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Such diligent study gave Thompson “the window into [Keller’s] world I needed to imagine her as a private woman driven to public service, sometimes at the expense of her own emotional life.” Given that Thompson’s stated goal is to “give a sense of Keller’s simple humanity and great heart,” the reviewer of her poems faces a tough task. A chronology of Keller’s life and the explanatory notes accompanying many poems provide a basic account of Keller’s illustrative life.But there’s much more at play than just straight biographical and historical facts: In the poems themselves, Keller emerges, alive, as a vivid, whole, and emotional being who was a passionate advocate for justice.In “This Day,” dedicated to Fagan, Thompson gives voice to Keller’s struggles to recover from the failed relationship: Into my hand the stars poured light And I knew you, or so I thought. While most of the poems in the collection are free verse, Thompson writes one especially moving poem as a modified villanelle.In “Soliloquy,” one of the two repeating refrains is “Just tell them, The Lord needs it.” Rather than repeat verbatim the second refrain, Thompson modifies the language as a reflection of Keller’s healing over the Fagan affair.She teaches in the MFA program at Spalding University, and is the founding executive director of the Alabama Writers’ Forum, a statewide literary arts service organization.Thompson appears at several readings throughout the year in Alabama, and her calendar of events can be found at her website.And if the concept of historical persona poems wasn’t daring enough, she also tackles one of the prevailing myths about Helen Keller in the book’s title poem.Who among us doesn’t recall the pivotal scene in the film or play when teacher Anne Sullivan puts young Helen’s hand under the pump and spells out water—and the blind/deaf child learns the concept of language?
It is difficult to think of another writer who is able to combine delicate, pitch-perfect lyricism with such urgent personal material.
It was illumination and joy, then more words until Teacher, Helen, world, go. Finding the emotional center of Helen Keller is one of the aims of the collection.
As Thompson writes in her preface, she chose to use poetry to find and share Keller’s “simple humanity and great heart” and to “reveal a woman less known than the famous world citizen the public adored.” Beyond revealing Keller’s great heart, Thompson writes that she was “further inspired by the fact that Helen Keller was born in North Alabama and spent her early life there, as I did.
Thompson is a graduate of The University of Alabama’s renowned MFA program, where she was the founding editor of The Black Warrior Review.
She is the author of several prior books of poetry, including How to Enter the River and Lotus and Psalm.