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Poetic Thinking 2016 | June 25, 2019

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Dear Joan

Dear Joan
  • On February 23, 2016

Dear Joan,

I have been thinking about thinking.
Being critical v. (what strikes me as its colloquial opposite)
being generous.

Thinking against v. thinking with.
Reading generously
as an antidote to “picking and picking and picking.”

But still:
I hate your work.

Not that I’m saying people shouldn’t read it.
I’m not saying that at all.
When I read it myself I couldn’t put it down.

            “I needed to be alone so that he could come back.    
            “This was the beginning of my year of magical thinking.” 

I gave it my rapt attention.
I wrapped myself in its prose,
In its words—your words,
Entirely, but
Never to feel held there.
Or, never to feel like I could hold you there.
No aperture. No opening.

You write, and you write, and you write.
And you never deliver.

                                    He knows he will live in me
            after he is dead, I will carry him like a mother.
            I do not know if I will ever deliver.
            (Sharon Olds, The Father) 

But you act like you do, and that’s why
I cannot stand your book.
I could not put it back
but I could not stand it, either.
(And where, all this while, was I standing myself?)

If you’re really going to title your book so
Please actually let us see you think magically.
There are no hallucinations here.

                                    in moments of great distraction,
            I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly
            (Marie Howe, “What the Angels Left”) 

Just the measured observation of your
Need to keep all his shoes.

             My mom has kept my dad’s ties for twenty years.
             Finally, after fifteen, she knit them into a quilt.
             When she sees seagulls, she tells me
             Dad was sending her a message. 

It’s not a contest, but also
Of course it is.
Your husband’s death warranted a book?
I’m not convinced.

So Joan, I’ll read your book.
But don’t expect me to think you vulnerable.
You’re withholding under the guise of sharing,
And that is what makes you unreliable.
At least, please, try
show us your howling-void voice.

            “I cannot count the days on which I found myself driving abruptly blinded by tears.” 

No, I couldn’t put it down when you wrote things like that.
I deserve to be let in.
Maybe it’s poetic but it just feels scared.
It feels scared!
Where is the courage? What’s behind the mask?
Show strength by showing pain! Not by telling.
Not by “beautifully evading”—by being. 

            Be in front of me, naked and awake. 


  1. Vivian Lam

    Thank you for this, Audrey—you describe this ambivalence towards Didion clearly and beautifully. Perhaps it is this contradiction and masked hesitance that make The Year of Magical Thinking so frustrating in some aspects, yet captivating in others. Her prose is poetic and arresting, her situation one that lends itself to sympathy—but we cannot hold her there, as you say. She is still afraid, and we are not granted whatever apotheosis of sentiment or transcendence she may have intended. In writing this book, we expect her to be extending a shaking hand towards us, opening herself to us in her vulnerability, offering a level of intimacy. But she doesn’t quite seem to be there—and we cannot help but question. Why does one write a book about mourning? Why does one write a eulogy? Why does one write an obituary? Why publish, why share something so private? What does it mean to receive an award for documenting one’s grief in abstract poetry?

    • Vivian Lam

      And if I may ask–where does your cover image come from (unless it’s original work)?

      • Thank you for your comment. And yes! It’s a bit complicated: I came across the image of Marina Abramovic’s piece “La Pieta” in a book I was reading (Extreme Bodies, by Francesco Alfano Miglietti), and I took a photo of it myself, trying to make it blurry. The original photo felt really resonant with me in thinking about loss, so I wanted to bring it in, in an abstracted way…

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