Wonderful Collection that Honors Family and History
When we diligently read our history books as part of our school’s curriculum, we learn about the famous men and women who earned their spot in print as world leaders, great businessmen, explorers, military heroes, or even criminals. While all aspects of history fascinate me, I must confess that my interest has always been more with the everyday folks who loved their families, took pride in their work, and, although they may never be studied in a classroom, made a lasting impact on the people who knew them. My ninety-eight-year-old grandmother has an amazing memory and can recount in detail an incident that happened with a playmate in 1917. She is also a musician who shares songs and piano melodies that remind her of being a teenager or raising her children during a war. I know from her that the retelling of family history and traditions is the best way to capture a picture of a bygone era. I have discovered a treasure that beautifully captures this appreciation for the warmth of family and home. The new audio book Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry & Music by Janet Riehl is a compilation of very personal music and poetry that is not to be missed.
Riehl’s audio book developed from her written text, Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary, which was published in 2006. With the new release, Riehl adds the elements of down-home music and her own voice bringing life to the poems she created. The musical component features her father’s singing and fiddle playing as he is joined by other musicians for recordings that took place in his living room. The fact that the music was not performed in a high-tech professional studio makes its inclusion even more appealing and appropriate. As you listen to old friends gather to play music, you feel so fortunate to be let into the intimate gathering. I felt that I should be sitting in a rocking chair with my eyes closed as I let the simple beauty fill my soul. Each piece provides a seamless transition for the subjects of the poems it connects.
The poems by Janet Riehl are divided into five groupings that are spread over four CDs. The first section is devoted to her sister Julia (also known as Skeeter), who was tragically killed in a car crash several years ago. The emotional images Riehl creates through her words examine Julia’s work, her love of life, the moment of her death, and the longing of those she left behind. Riehl goes on to share equally captivating poetry about her father, her mother, and two places that have special meaning to her— the family home in Evergreen Heights and her later residence of Clear Lake in Northern California. In addition to the poems themselves, Riehl provides emotional commentary that fills in the missing pieces and develops a more complete memory for the listeners to enjoy. Her words are straightforward, beautifully crafted, and offer a wonderful piece of storytelling.
From beginning to end, the new audio book Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry & Music is a delight for its listeners. The passion that Janet Riehl has for her family, her history, and the beauty that surrounds her is obvious. Even if you already read the printed version of Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary when it was released several years ago, you will want to enjoy the extra features and meaning that are offered through this listening experience as well. The audio segments have been expertly compiled and edited to create the comfortable atmosphere of someone’s home while also displaying professional detail to recording quality and content progression. Each moment of the CDs is filled with warmth, humor, and a deep connection to those who have come before us. Sightlines is a must-have audio book for anyone who appreciates a good love story with the perfect musical accompaniment!
Edith O Nuallain
Poems of Love and Loss
Sightlines : A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music by Janet Grace Riehl consists of 4 audio CD’s, which combine the poems previously published in Riehl’s book of the same title. This recorded version of "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary" (2006) expands on the original 90 poems by including brief clips of 40 songs played by her 93-year-old father and his Sunday Afternoon music group. The poems are further set in a wider context with her father's stories and the banter of the music session. Her father also reads the poems he wrote that open "Sightlines" along with the lines of dialogue that appear in poems sprinkled throughout. In this unique offering, we glimpse the lives, past and present, of the poet and her family.
Together words and songs weave a magical tapestry of myriad threads, recounting family folklore in the warm timbres of Riehl’s quiet-spoken voice, each story-poem set like a sparkling diamond amidst the lively rhythms of fiddles, guitars and mandolins, music reminiscent of a bygone era. The sometimes slightly discordant notes of the violin merely add to the searing poignancy and achingly beautiful tones of the tales told. Each poem capturing a moment in time, a memory caught and held forever.
For this series of poems and songs is a memoir, but one unlike any you have heard before. Contrary to other memoirs, this one is told in miniature sound bites, offering a more direct and immediate emotional experience than those composed in prose form. Riehl’s words pull you right in to the depths of the visceral matrix from whence her poems first emerged.
Ultimately this is a series of love poems, composed in memory and celebration of three people and two places Riehl loves. She traces the precious and treasured reminiscences of a childhood shared with her two older siblings-- her sister, Julia Ann, and her brother, Gary, tenderly watched over by loving parents. Her attentiveness to detail is evident in the images and words which reflect her considered awareness of who she is and where she comes from. Only the poet, Janet Riehl, with her own unique sense of self, created from a mix of family folklore and personal recollections, could have penned these love songs.
But it is the opening harmonies that remain long after the book or CD set has been put away. Here is where Riehl composes the haunting and lyrical songs to her sister, tragically killed in an automobile accident, an experience so devastating that almost every succeeding poem is written in reference, either directly or obliquely, to it. It was this event which prompted Riehl to take a sabbatical and turn her focus inwards, in an attempt to locate the hidden meaning of life’s sorrows and fragility.
As a result of that long, lingering glance cast upon her own existence and that of those she held dear, she has succeeded in capturing the minutiae of life. Her images are like word paintings, placing scenes before our eyes, present or distant in time, visions so personal that they become universal. For is not this the ultimate hope of any who pen a memoir, that their readers will transfer the meaning of their words into the terms of their own experiences?
The mother and father captured on her pages are our mothers and fathers, the love she expresses for them is the love we feel for our own. But it is in her descriptions of single moments in time, a slow walk with her mother, lying against the “soft altar” of her mother’s bed, that Riehl displays her mastery of the medium.
One striking feature of Riehl’s poetry is the unmistakeable sense of presence that the author brings to her subject matter. Pick any poem from the book, and almost immediately the reader comes face to face, as it were, with the poet. Riehl’s voice is evident on every line, in every carefully chosen image, whether she is speaking as sister, daughter or aunt. She never shirks or turns away from the dragon’s hiding in the shadows, but instead looks them in the eye and states clearly what she sees.
She recounts, sometimes in devastating and searingly honest detail, her mother’s progressive dance towards death. She is not afraid to open herself to the suffering of returning and re-living the death of her sister, a tragedy that changed everything. Riehl is a woman who has seen a lot, more in fact than many of us would wish to encounter. Yet her presence assures us that we too can survive the unthinkable; that we can live to tell the tale. And what’s more, that in telling our stories we become more of who we are destined to be.
If we can locate the bravery within ourselves that Riehl points us towards, then we too may become in time as compassionate, caring, understanding and yes, even forgiving, as she. For while these are all love songs, still there are a few that hide within themselves some sharp edges, half-forgotten memories of a cross word or an impatient gesture. Riehl does not linger on these memories, but chooses to accept them as merely part of the traits of those she loved, the ones who irrevocably shaped the contours of her life.
For indeed is this not what the best memoirs do? They do not point the finger of blame, but rather paint a picture of a wholly believable and fulsome individual, someone who might have been our sister or brother or mother or father. Indeed Riehl’s own endearing characteristic, her delicious sense of playfulness is evident throughout, even in the midst of dealing with the more tiresome traits of the old and feeble, such as when she has to clean up her mother who has soiled herself. And still the poet smiles.
In the end it is the universality of her subject matter that renders her poetry so accessible. We read her poems not just to peep through a window in to her life, but to lift the veil a little on our own, so that we may perhaps learn something about ourselves and our loved ones, even while we swim in the subterranean waters of her soul-filled words.