The Story Behind The Beach Poems

(This post was first published on the AlzAuthors‘ blogsite.)

“The Beach Poems” by Ann Campanella

CvrBeachPoems_AdExpressing the Inexpressible through Poetry

By Ann Campanella

When I was in my early thirties, my mother began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. She was 41 when I was born, so I suppose it shouldn’t have been a shock to see her aging in this way. But it was.

I always knew she was an “older mom.” She had been a fount of wisdom for me during my adolescence and early years of marriage.

Mom always said her children kept her young. There was a span of ten years among us, and I had vivid memories of my mother hiking, playing tennis, swimming and sailing at the upstate New York lake we visited each summer.

My grandmother and great aunts lived into their nineties. I had imagined my mother would always be there for me, at least until she was well into her eighties. But it wasn’t to be.

My mother’s mind began to unspool at the same time I was trying to become a mother and struggling through a series of miscarriages. At first her memory became slippery and she began repeating stories. Her emotions seemed out of proportion to what was happening in her life. Her words no longer matched her behavior.

Mom’s descent into Alzheimer’s was heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. Heartbreaking because she was aware that “something wasn’t right.” It was painful to see her struggling to present a healthy face to the world when her memory was disintegrating. Beautiful because my mother’s spirit showed through her trauma, and the disease became a stage upon which the love in our family could be illuminated and acted out.

Poetry has long been a way for me to attempt to express the inexpressible. When the jagged edges of loss threatened to undo me, writing poems provided a way to hold onto pieces of my mother. Each poem or “stage act” allowed me to bathe my mother’s life in light and meaning.

What Flies Away is a collection of poetry that tells the story of my mother’s illness, my father’s sudden death and the miraculous birth of my daughter. This collection of poems won second place in the Oscar Arnold Young Book Award for the best book of poems in North Carolina in 2007. I was also honored that two of the poems, “The Chase” and “How to Grieve,” earned the Poet Laureate Award.

Now, ten years later, my collection, The Beach Poems, has been published. I consider it a sequel to What Flies Away, as this group of poems shares the story of what “comes after.”

I’ve always loved Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, a book where the author reflects on the patterns of her own life. I was able to do this at the beach.

My mother had Alzheimer’s for fourteen years, and her disease changed me. After a decade and a half of caretaking, it took time for me to find myself again.

During a series of retreats, I spent time walking the sand and absorbing the rhythm and beauty of the coastline. Gradually, held in the arms of the wind and waves, I was able to release my grief and begin to heal. Memories of my mother and the time before she was ill slowly trickled in. To my surprise, joy washed over me and I felt my spirit come alive again.

Writing about my mother’s Alzheimer’s experience, whether through poetry or prose has been a privilege. I spent 20 years working on my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, which was featured on this site on January 18th, 2017. My memoir has been recognized internationally and my poems have received many awards.

But I’m most grateful to have had the opportunity – through readings and speaking engagements – to meet and link hearts with those who are walking their own difficult path through Alzheimer’s. The Beach Poems is my gift to them.


I am hereBookWhatFliesAway

at the edge

of the earth

face down

on a mat of sand

wind cups the curves

of my body, waves

a constant roar

in my ears

blue belt of sky

presses against the horizon

I think of my mother –

all that was and never will be –

cry out into the void


but wind and sand and sea

my mother is here

and not here

and always will be

I hug the earth.

(from The Beach Poems, Main Street Rag Publishing Company)

About the Author

20170531_220159000_iOSAnn Campanella is the author of the award-winning memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found. Formerly a magazine and newspaper editor, her writing has been widely published. She blogs about her life and horses at Fields of Grace and has been a guest on many blogs and podcasts. Ann’s poetry has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. Twice, she has received the Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society. She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina with her family and animals.

Fields of Grace (Amazon Author page) (Main Street Rag Online Bookstore)

@authorAnnC (Twitter) (Facebook)

horses_2nd_time_around (Instagram)



Book Release, National Caregivers’ Month and a Special Gift

Happy November, everyone! I have a couple of special announcements today. First, November marks the release of The Beach Poems! If you took advantage of the pre-publication discount, you should be receiving your book soon.

November is National Caregivers’ Month. It’s so perfect that The Beach Poems was birthed during this particular month because these poems tell the story of what it was like being a caregiver for my mother who had Alzheimer’s for 14 years and what it was like after she passed away.

The beach was the place I went for respite and healing. I took a series of retreats on the coast and in the midst of the wind and the waves, I gradually rediscovered who I was again. Memories of my mother and my younger self came flooding back to me, and I was able to release the grief I had carried for so many years.

Like a shell caught in the tide, it felt as if my heart was rinsed over and over, scrubbing away the grime of what had weighed me down. My mother was now free and so was I.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading about the transformative power of the sea as much as I enjoyed working on this collection. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share a few stories and poems from that time.

