Poetic License by Gretchen Cherington

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Poetic License is the memoir Gretchen Cherington, daughter of Pulitizer Prize winning poet, Richard Eberhart. When Gretchen reaches her 40s and after successfully building her own career, she works through her own feelings and experiences of a man with a completely different image to her against his public persona.

The two sides of Dad – the generous, kindhearted friend, and the narcissistic, self-serving man – made the sound of a clashing going inside my head. I didn’t see myself as a victim. I saw myself as a mistake. It was my fault; everyone loved both my father and my mother. It couldn’t have been him. Thirty-six years of confusion flooded her room. In my work and in my community, I was viewed as capable, trustworthy, bold, inside that room, I was infantile, uneducated, bewildered.

She is trying to reconcile her feelings for her father, his betrayal, neglect and sexual abuse against the man that everyone else knew. She struggles with thinking she needs to bury these memories for fear of damaging his public persona or expose them so that she can heal herself and move forward with her life.

She struggles to with her therapy and given sound advice: “Stick with it. I know you very well. You’ll come through this stronger on the other side. You may not believe me today, but you will. But you can’t go back to who you were. You have to find out who you are now.”

Like memory, this is not written in any kind of chronological order. Her memories shared are from every time in her life so many times it wasn’t as smoothly flowing for me. She brings up many times that she remains afraid at times to tarnish this man’s image, and that we still very much live in a man’s world, so there is a great deal of trepidation on her part to reach out to his friends and colleagues and see what their reaction would be to her own personal story. She is very much surprised to hear they had concerns as well. Sadly, no one seemed to offer support during times when she might have needed it most. Saddening that there is still the need to support the man’s image instead of preventing a lifetime of suffering for others.

After Dartmouth’s 1996 tribute to my father, I reached out to Dad’s closest friends, mostly poets, both men and women, important members of his tribe, eager to understand their experiences and if they were open, to share mine. Tentative at first, I didn’t want to offend. I had no idea what their responses might be. The only surprise I got through each of those conversations was that not one of them was surprised by my revelation.

Thanks to She Writes Press for sending, it is always appreciated!