Author, Gallerist and Amazon Top 50 reviewer Grady Harp has written a great review on Amazon:
This book of poems is regenerative, a substance on which to feed now, should these moments ever come our way – either as the empty shell one, or the one nestling that aged infant. Highly recommended reading for all. Grady Harp, August 13
A nice in-depth review from top reviewer Kevin Nenstiel on Amazon.
Jonathan Gillman’s father, an acclaimed mathematician and pianist, suffered a long, slow, humiliating death as dementia incrementally consumed everything that made him unique. Gillman, an educator and dramatist, struggled with the ambiguous feelings: this was his father, sure, but this was the man who also made him feel the greatest shame and most persistent frustration. So, like any good teacher, he turned to writing.
Gillman’s verse chronicle of his father’s decline quickly becomes an autobiography: his father’s struggles with Beethoven colored how father and son communicated, and when that communication stops, Gillman must decide who he is separately. The answer proves harder than he anticipates. How do you stay angry, Gillman asks, at someone progressively losing everything? He must decide what a life full of music means when the music stops.
My Father, Humming received an Honorable Mention in the Poetry Category in The Eric Hoffer Award for Books.
The write up:
This book quickly pulls the reader into the confusing and painful world of a dementia patient. The poet expertly shows the painful resignation of watching a loved one slip deeper in to a world of waking sleep. While it paints the pain of loss, it also poignantly reveals the moments of lucidity and evidence that the afflicted loved-one still remains in some way. With musical imagery and tongue-in-cheek comments, we live a normal day of a son watching his father go as well as watching a wife care for her beloved husband during the worst of the for-better-or-for-worst vows.
Gillman’s book is deeply felt and sensitively written. The poems are about his father, a former concert pianist who is dying (and dies) in a state of Alzheimer’s. The contrasts between who the man was, with all his difficult qualities, versus who the man laying there seems to be are painfully filled with clear-eyed observations by Gillman–who, at one or two points, wonders if the same fate may be awaiting him. I loved this book and I don’t usually read poetry.
A nice profile and review was published in the Valley Courier.
People have made movies about Alzheimer’s disease, written novels about it, and discussed treatment in medical journals. Now Jonathan Gillman has told the story of his father’s descent into Alzheimer’s in poetry in his new book, My Father, Humming. The book is poetry, but it reads like a narrative, enfolding the reader in the story as Gillman chronicles his father’s illness and its inevitable end.
“Music is a theme through much of the book-a thread that ties everything together,” he says.
The title of the book, as well as one of its poems, grew from a visit Gillman paid to his ailing father. Unlike his father, Gillman had not learned piano as a child but had taken it up as an adult. He played the great composers, but in his own fashion.
“I played the same notes [Bach and Beethoven] I heard as a child, but I make very different music. I play them much more slowly, at a different tempo than they are supposed to be played,” he noted.
By this time, his father could no longer speak, but he nonetheless expressed his displeasure at his son’s interpretations by beginning to choke.
“Not some feeble choking, but the ‘This is it, I am going to die variety.’ My first thought was to stop and go help him, but the nurse was there and there was nothing else to do so I kept playing and he kept choking. I heard the rattle in his throat,” Gillman recalls.
But then something else happened. The choking stopped and Gillman heard another kind of noise, softly at first.
“He was humming along with me and he kept humming and I kept playing-the two of us making music together until the end of the piece,” he says. The moment, Gillman recalls, was one of deep, unspoken, connection between him and his father.
“We have to go back,” a dying man says, as the car pulls from the curb, “I’ve left my memories.” It is his son, the author of My Father, Humming, who later finds them, turns them in the lock of what’s forgotten to open the dimension of what he can get back: his father at the piano, “humming” as he plays Beethoven, insisting he will make millions even at 85, shouting when his son tries Bach, “That is not how/it’s supposed to be played!” Jonathan Gillman’s quiet and surprising collection has the feel of discovery and illumination. Listen! “This way’s mine,” he writes, “this long and slow—/finding my own music/in the notes/the Maestro wrote.”
Honor Moore, author of Red Shoes
My Father, Humming begins with music—the father’s, the son’s, the musicality of the poetic line—then moves to the poignant moments when a son watches the dreams of a father fade into dependency, disability. Throughout this tribute is the keen eye of an attentive son, translating his anguish, his anger, his celebrations of life into the words on the page. In the final analysis, it is music that keeps it all together, in the notes, in the life, in the way we hear the words, and finally in the way the spirit continues on.
David Watts, author of Bedside Manners
My Father, Humming is an inspiring, heartbreaking, and hopeful work—in its tone, imagery, recurring themes, and pacing—moving in the way blood moves through the body. The poems enact a fascinating tension between melody and gradual dying, and in the beautiful, almost serene, final section arrive at an awareness of what cannot be resolved but only lived as fully as possible.
William O’Daly, poet, translator, and editor