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For more information or to schedule an interview or reading with Ann Bracken, please contact Debby Rippey at (410.627.9670). We can also be reached via email.
The Altar of Innocence is a memoir written in verse about a mother who was an unfulfilled artist and her daughter who struggled to untangle the web of her mother’s depression, alcoholism, and suicide attempt. As the daughter grew into womanhood, she confronted her own despair and a crumbling marriage. Deeply dissatisfied with the explanation of depression as a chemical imbalance in the brain, the daughter peered into the dark night of her own soul and undertook a spiritual journey. In order to finally claim her voice, the daughter overcame the patriarchy of the mental health system, challenged her treatment options, and navigated an increasingly difficult relationship with her husband. The poems in The Altar of Innocence came from the heart and a sincere desire to share a journey in the hopes that others may find courage and inspiration.
Lovely and poignant, The Altar of Innocence will leave you contemplating complex issues about having a voice, mental illness and compassion. The book also explores the concept of forgiveness as a way for individuals to heal from unimaginable adversity. It will leave the reader feeling hopeful.
ABOUT AUTHOR ANN BRACKEN
Ann Bracken is a writer, educator, and expressive arts consultant whose poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in Little Patuxent Review, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems, Reckless Writing Anthology: Emerging Poets of the 21st Century, Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence, Pif Magazine, Scribble, New Verse News, and Praxilla. Ann Bracken was nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize. She serves as a contributing editor for Little Patuxent Review and leads workshops at creativity conferences, including The Creative Problem Solving Institute, Florida Creativity, and Mindcamp of Toronto. Educated at Towson University (’74 BA in Speech Pathology and Audiology) and Johns Hopkins University (M.S.Ed. in Communication and Learning Disorders ’79), Bracken’s work during the past forty years has focused on giving women and children a voice. Her post-graduate work in drama in education from Dublin’s Trinity College, journal instruction training from The Center for Journal Therapy and poetry therapy training from The National Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy all make their way into her classrooms and workshops, making them creative and memorable learning environments.
She is the founder of the Possibility Project, which offers expressive arts and creativity workshops for women of all ages, as well as poetry workshops in schools. Ann Bracken is a lecturer in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Maryland, College Park. She lives in Columbia, MD.
Published by: New Academia Publishing/Scarith Books, 2015.
Format: Paperback, 90 pages
Twitter: www.twitter.com/ annbracken52
Available for purchase: New Academia Publishing, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Author’s website
Ann Bracken interview with Grace Cavalieri, “The Poet and The Poem”, Library of Congress
Ann Bracken reads “Adultery” at Little Patuxent Review’s Summer 2011 Make Believe Issue launch
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: Do you remember your first poem? What was it about?
Ann Bracken: Well, I don’t have a great track record for auspicious beginnings. I remember when I was in the second grade, my teacher asked all of us to write a poem before we could go out for recess. Because I wanted it to be a good poem, I wrote down the only poem I knew at the time—“To Christella From Her Fella”—a poem my grandfather wrote to celebrate my birth. Of course, sister knew right away it wasn’t my work and she was very kind about my plagiarism. The first poem I wrote on my own was in about 1966 when I was in the eighth grade. During the height of the Vietnam War, my class became pen pals with soldiers in Vietnam, and my pen pal was a Green Beret. I wrote poem for him praising the work of the Green Berets and used the refrain “for peace and democracy and freedom” –probably inspired by that song about the Green Berets that was popular at the time. I think the poem reveals my sincerity and my innocent embrace of patriotism.
Q: You talk a lot about the healing power of journaling. What else supported you on your way to being healthy?
AB: I belonged to an informal prayer group and we met twice a month in each other’s homes. I remember one time two of my friends came over on a day when I was feeling particularly hopeless and they sat like bookends on either side of me, infusing me with their strength and love. So my spiritual beliefs helped me tremendously in facing those very dark days. Additionally, David Whyte’s CD, “The Poetry of Self Compassion” introduced me to some wonderful poems and stories about the gifts one can find in the darkness and the courage it takes to enter the abyss, not knowing when and how you will emerge. (Beowolf, The Inferno, Mary Oliver’s “The Journey”, “The Wild Geese”, and David Whyte’s “The Faces At Bragha”).
Q: Tell us about the how The Altar of Innocence came together.
