Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary



Book Review ~ Suicide – Living With the Question ~ Ruth H. Maxwell – Author

Book Review

Suicide – Living With the Question

Ruth H. Maxwell – Author

We’ve all been affected by the sudden and unexpected death of someone who is close to us or whom we’ve known personally, peripherally or even just cared about from a distance. It is especially perplexing when that person has taken his or her own life, and even more so if they were young and appeared to be healthy, happy and successful. It is all the more horrific if it is a family member and absolutely unthinkable when it is your own child. Ruth H. Maxwell’s book, Suicide – Living With the Question, is an unflinching, honest and poignant narrative of a journey through uncharted territory after the unthinkable has happened, a journey that no parent should ever have to make. The opening part of the book documents the challenges that she and her family and their friends were faced with after her son Bill took his own life just days before his 36th birthday. It is a book that has essentially taken her 23 years to write. Maxwell said, “It took me many years to write it. It was like peeling an onion, layer after layer. A bit like life.”

Suicide – Living with the Question moves far beyond the personal narrative and into the realm of spiritual, philosophical and psychological questions that arise in our attempt to understand such an inexplicable event and find the meaning within. It is written on a personal level in clear, accessible language, and balances the reflective process with research based science. One of the most important aspects of the book is the examination of social norms and prevailing attitudes about the subject. It takes a hard look at the subject of self esteem and the images we project of ourselves and various societal factors that lead to denial and, consequentially, the inability to recognize the signs and signals when someone may be at risk.

I have the deepest admiration and respect for the strength, patience and great fortitude it took to write this important book. I must confess that it also required courage for me to read it, because Bill was my cousin. Reading the book has been a stunning revelation to me and a journey of self discovery that brought me to tears on more than one occasion. I learned of Bill’s death when I was far away from home and had fallen out of contact with much of my extended family. I couldn’t begin to fathom how or why something like this could possibly have happened and never talked it through it with anyone. I still hadn’t completely come to terms with the tragic death of my own younger brother not that many years earlier and now Bill’s death was something I couldn’t really wrap my mind around. I was at a loss as to what to do. Before I knew it, years had passed and I had never taken the time to try and understand it or to fully reflect upon it. Reading Ruth H. Maxwell’s book provided a bridge back to that lost part of my family history and gave me back a piece of myself. It allowed me to emotionally process the narrative of my cousin’s death and the effects it had upon his immediate family, close friends and colleagues. On a personal level, the book also helped me to examine my own questions, and to acknowledge my sense of loss as well as feelings of grief, guilt, shame, blame, regret and acceptance, and a whole spectrum of other emotions.

I think one of the most important conclusions in the book is the significance of post- traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression as critical factors that may contribute to a decision to take one’s own life. The way this book raises awareness and sensitivity to these conditions, and the importance of bringing it all out into the light of day conveys a timely and powerful message. It is a profound reflection about loss, redemption, hope, forgiveness and perseverance and an invaluable resource for educators, counselors, health and spiritual practitioners, parents, friends and all of us.

“When the truth can be told and not judged or evaluated, love follows, for it flourishes in the light.” Ruth H. Maxwell

Michael Gillan Maxwell is a visual artist, writer, editor, teacher and educational consultant. He lives with his family in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State. 


Book Journal ~ FINAL NOTES J P Reese


FINAL NOTES poems ~ J P Reese ~ Naked Mannequin, 2011

 I’m sitting in the midday sun on my deck, dogs at my feet, taking in the balmy spring air and listening to bird calls on what, technically, is the last day of winter. We are captivated by watching a group of birds noisily banish a red tailed hawk from their territory. After much flapping of wings and dueling from tree to tree, the hawk has retreated. Mourning doves call from the tumble down woods across the road. Spring breezes whoosh through the branches of tall pines. It’s a perfect day for quiet contemplation and reading the poetry of J P Reese. The book I have in my hand is Reese’s new chapbook entitled Final Notes. 

I’m not a literary critic nor do I aspire to be one. The Alice B. Toklas Book Journal doesn’t even have book reviews, as such. In fact, I prefer to call them Book Reports. I know it may sound juvenile, but I don’t care. It’s a way for me to share reflections about books I’ve read that have moved me in a positive way.

I grew up listening to albums, first on vinyl, then tapes and CDs and now as digital downloads. No matter what the format, they’re still specific collections of songs, often thematically linked and arranged by the artist to be played in a specific order. I grew up with this structure and I have become hard wired to it. Perhaps I find the chap book format so appealing because it operates on so many of these same principles. For me, J P Reese’s chap book, Final Notes has that kind of album vibe. To carry that metaphor just a bit further, many of my favorite albums were a collection of 12-15 songs, each one only a little over two minutes long. Final Notes is a collection of 16 poems, each one of them short, compact, stripped down to bare essentials and almost Zen-like in its simplicity. However, this is not to say that economy of motion, brevity and simplicity are traits that are necessarily synonymous with shallow or superficial, because, in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. Reese’s poems are full of of the kind of heart and soul that is reached only by plumbing the depths and mysteries of the human spirit. Reese draws the reader into the theme of any given piece with clear language and vivid imagery, but the depth of meaning comes from reading the poems again and again. To return to my music metaphor, it’s the same way a song grows on me. I really need to hear it over and over again.

Final Notes is a collection of poems about what it’s like to be alive in America in the 21st century. The poems are quiet meditations on the passage of time, relationships with domestic partners, love, loss, strength, and perseverance. Reese contemplates caring for aging parents “at the end of your life”, the shattering of the American dream against “the blind windows of Wall Street”, hopes and dreams for her children, a poignant profile of a psychically scarred soldier home from the war in Iraq which, for him, will never end, and a chilling, but beautiful refection on the day the Twin Towers fell that somehow reminds me of paper cranes of Hiroshima. For me, the shortest poem in the collection is the most cryptic, while at the same time, written in the most beautiful and lyrical language. Final Notes is a wonderful chap book of sparkling poems and I will return to it time and time again.

About the Author 

JP Reese is associate Poetry Editor for Connotation Press: an Online Artifact and Poetry Editor for THIS Literary Magazine. She teaches English at a small college on the North Texas prairie. Reese’s published works can be found at Entropy: A Measure of Uncertainty:

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