Saturday, December 17, 2005

Seeing Annie Sullivan: Poems Based On Her Early Life. (Cedar Hill Books. San Diego, Ca. 92104)

Boston-area poet Denise Bergman has penned a poetry collection about the early years of Annie Sullivan, best known as the teacher of Helen Keller. This most certainly is an original idea, and I bet my bottom dollar that a poetry book like this one has never been done. Bergman writes in her preface:” In her time, and over time, Annie Sullivan has been recognized as an innovative and inspired teacher. But the immensity of her contributions to education is, like so much of her life, obscured by Helen Keller’s fame, or miniaturized into simple vignettes…”

Bergman concentrates on the deprivations of Sullivan’s early life, and in light of this, it is truly amazing that this nearly blind teacher achieved what she did. When Sullivan, as a child, was exiled to the “Tewksbury Almshouse,” in Mass., her milieu was decidedly bleak, and Bergman wonders about the stunting effect all this had on a child’s natural
imagination: “Isn’t pretending/ what a child’s suppose to do? / A box becomes a castle, / a queen’s high crown? / Here the talking animals/ have been trampled, / the fairies lost in wards packed/with one thousand inmates/where is the room for dreaming? / What can a little girl imagine/ except tomorrow?”

In the poem “Teaching the Family to Sign,” Bergman captures in charged, lyrical language Sullivan’s desire to bring metaphorical sight to a blind Keller; “ carve/ an untethered river/ into a wild girl’s mind. Open/ her tight fist/ to a feather bed of stars/ to the leer of a blue jay/ the whistling rain under the eaves/ the snap of a green bean/the clank of a metal pot…”

This is an intriguing collection by poet Denise Bergman.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Dec. 2005/Somerville, Mass.

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