East Hampton Local Publishes Heartfelt Verse Memoir - 27 East

Arts & Living

Arts & Living / 1338531

East Hampton Local Publishes Heartfelt Verse Memoir

icon 2 Photos

author on Sep 5, 2016

No one is taught how to cope with the death of a loved one, arguably the most emotionally painful experience in one’s life. After Joan Cusack Handler’s parents died, she decided to explore the aftermath in her latest book, “Orphans,” and reflect on her family life.

Ms. Handler, a 75-year-old poet and psychologist, published the book in March after collecting 10 years worth of her poems that she never thought would form a cohesive body of work. This honest and intimate verse memoir delves into the vulnerability that comes with losing both parents and essentially feeling like an orphan. Although all of the stories are personal accounts, they discuss universal topics that virtually everyone with family members experiences.

Ms. Handler provides a glimpse into a household of strained relationships and religious conservatism from three different points of view.

She recorded her parents’ words when they were ill and turned them into poems. Eleven poems, titled either “My Mother Speaks” or “My Father Speaks,” are stories about their own upbringings that provide insight into the way they later raised their four children. Ms. Handler recorded their voices to hold on to a part of them after they died, unaware that these words would end up in a poetry book.

“I kept their diction and expressions and preserved as much of their actual words as I could, and then went in and shaped it into poems,” Ms. Handler explained. “As much as possible, I tried to avoid tinkering with what they were saying. It was an amazing experience, because I had no idea that I could do that and that their voices would cooperate.”

In the only poem titled “My Father Speaks,” her father, Eugene Cusack, talks about his wife, Mary O’Connor Cusack, who died in 1998: “I miss Mom these ten years. / But you get used to it — / the quiet. / And there’s plenty to do. I’m always busy. / Sometimes I’ll even hear myself talking / like she was still here in the room with me. / Mom was a great talker.”

Ms. Handler admitted in an interview to having had complicated yet strong relationships with her Irish immigrant parents. She struggled to understand her mother’s behavior toward her and her siblings, but she always knew it stemmed from her grandmother’s death when her mother was only 6. The loss and its impact are described in the first poem of the book:

“My mother never really got over that. So she was really very possessive of her children, very needy—she was wonderful and she was horrible.”

Ms. Handler and her father always had a loving and respectful relationship that lasted until he died seven years ago at age 99. Although she considered them very close, his conservative outlook—he was a devout Catholic—was consistently a bone of contention. Her different religious and political stances caused frequent fights between the two of them.

“There were lots of things we couldn’t talk about,” she said. “I grew up with awareness that there was a whole litany of feelings that I was never supposed to have and that I denied to myself and to everyone around me.”

Although she considers her first family “very broken,” she is grateful for the family she now has. She and her husband of 36 years, Alan Handler, split their time between New Jersey and East Hampton while raising their son, David.

She said East Hampton holds a special place special place in her heart: “In many ways, this is really our home. It’s where our heart is. My husband was in the process of building this house when I met him. It’s our oasis. We were married in this house.”

Joan Cusack Handler will have a book signing for “Orphans” at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor on Saturday, October 22, when visitors can meet her and discuss her poems.

You May Also Like:

VIDEO: The Show Must Go On: The Arts in a Time of Lockdown

Much of art is meant to be a communal experience. But the COVID-19 pandemic has ... 5 Jun 2020 by Staff Writer

This Summer It’s ‘All For The Hall’

Guild Hall has reinvented its traditional season of events to announce a new, redesigned 2020 ... 2 Jun 2020 by Staff Writer

BCMF Concerts Postponed

Because of circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer’s Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, Long ... by Staff Writer

Free Solo Is A True Cliffhanger

This week, Hamptons DocFest adds another “Fest Favorite” documentary to its website. This time, it’s ... by Staff Writer

‘Best Jams’ Virtual Concert Will ‘Feed the Need’ This Weekend

There are a lot of people in this neck of the woods who are missing ... by Annette Hinkle

When Life Imitiates Fiction: Merrell’s Novel ‘Shirley’ Makes It To The Movies

“Shirley,” a major new motion picture starring Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg, is set to ... by Annette Hinkle

Cooking With The Countess

The Southampton History Museum is hosting a live monthly Zoom cooking show that will take place in the kitchen of one of the Port of Missing Men, the last, private Gilded Age estate in Southampton. The home was built as a hunting retreat on North Sea’s Cow Neck in the 1920s by H.H. Rogers, Jr., whose father was the wealthiest man in the country in 1910. “Cooking with the Countess” features Mrs. Peter A. Salm, also known as The Countess von Salm-Hoogstraeten, and her private chef, Brian Hetrich, behind the stove in the vast kitchen at the Port of Missing ... by Staff Writer

Bert Stern’s Marilyn Monroe Photos At Keyes Gallery

Keyes Gallery in Sag Harbor in collaboration with the Bert Stern Estate is releasing a series of new, limited edition prints from “The Last Sitting” with Marilyn Monroe that took place at the legendary Bel-Air Hotel in Beverly Hills in 1962. Called “The Red Show,” the exhibition opens at Keyes Gallery on Main Street Sag Harbor on Saturday and Sunday, June 13 and 14, 10 a.m., to 7 p.m. and remains on view through July 6. Sterns photographic artworks of Monroe are black and white, along with sepia toned, hauntingly beautiful prints with themes of red. These works are sourced ... by Staff Writer

Bloomsday Is Close At Hand

Attention all fans of great literature and superb acting – Bloomsday approaches! Join Guild Hall on Tuesday, June 16, from 8 to 10 p.m. to celebrate one of Ireland (and the world’s) finest writers, James Joyce, and his novel “Ulysses” as read and performed by a legend of the American stage, Austin Pendleton. This one-night-only virtual live reading by Pendleton is directed by Elizabeth Falk and is a one man play by Joe Beck. Joyce’s most famous work “Ulysses” (1922) is based on Homer’s “The Odyssey” and follows the movements of Leopold Bloom through a single day on June 16th, ... by Staff Writer

Bartley’s Artistic Quarantine

Please Note: This event has been suspended as of June 3, 2020 — notification will be posted if it is rescheduled. - ed Artists don’t stop working just because they’re socially distancing. On Friday, June 5, at 5 p.m. Alicia G. Longwell, Ph.D., The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Chief Curator at the Parrish Art Museum, will lead a live-stream illustrated conversation with Sag Harbor-based photographer and Parrish collection artist Mary Ellen Bartley, who recently completed a 30-day photography project in quarantine. “Mary Ellen Bartley’s story unfolded during a socially-distanced conversation on a neighboring front porch and I immediately wanted ... by Staff Writer
logo

Welcome to our new website!

To see what’s new, click “Start the Tour” to take a tour.

We welcome your feedback. Please click the
“contact/advertise” link in the menu bar to email us.

Start the Tour
Landscape view not supported