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Poetry. Women's Studies. WHAT IS IN THE BLOOD is a poetry memoir about growing up in rural Pennsylvania in the 1960s and '70s with a bipolar mother. The book describes a girl's early childhood and adolescence from having a vibrant mother--to living with a ghost mother. WHAT IS IN THE BLOOD is about being female in America, the expectations of caregiving, and the toll gender takes on women. The book touches on a daughter's sexual beginnings, as well as sexual assault and its lingering cost. WHAT IS IN THE BLOOD makes clear the journey and impact of caring for a mentally ill parent while becoming a woman and mother. The gardens, fields, rivers and mountains of the author's childhood provide both context and purpose to the family's struggle. WHAT IS IN THE BLOOD is finally a book about how the natural world holds and cares for those who rely on it for solace.
With a mother's hospitalizations and diagnosis and a father immersed in maintaining the family homestead, how is a girl to find her place in the world? One answer may lie in her grounding in that world, the world of farmland and family, the mother's up and down energy, playing baseball, kneading dough, stirring tomato sauces, until Stone, as one of the eldest daughters, must take charge of the 'ghost' mother's kitchen. Or in the sustenance that comes from the natural world--the venison, elderberries and rhubarb, even the grasses and trees--with which Ellen Stone's poems are lushly involved. Another is surely the clear-eyed acceptance with which the poems face the difficult hand the poet was dealt. The poems in WHAT IS IN THE BLOOD do not complain. They journey, investigate, accumulate clues, become in and of themselves 'some kind of signal...a trail I can follow.'--Terry Blackhawk
Ellen Stone transfigures pain and trauma into poems of startling loveliness and immediacy. What she calls 'the true secret of switchgrass' is her secret, too: 'It has already lived a thousand lives, yet / it rustles, hums, ripples...'--Eric McHenry
Stone is a master of detail and tight wording, and her themes of home, family, nature, and illness resonate in these selections. Both emotionally and linguistically, they're a treat to read even in the midst of their often-darker themes.--Chila Woychik