An achingly beautiful verse memoir of a painful transatlantic coming-of-age.
The title of Tony Howarth’s verse memoir derives from a passage in the Odyssey to the effect that we humans inflict greater pain on one another than any divine wrath. The painful memories of his youth recounted here begin with his childhood in Britain during the Blitz, quickly followed by his mother falling for one of the “Yanks in Every Street and Alley”, divorcing his father, and dragging him into a new life and new family in America. Along the way she subtracts a year from his age (and several from her own) and, far worse, forces him to adhere to her fabrication that his father had died a wartime hero. These poems recount his struggles to “zig-zag through the fog around me” attempting to find his place in an ever-changing world, a process fortunately assisted by the surrogate parents – teachers, clergy, relatives – who “helped keep me smiling … // all of them sensing they know / more than they can put into words.” Despite knowing that this story has a happy ending (concluding here with his reunion with his very-much-alive father), it is nevertheless a heart-rending account as Howarth employs both his journalistic and dramatic skills to place us in each moment as he relives them. This is an achingly beautiful account of his griefs, and of his living with and through them to achieve the quiet triumph of peace.
Poetry. Family & Relationships.
“Tony Howarth’s THE GRIEFS THAT FATE ASSIGNS begins with a boy’s story in wartime England in 1939. The man the boy becomes has crafted a compelling lyric of vivid encounters and imagery with drifts and collisions of narrative remembrances, stationed deeply in a tug between a mother and father, emotional and physical dislocation, and yes, grief. The collection welcomes the reader into a landscape riddled with music, circus animals, the delicious power of learning, kindness, and peace. The surrogates who help the speaker along his journey do so 'sensing they know/ more than they can put in words.' Howarth reminds us that some things don’t make sense—war, a mother’s lies, loss—and yet, that doesn't mean we don’t understand these things or can find hope in their senselessness. A stunning collection.”
—H.E. Fisher, author of Sterile Field, Fine Lines Press, 2022
“Excavating a childhood shorn of innocence by war, rootlessness, and abandonment, Tony Howarth’s THE GRIEFS THAT FATE ASSIGNS winds watch-spring-like to its quietly shattering resolution. As fate and circumstance urge him from London during the Blitz to New York City, Cleveland, Ohio, New Haven, Connecticut, and beyond, startling in its haunting idiom of clarity, concision, and imagery, this is the poet’s finest work, suffused with yearning against the constancy of loss. It leaves a beautiful wound in the heart, no 'sweeter meat for Yankee teeth.'”
—Jeremy Gerard, author of Wynn Place Show
Tony Howarth, editor for dramatic writing with The Westchester Review, is a playwright, director, former journalist, retired in 1991 after twenty-eight years as a high school and college teacher of English and theatre. Drawn to poetry in youth by Wordsworth, he adjusted his ambitions to journalism, in Cleveland; Meriden, Connecticut; the US Army; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Indianapolis; and New York City, where he was editor of the editorial page of The World-Telegram and Sun. Disillusioned after a printers' strike and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he turned to teaching, where he was asked to develop a theatre program, which in turn led to a list of professional credits, including a dozen plays and a musical presented off-Broadway. He began writing poetry again in 2009 after a visit to Wordworth's Dove Cottage in England's Lake District. His poetry, developed at the Hudson Valley Writing Center under the treasured guidance of Jennifer Franklin and Fred Marchant, has appeared in many magazines. His verse dramas WILD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN (2021) and A HAND TO HOLD (2022) were published by Broadstone Books.