Eloise Klein Healy’s A Brilliant Loss is a poetic journey into the loss of language and the reclaiming of it. Healy had Wernicke’s aphasia in 2013 when she was the first poet laureate of the City of Los Angeles, and the virus hit her the night of her reading with Caroline Kennedy at the Central Library. Also called fluent aphasia, Wernicke’s aphasia affects language and the use of words. Healy’s collection shows that her brain has access to its deepest unconscious, and that place is poetry. Her deepest language is poetry. It’s as if a dancer was denied the ability to walk or run, and could only dance. Healy writes of losing her words and finding big love.
Eloise’s illness, encephalitis, took her on a journey to a strange place, which she is revealing to us in A Brilliant Loss, her new set of poems. She teaches that without language there is no self, no sense of past or future. And no way to express love.
I’ve had aphasia (much lighter versions than she has had) twice so far, and may again, so I know it as a lonely, frightening, lost-in-the-forest-of-meaning place. To lose recognition of person and geography, to experience a shattering of the brilliant patterns of literacy and verbal expression. To see objects and be unable to name them. Yet recovery can also be full of quirkiness, exuberant joy, and humor—states of feeling Eloise has exhibited for all the forty-two years we’ve known each other.
Eloise, with amazing support from her partner and others, uses breadcrumb words—poignant—scary—sweet—informing—to show us how she wended her way step by step out of her lost forest back to love, to words, to social life, and to poetry.
I recommend this book to anyone who has bumped their head.
—Judy Grahn, author of Touching Creature, Touching Spirit
“As a young poet, Eloise Klein Healy “fell on her knees and promised/that poetry would be everything . . .” Imagine then her terror, her shock when one morning she awoke without language. This book is testament to her long, painful, continuing rediscovery of words, of life, of love. Her brain profoundly changed, her heart profoundly changed, she’s sustained again by poetry. She’s sustained by her devoted Colleen, “the wild river whose bank you are.” Her brilliant loss gives us all the gift of these brilliant poems.”
—Peggy Shumaker, former Writer Laureate of Alaska