Body of Dimin­ish­ing Motion: Poems and a Memoir

Joan Seliger Sidney
  • Review
By – July 30, 2012
Ill­ness draws a per­son into nar­cis­sism in many ways, espe­cial­ly chron­ic ill­ness that debil­i­tates the mind and soul as the suf­fer­ing of the body advances. Yet the author of this amaz­ing col­lec­tion of poems lives and depicts just the oppo­site focus. Joan Sid­ney cel­e­brates life and shows that one can have vision” out­ward, even as the MS she suf­fers con­tin­ues to move through her body, cre­at­ing indeed a body of dimin­ish­ing motion.” In the title poem, the read­er expe­ri­ences her strug­gle, “…Back and forth/​I crawl across this room,/synchronizing/opposite leg and arm./I try to train my nerve cells/​to recon­nect, as if/there’s method to dis­ease…” She under­stands the need to remem­ber those who lived and died in the Holo­caust, includ­ing her grand­par­ents. Mal­ka at Nine­ty” makes the read­er gasp with shock about a woman who sur­vived 25 months hid­den in a cel­lar below a cel­lar, Thir­ty-five Jews in a space designed for twelve./What did you eat when the rats stole your stock­piled flour, bar­ley, kasha?” Fla­men­co Night at Cen­tre Cap Per­e­fite” rejoic­es over the abil­i­ty to move beyond pain and stiff­ness, I throw open my arms/​and spin, in my blood now/​the music in the strings/​of Juan’s gui­tar, on the tip/​of my tongue the song.” In the mem­oir sec­tion of this col­lec­tion, Sid­ney describes the betray­al of oth­ers who begin to exert pow­er in frus­tra­tion at their inabil­i­ty to con­trol her dis­ease. Iron­i­cal­ly, she describes how My writ­ing helps me under­stand what’s hap­pen­ing to my body and to take con­trol,” to live a sep­a­rate, inde­pen­dent life. Humor, deter­mi­na­tion, and stark hon­esty per­me­ate the pages of Joan Sidney’s life, and shar­ing that in these pages is worth so much more than the small price one pays for this vivid collection.
Deb­o­rah Schoen­e­man, is a for­mer Eng­lish teacher/​Writing Across the Cur­ricu­lum Cen­ter Coor­di­na­tor at North Shore Hebrew Acad­e­my High School and coed­i­tor of Mod­ern Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture: A Library of Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism, Vol. VI, pub­lished in 1997.

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