To Awaken Soulfulness in the Human Voice
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Perspectives: Hospice Poems
by Bob Jacob
Review by Carol Katz:
Bob Jacob was born in Brooklyn, New York. He developed a love of poetry from his father who wrote poems about family love. In the 1980s, Bob and his wife, Betty, invited poets to stay at their Massachusetts inn and also ran a poetry reading series featuring many well-known poets. In the mid-1990s, Bob and Betty moved to Connecticut. There he founded VERSEtility BOOKS, selling signed copies of famous poets' books and giving most of the profits to the poets. Bob is a poet who started writing 32 years ago.
In the 1990s he began reading poetry to cancer support groups, and today he continues volunteering his time at the Connecticut Hospice Hospital in Brantford and other hospitals. He also visits homebound patients. He composes his poems after hearing patients' stories. These poems are included in Perspectives, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He is donating the proceeds of this book to the Connecticut Hospice. Noteworthy to mention is that Bob Jacob has created an index of the poems that he sends on a regular basis to people who request them. Quite a service! He makes his large collection available to churches, chaplains, and to cancer patients. An impressive landscape painting of the Connecticut Hospice on the cover invites us to open this book. What we find inside is a unique and gratifying experience. The honesty and warmth of these poems conveys the author's compassion for the patients in palliative care. He even encourages these people to create and share their own poems, giving them a chance to live out their last days with joy and satisfaction. For example:
Catherine lies quietly a former grade school teacher with a beautiful smile, dark, brown eyes, soft voice. She sighs after each poem, then recites some back to me. (p. 23)
Although the book is written from a Christian point of view, there is a universal message of faith in a higher power whether it is Jesus, or the God of other religions. The words of John Fox in Jacob's poem, Cradled Love, express this universality:
The greatest current of love rushes forward in the choice to make a cradle of the body. (p. 49)
Quotes throughout the book from other poets and writers epitomize its poignant message of love:
We are each of us angels with only one wing. And we can only fly embracing each other. — Luciano De Creschenzo (p. 32)
The author's flair for treating hospice patients as though they were healthy is a testament to his own “joie de vivre.” He values people who are struggling with terminal illness. They teach him life lessons. Although dying is a depressing topic, the people he reads to are far from gloomy. In fact, we have some good, honest laughs through his poems. Special Lady is about a woman of 89 who seems at ease with death and looks forward to seeing family and friends who died before her. She says:
“I hope I have a good seat,” implying heaven is a theatre with preferred seating for those waiting to greet newcomers. (p. 82)
And, of course, we laugh at Jacob's famous lines that are quoted in some of the other poems:
“If a man speaks in the forest and there’s no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?” She answers with an emphatic “YES.” (p. 83).
The poem that stands out for me is: IDT Meeting. This poem demonstrates Bob's flair for personalizing the hospice experience. It starts with:
Picture yourself surrounded by people who care about you. Some you know, some you don’t. Picture them discussing you, Your family, your pain, drugs to help alleviate it. (pp. 21-22)
These verses bring back personal memories of when I was flat on my back several years ago. The caring warmth and empathy of my family and friends helped me to recover more quickly.
Then talking about volunteers:
Volunteers, a ray of light … young and old through song and words, … giving time and hearts to souls seeking comfort. (p. 20)
With each passing year, I attend funerals of my friends and family, some younger than I am, who have died of cancer. Four years ago, I played soulful Yiddish folk songs on my guitar along with a clarinetist to patients in palliative care at a hospital in Montreal. It was a heart-rending experience. The patients were too sick to leave their beds. I was happy when I heard that our music soothed them.
Since then, I have learned to appreciate every moment, every bird, every tree and every flower. There is a Hebrew prayer that Jews recite every morning upon awakening: Thank you God for giving us another day.
© 2006-2016 The Institute for Poetic Medicine and John Fox