In my review of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, I did not mention that one character has a traumatic brain injury (TBI). This character’s journey — close to death, close to never waking up, close to being unable to live a life resembling the one they dreamed of — really stuck with me. Thus, when the owner of Pearlsong Press noted that an Louise Mathewson wanted to do a Meet the Writer feature on my blog, and that she had suffered a traumatic brain injury, I couldn’t resist getting Mathewson’s poetry collection, A Life Interrupted: Life With Brain Injury, in which she writes about the experience: what happened to cause the TBI, the direct aftermath, and life in recovery and growth.
Mathewson writes her way around and around the events associated with her TBI. There isn’t one poem about the car crash, for instance, but many. Mathewson’s choice to “worry” at themes captures the struggle to find words after a TBI and mirrors the way people who experience trauma may talk about it over and over. Here is an example of what happened in the crash:
My head hit hard brain bounced inside my skull blood vessels sheared lobes bruised neurons stretched beyond capacity, safety in the world destroyed. The old me put to rest.
The imagery of her old self stood out to me. It’s not that Mathewson’s former self is dead and buried, but resting. The careful choice of diction changed the meaning of the poem, giving it an interesting perspective on what it means to wake up a “different person.” Again, Mathewson tackles the idea of resting herself (maybe her identity?) in the poem “Thank You,” a title from which she builds each stanza:
for the injury to my left side, the happy side of my brain so I could address the dark night in my soul the light for a while
Other poems, like “I Didn’t Know,” add in the title in the stanza, instead of assuming it carries to the beginning of each stanza, with great effect. The result is almost prayer like, meditation on a theme. Mathewson writes about the disconnect between a person with a TBI and others:
I didn’t know I made no sense when I talked wondered why people left when I wasn’t finished talking
Although we all have a basic desire to communicate our needs, a TBI can prevent the injured person from expressing themselves in a way that makes sense to others, and Mathewson’s clean, simple style of poetry effectively captures what that disconnect is like.
Overall, I enjoyed A Life Interrupted: Living With Brain Injury not only for the poems’ attention to form, diction, and imagery, but because it helped me better see into the life of someone with a disability who came out the other side different — and that’s okay. I started mulling on how I would approach a drastic change in my life, and it wasn’t too hard to imagine. Hasn’t covid disrupted everyone’s lives? And I once read on Twitter that the only people who adapted very poorly to the pandemic were folks who were not used to being told no, who were not asked to adjust pre-pandemic, who expected what they wanted to come without feet dragging. Louise Mathewson’s collection was the right book at the right time.