The next big announcement is that for the entire month of November, in honor of my mother and all the hardworking caregivers, the eBook of Motherhood: Lost and Found will be available for only $2.99, less than half the original price of $7.99. Click here to get your copy, and feel free to share the word!

For anyone interested in a signed copy of The Beach Poems, leave a comment and include your email.

Thank you to the many friends who supported me on the journey of caring for my mother and sharing our story through poetry and memoir.

Finding Myself at the Beach

The beach has always been a place of deep nourishment for me. When my mother passed away, after living with Alzheimer’s for 14 years, I was physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted. I fled to the coast in search of the parts of myself I had lost.

Each morning, I got up early and walked the damp sand, studied the shore birds, listened to the roar of the waves and inhaled the salt breezes. My mother had always loved the ocean and images of her inspecting shells or pointing out dolphins gradually began to float back to me.

As I remembered and grieved for my mom – the woman I had lost, the mother whose physical form had departed this world – tears filled my eyes and slipped down my cheeks.

At the same time, descriptions and words filled my head. and I began jotting down lines of poetry that turned into poems. In this period of solitude, I gave voice to the myriad emotions that came to the surface.

Little by little, a lightness began to permeate my soul. It was as if my grief had been clogging the pathways to joy. And as I gave my feelings permission to take flight through words, a sense of the sacredness of life filled me. Gradually, I awakened to some of the day-to-day blessings I had been blind to over the years as I numbly cared for my mother.

I’m excited to share my journey from grief to joy in my new collection of poetry called The Beach Poems. It will be available through Main Street Rag Publishing Co. The list price is $12. But If you live in the U.S. and you order now, you will receive the pre-publication discount of $6.50 (plus shipping).

Click here for your pre-order discount. The collection will be mailed to you upon publication. Thank you for your support, and may your beach days be blessed!

Introducing The Beach Poems

I’m so pleased to announce that my collection, The Beach Poems, will be published by Main Street Rag Publishing Co. I’ve been working on this group of poems for oh…about 10 years. (Not long compared to the time I spent on my memoir.) 🙂

The beach has always been a place of deep beauty and healing for me. My mother passed away in 2007 after 14 years of living with Alzheimer’s. As you can imagine, it took some time for the layers of loss to lift. This collection of poems is special to me because it shares the story of my journey from grief back to joy.

Here’s the exciting part. My publisher Scott Douglass is offering a pre-publication discount. The book will be released in a couple of months. But if you order now, you can get it for $6.50 (plus shipping) instead of the cover price of $12. Not a bad deal.

Here’s a link directly to my author’s page:

The MSR Online Bookstore:

*A note from the publisher: Those of you who don’t like buying online, Main Street Rag will take checks, but the price is a flat rate of $12.50/book regardless of quantity which includes shipping and sales tax. Please remember, though. This is for advance orders. It doesn’t mean the book will be shipped early, only that you are receiving a discount for ordering before it goes to press, but the price will only last for a limited time, so order now!

Thank you so much for all of your support! I send my deepest gratitude and blessings to those of you who have walked with me and been on your own journey through grief. May your beach days be blessed.

To read more about The Beach Poems, go to my website by clicking here:

Two More Poems…Actually Three

I read two more poems and had them videoed for April Anarchy. The first one was “Horse” by Louise Glück. Click here to watch the video. You’ll get a live view of Foxie and Smokey in the pasture.

The second poem was “Morning Swim” by Maxine Kumin, my horse-loving friend. Click here to view that video. Sorry, there’s no horses in that video, but I did have wet hair. 🙂

And for good measure…here’s a poem of my own, written a few weeks ago, before the horses came:


I Hear It In The Wind


A barn that has stood empty far too long

calls my name. I hear it as the wind fingers

new leaves and fescue rises green

in the pasture. I throw open

stall doors, sweep debris from the aisle

as my daughter brushes cobwebs

from oak boards. We dream together

of horses trotting in from the field,

forelocks flung across wide blazes,

ears pricked in our direction.

I feel new life in my fifty-four-year-old

bones this spring. She is ready

to toss her mane against a crystal blue sky,

prance with joy.


The barn, before the horses arrived.


Where Horses and Poetry Intersect

I mentioned in a previous post that a friend of mine asked me to video myself reading a poem written by Maxine Kumin, who was a wonderful poet and horse enthusiast, for April Anarchy, a fun Facebook event designed to introduce people to all kinds of poetry during the National Poetry Month. Here’s a glimpse of the bracket:

Upon hearing that we had horses back in our barn, my friend, Suzanne Baldwin Leitner, asked if I would like to read a couple of other horse-themed poems. For fun, I asked my daughter to actually video these poems at the barn. I thought I’d share these videos on the blog as I just love it when my passions collide!

