Alzheimer’s and a Spoon – Liz Breslin
In New Zealand-based poet Liz Breslin’s first full collection she turns her attention to her own grandmother’s experience with Dementia. Her Polish babcia, Manuela was a devout Catholic, a soldier in the Warsaw uprising and an incredibly interesting women. In these 75 short poems Breslin documents her life, her experience of Alzheimer’s and her death. She includes several poems based on the research and case notes of Alois Alzheimer, the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist credited with first discovering the disease.
Peppered with photographs illustrating parts of her grandmother’s story and intriguingly shaped word poems, the collection isn’t afraid to play with form. Snippets from recorded interviews with Breslin’s grandmother are woven into the poetry, whilst in other places, Alzheimer’s own notes are presented as found poems. As the poet skips from one form to the other, dipping in and out of found text, thoughts, narrative and impression she effectively conveys a feeling of confusion and disorientation; a most fitting evocation for a poetry collection concerned with exploring the experience of Dementia. There’s a sense here of language and narrative falling apart; “where are they off to, these words/ I am losing?”
However, Breslin’s main focus is the gradual erosion of her grandmother’s memory. I was particularly impressed by the variety of metaphors and images she uses to express this gradual loss. In Eulogy at the Oxford Oratory, memory is powerfully and tenderly equated with a set of her grandmother’s rosary beads.
“Warm with memory, some will
spill. Some I’ll keep in corners,
hidden glimmers. Much has been lost.”
Alzheimer’s and a Spoon is an honest, warm and occasionally funny look at what it’s like to watch a loved one forget their own past. It explores issues of culture, distance, language and history through the lens of Dementia. There’s a big life and a lot of story tucked between the lines of Breslin’s short poems. When, at the beginning of dichotomy, she writes,
“Please pass me a scrumpled ball through the bars
secret me the memories you don’t speak
I hear the whispers of your stalwart war
but never from your tongue, never for real
it’s just stories, right?”
Breslin gives us a little insight into the mammoth task she’s set herself; telling the story of a woman who can no longer tell her own story.
Alzheimer’s and a Spoon was published by Otago University Press in 2017