Last Friday at Eventide Senior Living Communities, New Rivers Press author Madelyn Camrud gave a reading of her latest book of poetry, Oddly Beautiful, inspired by her husband Ted’s struggle with and eventual death from dementia at age 76. Surrounded by an intrigued audience of senior citizens, Camrud read a couple poems out loud and shared the stories and the sentiments behind them before heading to another reading at Touchmark Retirement Community.
The book is divided into three parts, each with their own tone and themes.
“It’s pretty tough stuff right away,” she said of part one, which contains a narrative arc starting with Ted’s initial diagnosis of early cognitive disorder. A poem called Into the Night details the time Ted wandered outside on a cold winter night. Animal features Camrud chasing her husband up and down the stairs.
“As time went on, I knew I couldn’t finish the job,” Camrud said. “I couldn’t stop him from where he was going.”
Part two she described as “more lovey,” more romantic and lighthearted, with poems about Valentine’s Day, the joys of painting, and having to shave Ted when he couldn’t do it himself. But it has its share of moving, melancholy poems such as Sundowning, which refers to a condition where dementia patients become anxious when the sun goes down.
As for part three, Camrud considers it “the end of life,” as it takes readers through the process of loss, mourning, and recovery. But it ends on a hopeful tone, with the poem A Bird in My House, originally published in New Millennium Writings. Camrud considers birds very spiritual, and admits, “I believe in a lot of goofy things like signs.” Part three also contains Oddly Beautiful, the book’s namesake. “It’s one that makes me cry every time I go to it. Definitely it’s my favorite.”
Oddly Beautiful is unique in that Camrud painted the cover herself, making it one of the few New Rivers Press covers that wasn’t designed by a student. It was originally a collage, with poetry written on it and dried grass stuck to the canvas to give it a “cracked” texture. Though the text in the corners isn’t legible and the colors and texture were lost in translation, Camrud said, “I’m so pleased with the reproduction of this.”
Painting was actually her first forte. Writing came later.
“I’ve always called myself an artist because I’ve been painting for years,” she said, “but it took me a long while to say ‘I am a poet.’” Clearly, her skills as a painter complement her imagery present throughout the book.
“All the images are in there, still sharp in my mind,” she said.
On some level, Camrud feels she may have published this collection too early.
“If I had waited longer to publish this book, there would have been more recovery poems,” she said. But she knew the time had come to get on with her life—because after all, acceptance is the last stage of mourning.
“I was anxious to get the collection published and out into the world because I truly believe the work might be helpful to others living with dementia. What I have found is that reading the work publicly has turned out to be an important part of my healing process.”
In any case, her next book—currently titled On the Way to Moon-Island—is in the works, which is good news for those who enjoy her picturesque meditations on love, loss, and heartache. It’s a safe bet that her next collection will have the same introspective quality, and will reflect her personal philosophy, which agrees with that of poet, Christian Wiman: “It is the beauty of the world that makes us more conscious of death.”
“It seems to me,” Camrud said, “the beauty of the world equates with love which most certainly extends beyond death.”