To view a reading at the barn of “The Ride” by Richard Wilbur, click on the title of the poem.

April Anarchy is just beginning, so if you’d like to get in on the fun, look for Suzanne Baldwin Leitner’s Facebook page or click here. You’ll find videos of all the poems in the bracket. The first round has just started, so vote for your favorite poems.

I’ll post my other readings as the April Anarchy Poetry Tournament continues!



Bends in the Road


Yesterday morning, I had no idea how I would find a companion pony for the horse we are bringing to our farm for Sydney. But I had the sense that I needn’t worry, there was a plan, even if I wasn’t privy to it. I thought it might come through the lovely women at Race2Ring, a rescue operation for horses coming off the track and other horses in need. And, indeed, I had an email from Erica that morning that made me hopeful. And I received a phone call from Tracy, the director, that afternoon. It was a blessing to connect with these women who care so deeply about horses and people and to know they had been working so hard on my behalf to find a suitable companion for Foxie.

But it wasn’t to be. At least, not this time. Still, I felt a sense of peace. I figured it must be time for me to reach out to some of my other contacts in the horse world, although I doubted I would have much success since the lines of communication had grown dim with so little contact over the past decade.

Then I remembered a post I had seen late the night before on an Equestrian site. It was about a Shetland pony who was for sale and lived on a nearby farm. The price was cheap. But I knew I didn’t want to buy another horse at this time. I looked up the owner’s Facebook account to see if I might learn something that would propel me in one direction or another. To my surprise, she and I had a friend –Helen– in common. What was amazing to me was that this friend was not a horse person, but a former homeschool mom and a writer. Helen also happened to be someone my friend Karen knows well.

One of my concerns, as I have been moving back into the horse world, has been how will I ever have the time for both horses and writing. A couple of weeks ago I had initiated a call for writers who were interested in gathering together in critique groups. A part of me wondered why it was that at THIS particular time, when I was starting something new with horses, that I felt the nudge to reach out to other writers. In the past, I might have talked myself out of one thing or another, convincing myself I only had time for one new initiative. But, for whatever reason, I trusted this nudge, and simply allowed the experience to unfold.

Helen was one of the writers who answered the call for the critique group, and I could tell during that first meeting she was someone I wanted to get to know better. The week before Easter, my friend Karen invited a group of moms and kids to her house for their annual Easter egg hunt. Sydney and I had attended Karen and LK’s egg hunt many times. But this year, I was delighted to discover that Helen and her daughter were there. Helen and I talked as we hid eggs, sharing bits of our lives and our writing. I felt an immediate connection with her.

The horse world, like every pocket of the population, has its share of unseemly characters looking to make a quick buck, so I often approach transactions with a bit of wariness. But when I saw that the Shetland pony’s owner was a Facebook friend with Helen, I thought she must be a nice person. And that is exactly what the Shetland pony’s owner typed to me in her message when I told her we had this friend in common.

I asked the Shetland pony’s owner if she would consider a month’s lease, and she responded enthusiastically: “Absolutely!” I asked about the pony’s manners and what she would charge for the lease.  She said he had good manners and there would be “no charge.”

No charge! I could hardly believe it. Not only did this pony sound like a sweetheart, someone who our family would quickly fall in love with, he was an easy keeper and had come from a home where he had been well cared for and loved for seven years. And we could pick him up on Friday!

The fact that God provided a connection to this Shetland pony through a new writer friend reminds me not to give into my fears, but to trust that He cares deeply for my concerns and passions.

Interestingly, at the same time that I was communicating with the Shetland pony’s owner, a writer friend, Suzanne, who is creating an April Anarchy bracket (similar to March Madness, but filled with poems instead of basketball teams) in honor of National Poetry Month messaged me: Would I consider videotaping myself reading a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Maxine Kumin, and posting it on YouTube? I was happy to do it and honored to be asked. A Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Maxine had also been a friend and fellow horsewoman, someone who loved animals, nature and farm living as I do. Over the years, she had often encouraged me to get a horse for Sydney and get back to riding.


 Maxine and I with one of her horses on her New Hampshire farm.


Me with Sydney, Maxine and Victor (Maxine’s husband)

Last night, I took a walk at sunset and allowed the confluence of these events to penetrate me. I continue to be astounded. The stamp of poetry and writing have appeared throughout my transition into the horse world. Even this blog (that Sydney helped me create several years ago, but I’d yet to post anything on) suddenly sprang to life as I contemplated the rising tide of joy that washed over me when I considered what it would be like to share the experience of having horses with my daughter. And I thought to myself, I must collect these moments, frame them with words and remind myself to see and appreciate the beauty of this narrative flowing through my life.