SLO County woman with terminal cancer writes poetry book


I envy poets as I am jealous of sculptors.

Both know how to limit themselves to the essentials, “removing everything that is not an elephant”, as the old quote goes.

Perhaps that’s why so many poetry books are defined as thin. Their authors don’t need all those extra words…unlike me. I have to describe every gray wrinkle, the trunk, the tusks, those moving eyes!

That said, some poets are particularly adept at eliminating excess verbiage.

Lisa “Annie” Harpel of Cambria, 57, is one such writer.

His new book, “The Blue Hour”, is dedicated to and primarily to a beloved, intuitive brother with progressive physical and developmental disabilities (Charlie) who lived to be 51. He was non-verbal from birth but able to speak with his eyes, plagued by increasingly severe and dangerous seizures caused by cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair for decades.

And it comes as the author who has gone through many family losses now looks at his own mortality.

The book is available on Amazon for $9.99, with all funds going to a charity selected by the UK publisher. It is also available from Coalesce in Morro Bay and Volumes of Pleasure in Los Osos, or the Cambria Public Library.

“The blue Hour”

The atmospheric blue hour is defined on as “the darkest stages of morning and evening twilight, when the sun is far enough below the horizon, coloring the sky a deep blue. As the hour Golden, it is a favorite of painters and photographers.

And now a poet.

Annie’s 108 entries in “The Blue Hour” book include “poems written during twilights, transitions and crossroads on the horizon”, as she wrote on the book’s title page.

These transitions include birth, death, shifts from healthy to sick and back, and emotionally charged times when death is inevitable very soon, but has not yet happened.

This is where the poet is now, having been diagnosed with stage 4 last year for terminal neuroendocrine cancer and having a prognosis that is almost impossible to estimate.

But the book is not a simple reflection on his state of life. Her poetic parallel journeys also echo memories of her father’s dementia, her mother’s battle with cancer, family and friendship relationships, and three significant family deaths in eight years.

With all this heavy material, you might think “The Blue Hour” would be depressing.

Think again.

What I found was a loving ode to an unusual and dedicated family, all gone now, each part of a strong, supportive and amazing whole.

Mostly, however, the book is about Charlie and Annie’s special bond throughout life and, she is convinced by her faith, after death as well.

As Annie wrote, even as she faces her own probable demise, “today I embrace hope, wonder and faith.”

Lisa “Annie” Harpel of Cambria wrote a book of poems called “The Blue Hour”.

What makes her go through the day and her life

She says her poetry, her sister and their cousins, and Annie’s special friends – whether or not they were fellow writers – have supported her through all of this and more.

My long nightly interview with her on March 22 was surprisingly revealing and upbeat about her life story, Charlie, their parents, death, Charlie, loss, hope, God, Charlie, her grim diagnosis, the darkness and Charlie. But always with an overlay of humor and life experiences, some of which we have shared.

Her own tenuous hold on health makes her wary of being around people, even those of us who are also masked, vaxxed, and boosted. But her cheerful demeanor and frequent, lively laughter made me want to rush over there and give her a big hug. Even though I know I can’t.

As many of you know, I recently learned some things about loss. You have all been incredibly patient with me as I leaned on you and practically cried on your shoulder as I wrote about the death of my husband of 44 years.

Some of you even thanked me for writing about what you feel (or dread), but didn’t have the words to express it.

I’m the one who should thank you for caring and let me know you do.

You could get that same sense of “me too” in Annie’s lyric book, with its tributes to so many people who affected and helped her.

As today’s vernacular puts it, the “sensations” I felt in the book sounded so familiar, and its lyrics were surprisingly energizing and rejuvenating, a tonic for battered emotions. His poetry made me stop and think, which, after all, is a goal for anyone who writes.

Could I have done it like Annie did, in a few intense words that capture so much with so little?


Some excerpts from his poetry

It turns out that poetry is just one of his talents. She is also an essayist, fine art photographer and artist who has worked at the Vault Gallery and led workshops in her chosen genre.

These poetic skills are evident in her use of different styles, which she carefully defines at the end of the book. They range from a single line “monostitch” to a “haibun”, a longer prose poem that includes a haiku.

“Time Chronicles” is one of the latter, about being surrounded by memories of Charlie. A rocking chair, a ceramic turtle painted in green and gold, “Christmas on Sesame Street”. Tangible memories of a beloved soul who is no longer there.

Other entries stand out in Annie’s poetic parade. “Common Threads” is about and for Kathleen McKinnon, her devoted friend from Cambria. The poem begins with “You and I are sisters / not by blood / but by rupture / vulnerability, survival. »

Other poems pay tribute to the support, influence and care of other friends, many of which come from her treasured Cambria Writers’ Workshop, of which she has been a member since 2013.

Annie’s work alternates between hope and reality, imagery and memories, self-knowledge and reverie… as she does in life when facing her relatively certain future.

She wrote odes to white papers, to stars, to a little owl, to the forest. And always Charlie, who is rarely mentioned by name but throughout the book by reference, reverence, and shared experiences.

Lisa “Annie” Harpel of Cambria wrote a book of poems called “The Blue Hour”. The first poem in the book is about her late brother, Charlie.

The title of the first poem is simply his name. “A thousand voices / from every person / I’ve ever met / and the one I wanted / to hear the most / unable to speak / communicated / without saying a word.”

Annie ended the page with “I am the luckiest girl in the world to have had him in my life for 51 years.”

The book also contains brief sly flashes of irony, which Annie is most certainly entitled to.

A single point reads: “Why do I write so many poems about being broken? Because so many people want to fix me.

And “making peace with suffering is like trying not to smell the smell of toast”.

And at the end ” ?

She wrote: “when there’s nothing left / I want to hold hands / with my favorite poems / on the way home.”

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Kathe Tanner has been writing about the people and places of North Shore SLO County since 1981, first as a columnist and then as a journalist. During her career, she has been a bakery owner, public relations manager, radio host, trail guide and jewelry designer. She’s been a Cambria resident for over four decades, and if it’s in town, Kathe knows it.

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