Jean Sands talks about writing poetry at the Oliver Wolcott Library.
For the last 20 years, Jean Sands of Harwinton has written poems to tell her heart-rending life story of love, abuse, and betrayal. Gandy Dancing, her first book of poetry, was published last September by Antrim House of Simsbury. Sands read from the book and discussed her writing life Thursday during a talk at the Oliver Wolcott Library in Litchfield.
The poems chronicle Sands’ journey through childhood abuse and two failed marriages to a new identity in spare, unflinching prose. The title poem is named for early railroad workers, who pumped their arms to straighten tracks with shovels made by the Gandy Co.
Sands grew up near the railroad tracks in Newtown in the 1940s. She said the poem also was “a metaphor for the men who turn up in my life later on.” The poem reads in part:
They came before dusk, a Gandy parade
marching to the corner liquor store.
Some lay beside the road with their bottles,
others made it to a neighbor’s yard
or porch like ours, it’s three inviting
canvas chairs. They drank and sang
and fell asleep, my father stopping over
to unlock the door.
The book contains 44 poems, which depict scenes from Sands’ childhood and adult life.
“It really turned out to be a book about love,” said Sands. “Good love, bad love, love that didn’t turn out so hot.”
The first poem in the book is “Love Story,” which paints scenes of Sands’ parents as newlyweds and new parents. Her reading drew audible sighs from the audience of 20 people.
“I miss my parents,” Sands said. “They’ve been gone way too long already.”
Sands’ father took her to see the circus a few years after the 1944 Hartford circus fire, which killed 168 people, including a young girl who was never identified. In “The Circus,” she recalls their seats near the exit and her father’s nervousness throughout the show.
The most searing poems reveal torment—Sands’ beatings during her first marriage and the betrayal when a second husband left Sands for her best friend. “Pretzels” talks about an uncle who molested Sands as a child and treated her to pretzels.
“I said it was about my life,” Sands said. “I didn’t say it was pretty.’
Sands likes to say it took her three tries to finally find the “right man.” She and Jack Sheedy, a fellow writer, have been happily married for the last 20 years. Stability has not softened her work.
“I have a very hard time writing things that are nice and well,” Sands said. “It always triggers memories.”
David Leff of Collinsville enjoyed Sands’ reading. He is the author of The Price of Water, a book of poetry published by Antrim House, and two non-fiction books. He praised Sands’ poems for their accessibility to readers.
“She tells stories in a very compelling way,” said Leff. “It invites you in.”
Sands’ book ends on an uplifting note. In “I Became the Woman I Am Now,” she explains how she threw off the past and started a new life after two divorces.
I “paid a judge $50 for a new name, a name that’s nobody’s but mine,” she wrote.
The name? Sands.
Jean Sands has taught poetry and creative writing to adults in Northwest Connecticut for the last 20 years. More information about her is available at www.jeansands.com . Her book is sold through booksellers and www.antrimhousebooks.com .
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