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This is the fourth of Judith Viorst's books of poetry about crossing decades in one's life. Perhaps this one will become one of her most popular in the next 10 years as record numbers of baby boomers turn 50 every day. Although both women and men will find plenty that speaks to them, the book is very much in a woman's voice and will resonate more powerfully with many female readers.
Each poem deserves its own comment, but I would exceed my word quota if I did that.
Let me see if I can group them a bit for you. Some of the poems focus on how things have changed with age. "Wild Thing" is a good example, which lists a lot of things the author does when she's feeling wild -- like "I didn't bother flossing before bedtime." "Second Marriage" is the tale of a widow and widower whose family situations keep them from following their hearts. "To a Middle-Aged Friend Considering Adultery" advises the woman in question to give up the idea of a young male lover. It won't last and it's not worth it.
She also finds plenty to be pleased about in being 50. In "Exercising Options," she skips all of the strenuous exercises in favor of floating on her back in a pool. In "Happiness," many simple blessings like good health turn out to be the most enduring sources of happiness.
Children are never far out of the picture. The brief joy of the empty nest quickly evaporates as they all return to stay (some with spouse or children in tow) in "They're Back." "How Can People Want to Bring Children into This Terrible World" is a poetic discussion with a daughter-in-law about the author's desire to have a grandchild. There's always an edge of unsettled concern in these. For example, in "You Say You Want to Know How the Children Are Doing" is a litany of superficial updates on great numbers of children ending in the lament, "But what does it mean?" She has advice for her son in how to answer his wife's question about does he love her in "Some Advice from a Mother to Her Married Son."
Other poems are filled with hope and are forward looking. In "Before I Go," she tells how she'd "like to make things better." She aspires to be a "Sexy Old Lady" in the poem by that name at 80 with "my sexy old husband nestled beside me in bed."
The book's tone is perhaps best captured by "Pleasures of an Ordinary Life" in which she praises having "a long history and connections" with other people.
Judith Viorst is as gentle a guide as you can find into the land of the 50s. You'll enjoy your birthday and the decade more if you read and draw upon her wit and wisdom. It'll help you overcome your misconception stalls about what's next.
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on March 17, 2004
Judith Viorst has become the poet of aging with books of poetry dedicated to her lyrical and funny perceptions of each decade of life from the 20s to the 60s. With Forever Fifty And Other Negotiations she explores with insight and humor the joys and fears of being in your fifties. The book contains 24 one-page poems that are accompanied by full page graphic illustrations in green ink on a rich cream paper. The 24 graphics are reproduced on the end papers. The attention to design makes this a wonderful gift for a quinquagenarian friend.
The poems are funny and sentimental yet bittersweet. In some poems we see a person who is struggling to accept the limitations of middle age (where running wild is to go for a walk without sunscreen and memory can't be relied upon). In others she seeks the joys that come with the wisdom of years as when she says "We're quicker to laugh, and not so eager to blame." In yet others, she makes affirmations to live life "as a sexy old lady" and lists the things she'd like to do before she goes.
There are poems that take humorous looks at adult children, long-term marriage partners, and young doctors.
Overall, a wonderful but light look at the aging process of the 50s. It is a book you will enjoy, but one that will not burn into your soul.
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