Part of dealing with death and loss is the realization of finality and that nobody can literally raise the dead.
With his newest collection of poetry, When All the World Is Old, Detroit-born poet John Rybicki comes close enough that poet Marie Howe compares him to a modern-day Orpheus "singing [his] way into the underworld and coming out alive."
When All the World Is Old is John's love song and elegy to his wife, fellow poet Julie Moulds, who succumbed to cancer after an intensely valiant 17-year battle.
Throughout the collection, Rybicki constantly explores the dichotomies between praise and anguish, blessing and curse, finite life and interminable love.
"The one hidden blessing in cancer is that it magnifies the now. It forces you to savor the here and now," Rybicki said. "I would much rather have been writing about having babies and watching kids grow; I would love to have been a poet of celebration more, but I think that what I experienced speaks through the sinews of pain in the book. It's what was handed to me and to us."
Julie was diagnosed with her cancer only a few years after she completed graduate school and only five years after she and Rybicki met.
"There's nothing like cancer to turn ordinary words into rivers of fire," Rybicki said after seeing his wife go through seven remissions, two bone marrow transplants and immeasurable amounts of time in the hospital.
"I wrote out of august pain and desperation and all sorts of things, so probably a lot of my mourning is in these poems," Rybicki said.
When All the World Is Old: Reading and Signing with John Rybicki
However, he recognizes that his grief is borne out of the kind of love that so few are blessed enough to have.
"That's what's given the strength to live," Rybicki said. "I have to feel lucky and privileged to have a love like that. And I do."
Interspersed throughout the collection of poems are excerpts from Julie's journals. The snatches of brutally honest prose from one poet and heart-cleaving poems of another weave together to form a much more cohesive, united story and insert more of Julie's voice and presence into the collection.
"It's a dream come true," Rybicki said. "She told me many times she would never leave me, and she meant even death couldn't keep her away."
No matter what, Rybicki is quick to point out that as much as the poems are about universal themes such as suffering, loss, grief, thanksgiving, love and peace, Julie's unconquerable spirit and constant presence are truly at the heart of this collection.
"I love a lot of people; I'm pretty adept at finding the good in people, but I have very few people I feel are my heroes. She's one of my heroes," Rybicki said. "She wrapped her arms around a hurricane and wouldn't let go. She was forged in a special fire."
Other Literary Events
Meet the Brewmaster
Kalamazoo Public Library
kpl.gov, (269) 342-9837
Beer and libraries are two things that don't usually seem to go together - until now. Kalamazoo Public Library will host an event in conjunction with Bell's Brewery and host Bell's own brewmasters to talk about how they craft their well-known artisan beers. After the event, Bell's Eccentric Café will have event-specific beer specials to sample and enjoy.
Book and Media Swap
Grand Rapids Public Library (1017 Leonard NW and 2025 Leonard NE, Grand Rapids)
grpl.org, (616) 988-5400
Grand Rapids Public Library will be hosting a Book and Media Swap all throughout Earth Week to celebrate the "reduce, reuse, recycle" vibe of the week. Bring in old books, CDs, DVDs and video games and take other media home as your own for only a fraction of what you would spend for all-new material. The sale will be hosted by the West Leonard and Yankee Clipper Branches of the library.
Festival of Faith and Writing
Calvin College, Grand Rapids
festival.calvin.edu, (616) 526-6770
Since 1990, Calvin College's biennial Festival of Faith and Writing has been bringing the biggest names in literature to Grand Rapids for three days of reading, learning and connecting faith and writing. Past guests have included Elie Wiesel, Madeleine L'Engle, Salman Rushdie and John Updike. This year, invited speakers include Jonathan Safran Foer and Li-Young Lee, among many others. Attendees will also have a chance to sit in on workshops and discussion groups and hear from publishers, editors and agents representing their clients' work.