moment of grace and understanding, if such a thing can be said of the understanding of dementia and its stealth. It is so, so difficult to write about dementia without sounding sappy or drippy. Maybe the key to what this is all about is indeed in waves and the soothing nature of water.

Songs From The Dementia Suitcase by Karen Massey. above/ground press, August 2023.

Reviewer bio: Susan Kay Anderson lives in southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River Basin. Her long poem “Man’s West Once” was selected for Barrow Street Journal’s “4 X 2 Project” and is included in Mezzanine (2019). Anderson also published Virginia Brautigan Aste’s memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast (2021).

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