Review: “Strange Children”
Strange Children, by Dan Brady
Publishing Genius, 2018, 80 pages
In his latest poetry collection, Strange Children, Dan Brady dissects the themes of grief, trauma, family, and disease with the same surgical precision as the doctors he describes. But Brady’s exploration of these issues is neither cold nor detached – his poems are crafted from a place of understanding and experience. Strange Children is a heralding light for all those held prisoner by their circumstances and a beautifully melancholic documentation of “the way life happens” – and how we learn to deal with it.
Brady creates an intricate series of poems that recount the events surrounding his wife’s stroke and how this singular event has shaped their lives. His work is minimalist; very rarely does he embellish his poetry with excessive language. Instead, he relies on the weight of the story and on his literary craftsmanship to compel readers to walk down the path he has so expertly paved. And yet, despite being bare-boned, Brady’s work is not devoid of poetic elements. In fact, by being so selective with his use of these elements, he draws attention to particular moments and makes each image that much more poignant. His comparison between death and himself as observers of his wife hits harder and breathes new meaning into the poems that follow. And in the blink of an eye, he forcibly drags readers back down to the reality of his family’s situation and to his wife, “the youngest / person in the stroke unit / by forty years.”
Throughout his collection, Brady alternates between a burning calm through his use of repetition and accelerating “as fast as a fish / picks a single fly / from the river water.” But his repetition does not bore. It does not waver. It amplifies. It festers. The constant mantra, “thumb to forefinger, / thumb to middle finger, / thumb to ring finger, / thumb to little finger,” becomes a testament that no matter how far one distances themselves from tragedy, “once an event occurs it continues forever.” But Brady is not a passive commentator. He reacts in spades. Sometimes anger, sometimes heartbreak, sometimes in a lulling calm. But always with conviction.
Brady constantly walks the line between despair and hope, and above all else, possibility. Through his poetry, he emphasizes the important notion that by remaining resilient, tragedy can breed new possibility. As misfortune continues to strike at this family, they do not let themselves become the victims. Each tragedy serves as a jumping-off point for one question: What now?
Brady’s collection takes a sudden turn as the doctors inform them that his wife’s stroke was likely a side-effect of her giving birth and that she shouldn’t get pregnant again, forcing the two to reconsider the plans they had made for themselves. But they do not despair; instead, they “create / new dreams […] Simpler dreams— / or more daring ones.” They consider adoption and suddenly the misfortune of one family becomes the hope of new possibility for a child somewhere. Strange Children shows us that although not all stories have a happy ending, with love and determination, we can do our damnedest to try.
Strange Children does not sugarcoat what it means to fall ill or to suffer loss. Illness means repeated late nights in the hospital. It means months of stability followed by a sudden decline in health. It means watching the woman you love be torn apart by something outside of her control. Brady’s collection perfectly captures what it means to be sick, both in content and in form. But more importantly, it captures what it means to be strong and what it means to love. Brady does not hide from the darkness and certainly does not ignore it. He confronts it. He allows himself to feel an entire spectrum of emotion but throughout, he is tethered by his love for his wife and his love for his children. In doing so, Brady is able to explore the boundaries of human expression without fear of losing himself. Although Strange Children documents the highly personal experiences of a man and his family, it is also a wish for readers and non-readers alike: “that you will be more air than earth, / that you will find pleasures undiscovered / and that the darkness lasts only briefly.”