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The Myth of Water is a cycle of thirty-four poems by award-winning Alabama poet and writer Jeanie Thompson in the voice of world-renowned Alabamian Helen Keller. In their sweep, the poems trace Keller’s metamorphosis from a native of a bucolic Alabama town to her emergence as a beloved, international figure who championed the rights of the deaf-blind worldwide.
Thompson’s artfully concatenated vignettes form a mosaic that maps the insightful mind behind the elegant and enigmatic persona Keller projected. Thompson takes readers on the journey of Keller’s life, from some of the thirty-seven countries she visited, including the British Isles, Europe, and Japan to the wellsprings of her emotional awakening and insight. The poems are paired with fascinating biographical anecdotes from Keller’s life and samplings from her writing, which infuse the work with richly-rewarding biographical detail.
The poems in The Myth of Water reveal the discerning subtlety, resiliency, and complexity of the person Thompson perceives Helen Keller to have been. Through a combination of natural intuition, manual signs, Braille alphabets, and lip reading, Keller came to grasp the revolving tapestry of the seasons and the infinite colors of human relationships.
Not a biography or a fictional retelling, The Myth of Water attempts to unlock what moved Keller to her life of service and self-examination. This is a deeply personal story of coming through—not overcoming—a double disability to a fully realized life in which a woman gives her heart to the world.
About the Author
Jeanie Thompson is the author of The Seasons Bear Us, White for Harvest: New and Selected Poems, Witness, Litany for a Vanishing Landscape, How to Enter the River, and Lotus and Psalm. Her poems have been published in Whatever Remembers Us, High Horse, Working the Dirt, and The Best of Crazyhorse, among others. She teaches at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing program and is the founding executive director of the Alabama Writers’ Forum, a statewide literary arts service organization.
"These aren’t poems that clamor to the other senses, such as touch and smell, to fill the void of sight and sound (though they do effectively engage those other senses). Rather, they find in thought, language, and human connection a nearly material experience."
"While it is hard to find a contemporary poet able to conjure any human figure, much less one so sealed in stone as Helen Keller, in Thompson’s The Myth of Water Helen lives. She is present. Had I not read these simple poems I would not have believed they could have been written."
—Louie Skipper, author of To Speak This Tongue and As Sunrise Becomes The World: A Trilogy and It Was the Orange Persimmon of the Sun
“Jeanie Thompson, through an act of sympathetic imagination, enters the Helen Keller story, relives it from the inside, and presents it here to readers, fresh, reimagined and, yes, a miracle. If we thought there was nothing new to be said or learned about Helen Keller, Jeanie Thompson’s new book shows us how wrong we would be to think that. The Myth of Water is a revelation.”
—Richard Tillinghast, author of Wayfaring Stranger and The Stonecutter’s Hand
“Jeanie Thompson’s highly tactile The Myth of Water is woven like burlap cloth with a warp of prose narrative and a woof of poetry that miraculously make Helen Keller’s emotional life and intellectual process palpable for readers. Thompson’s poetic technique depends on metaphor—on what is like what—on kinship and the surprise of recognition. This approach is the reverse of ‘normal’ poetry-making and ‘normal’ learning, when we hear and see directly what is, and then it takes flight in metaphor and abstraction. Through Thompson’s inspired and inspiring poetry, we experience Helen Keller’s world from the inside to the contiguous world. These poems, of world significance, will break your heart, then mend it and return it to you enlarged. The brilliance of these poems makes me weep with joy.”
—Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife: or, The Star-Gazer; Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette; and The Fountain of St. James Court: or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman
“In The Myth of Water Jeanie Thompson, through Helen Keller’s persona, moves us beyond the five sensory dimensions we’ve come to privilege. Here are the sixth, seventh, and eighth senses, the unseen. These are the ones connecting us with the larger unseen and unheard universe. Why watch and hear water when you can be water: ‘I was alone, tumbling/ in the deep element of myself.’ Thompson’s world is indeed deep and at times unnerving. Although we know how this story ends, the thoughtful syntax and unexpected images anchors us in an immediate now experience. This is not historical poetry, this is a commentary on the myth of limitation.”
—Derrick Harriell, author of Ropes and Stripper in Wonderland
"In The Myth of Water, Jeanie Thompson investigates the life of Helen Keller through an aesthetic imagination drawing on memory, culture and the historical to give us this seminal text. These poems are meticulous, lyrical, edifying. Midway through this collection the reader will begin to see the world through Keller’s eyes, not the darkness but the everlasting light.”
—Randall Horton author of Hook: A Memoir "This is a moving and wholly satisfying collection of poetry. This collection is satisfying as a work of poetry, a work of biography, and a work of spiritual contemplation."
—Maurice Manning, author of The Common Man and Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions