May 2, 2009

Poet’s work worth the effort: Wherever I Wander

Posted in Adult, Local Author, Memoir, Non-fiction tagged , , , , at 9:43 pm by bhelstien

book cover of wherever I wander

book cover of wherever I wander

Wherever I Wander © Judith Azrael

© 2006 Beth Helstien

Wherever I Wander opens with a meditation on life and death in the form of finding the carcass of a deer on the beach. She proceeds to tell of the rescue and relocation to Wolf Hollow of an abandoned harbor seal pup. The pup seems like it will be rehabilitated successfully, and Azrael leaves it optimistically. The episode is real, but it is also a metaphor for feelings of loss and abandonment, even though it is the author who is moving away from her island home.

It is the kind of book to reach for when you wish you could travel, when you are restless, when you don’t have the concentration to read poetry but you are looking for romance and reflection in your life. This volume travels with the author from her home in the San Juan archipelago, to the Greek islands, to the islands of Indonesia, and back again. Although this makes it sound like a story, it isn’t. Most of the book is written as if it were journal entries, brief paragraphs summing up a sight, a feeling an encounter. What does one call it: memoir, collection of prose poems, mediations, essays?

Like travel, like life, like the entries in a journal, the book is a series of observations that are sometimes disjointed, sometimes seem unconnected or without meaning. The magic is in the mood the author weaves by putting the pieces together.

I found myself most engaged with her self-examination and struggle with her Buddhist practice. Her questions are lucid and deeply felt, and the kinds of queries that many readers will share, whether religious or not, whatever their religious background. I read the piece called Counting Cats aloud at both the Islands Convalescent Center (where library staff reads out loud every Tuesday at 10 AM) and at the Senior Center after the hot lunch (where we read out loud at 1 PM Thursdays). It received a please, but muted reception in both venues. Out loud reading may be better suited to more action, stronger characters, and more drama.
This isn’t a book for most people, but it is well worth the effort.

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