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Different Approaches to Illness as Metaphor in Fiction and Poetry. 

I attended this fascinating talk in the week at the Adelaide University Library given by Heather Taylor Johnson, a wonderful poet and writer from the US now residing in Adelaide.

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Heather was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease in 1999, a very debilitating condition resulting in a variety of unpleasant symptoms caused by an imbalance in the inner ear. Heather attempted to write about her experience of living with this chronic illness but found herself “frustrated with overwriting and an abundance of self-pity as the final product.” To resolve this she gave her illness to a 63-year-old man called Graham, one of the key protagonists in her highly successful debut novel Pursuing Love and Death, published by HarperCollins.

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Heather read extracts from her book that provided a real insight into what a sufferer can experience during an attack. You could feel Graham’s anger and frustration as he realizes this is going to be a ‘bad one’, and his utter helplessness with no choice but to endure it.

Writing about personal illness can be a challenge, a tightrope walk between communicating its impact (the negative) and coping with it (the positive). Heather magnificently achieves this delicate balance, and read poems from her beautiful collections, Letters to my Lover from a Small Mountain Town and Thirsting for Lemonade, which allude to the disease but don’t linger.    

All in all it was a very inspiring session, certainly one to think about.

 

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