AB: The book began very simply as a look back at my mother’s struggles and how they affected my childhood. My mother’s journey with depression and alcoholism have shadowed my entire life, and I can remember thinking, “I’ll never be like my mother.” To me, that meant not being able to fully participate in my children’s lives, not being able to entertain in my home, not being able to work. I still did all of those things throughout my depression and migraine. But to my ex-husband, all that mattered was that I was depressed, and I think he feared I’d suffer from a lifelong depression, like my mother did.
I like to think my book is full of hope because I show how a mother’s story and journey do not confine the daughter to a similar fate.
Q: You wrote in “When I Think of My Father” the following:
When I think of my father, the rub of regret
wraps its hands around me
as if to strangle my answer.
Tell us about your father, your relationship with him, and how your view of him has or hasn’t changed over the years.
AB: My view of my father has certainly changed over the years. I remember being able to read my father’s moods from a very early age and to model what my mother did—calm the waves, be nice, slip into the background. Dad loved all of us and had a sense of humor, and he could also be very strict and stern. Now I realize the heavy burdens he was carrying and how afraid he must have been even to go to work every day, not knowing how my mother might be coping that day. As both of us aged, we were able to accept each other despite our differences in outlook and politics. I began to really enjoy time with my father and shared many wonderful days with him the last several years of his life. I miss him. He always supported my work and was proud of my poetry.
Q: You feel passionate about the use of pharmacology as it was used to treat your illness. In the poem “Diagnosis,” you wrote,
New drugs tamp me down to some arbitrary normal.
Life spreads itself before me,
daily postcards of people and plans.
To others who are experiencing a similar haze right now, what would you like them to know?
AB: That’s a tough question. I think everyone makes their own decision about how to handle anxiety and dark times. Over the years, I’ve come to see my anxiety as being related to past experiences which current events then trigger. When I feel anxious, I tell myself I can get through the situation, I do deep breathing, sometimes I use flower essences. I’ve also discovered Heart Math techniques, which I would describe as a cross between meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy.
The experience I was referring to in the poem involved doctors and therapists telling me I was hypomanic (Bipolar II) mostly because I had so much energy and could get lots of things done and because I had lots of passion and enthusiasm, strong opinions. Well, I still do. I believe I just have a higher “happiness set point” than some people and more energy and drive, but they certainly doesn’t make me ill in the medical sense of the word. But no one would listen to me then because I was labeled as depressed and to express disagreement with a diagnosis or treatment could get one labeled as non-compliant.
Q: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
AB: I think the most challenging part of writing the book was rereading my old journal. I had kept it on a shelf for twenty years and had only read bits and pieces over time, never the whole thing. In the summer of 2013, I sat down and read the entire journal and was deeply saddened by many of the things I read—things I said about myself, how I chastised myself, how my ex-husband treated me, how I responded. But the journal helped me as well because I was able to recreate incidents to tell my story by drawing on the details, feelings, and dialogs that I had written down.
Q: You cover dark topics in this book: mental illness, alcoholism, suicide, verbal abuse. How were able to find the light in these dark places and bring forth their humanness, without judgment?
AB: It’s been a long journey getting here. I blamed myself for all of my failings—for suffering from depression, for feeling anxious, for staying in a verbally abusive marriage. But all along the way, I’ve had guides and helpers in the form of friends, therapists, and most of all, my children. I think my deep embrace of Buddhism and the acceptance of what is right now has helped me to keep moving forward with a compassionate heart. Desmond Tutu’s work on forgiveness has also been extremely helpful, especially in my journey to forgive my ex-husband.
Q: “Stubborn Guests” captures so perfectly insidious voices inside one’s head. Tell us a little about this poem and where it came from.
AB: “Stubborn Guests” is what I call a gift poem—one day it just came to me and I wrote it down. Liz Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, talks about how the Muse sometimes runs by you and if you are lucky, you catch her. You have to be ready or she will visit someone else. That day I was ready. And I still entertain those “Stubborn Guests,” but not for long.
Q: What do you hope your readers take away from The Altar of Innocence?
AB: I hope readers will find a story they can relate to and see that no matter where you come from in your life, you can move forward, you can overcome, you can succeed. I hope they will be inspired in their own lives to keep trying and to stay hopeful.
Q: If you could have five minutes today with your mother, what would you talk about?
AB: First of all, I would hug her and tell her how much I appreciate everything she did for all of us and most of all, for always believing in me. I would praise her artistic gifts and tell her how much her paintings mean to everyone who sees them. Lastly, I’d ask her why she never told me about her dreams of becoming a fashion designer until so late in my life. Then I’d just sit and hug her as tightly as I could. Five minutes would not be long enough.