Mary Ellen Abbott’s new book of poetry, “Portrait of a Family: Remembering Mom,” is a moving, nostalgic, but never maudlin tribute to the matriarch of a very special family, one whose capacity for unabashed love and familial devotion inspired the writer to live a life that has often transported her into the realm of the remarkable and extraordinary.
Inspirational art teacher, peripatetic world traveler (16 countries and five of seven continents), passionate artist, accomplished writer, voracious reader and a woman who spent much of her career bettering the life of humankind.
The Jonesboro woman, who taught art at Westside for 37 years, wrote the book of poems a year after her mother’s death, in 2007. Composed in the Japanese haiku form, in which an economy of language is employed in a meaningful, compact and non-rhyming form, the book is a fitting tribute to her beloved mother, Adeline Marie Heern Scarborough, and the family she and her husband, Raymond Scarborough, reared with such a loving hand and heart.
“My book preserves the memories of a family Mother loved so much,” Abbott said with her familiar expansive smile. “And God blessed me with a good memory.”
Although written in the haiku form, the writing is prose-like, Abbott said, which echoes American writer Nicholson Baker’s statement that “poetry is prose is slow-motion.” A lifetime keeper of a personal journal, Abbott said learning the haiku enabled her to adopt a shorthand method of recording the thoughts, feelings and impressions she records in her daily journal.
“‘Portrait’ is reader-friendly,” the writer said, and noted that the poems “are a gift to all of our family as we grieved the loss of a wife, mom and grandmother, yet celebrated her life in the process. The book is filled with our favorite holiday memories, as well as 48 of our favortite family photographs documenting those special memories.”
She said some of the poems speak of the eight years of Friday night dinners with her mother and her mom’s last years of a debilitating disease that occluded her memory and sensory perspective.
“The poems were first shared with my family,” Abbott said. “And the first ones were given as Christmas gifts to my family along with a tin of Mom’s favorite homemade candies that she made and gave to us on Christmas Eve.”
The writer hopes her book will have a healing effect on all who have lost their mothers or other family members. “It is also my hope that there will be a new desire among people for strengthening families,” which Abbott adamantly believes is an integral bond that helps foment a society’s strength and perseverance.
In addition to her mother and father, Abbott dedicated the book to her son, Ross Abbott, who manages a dockside jewelry store in Boston, where mother and son have become dedicated Boston Red Sox fans; as well as her brother, Gene Scarborough, and two sisters, Donna Stringer and Beverly Beckman.
“The strength of families is the strength of nations, the strength of the world,” the writer said.
Abbott’s extensive travels and missionary work for Central Baptist Church and the Southern Baptist Convention have taken her to Africa, Brazil, Guatemala, China, Mongolia and Switzerland, as well as cities throughout the U.S.
She went to Japan for three weeks with the Fulbright Memorial Fund Teachers Program and taught English at a college in China for six weeks.
She and her son and his wife, Amanda, have enjoyed exploring Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Provincetown and Nantucket.
The holder of a master’s in art and a bachelor’s in art with a minor in language arts, Abbott, during her long tenure as a teacher at Westside, inspired several generations of students to appreciate the fine arts and great literature.
One former student she recalls with great fondness is Zachary Roach, who studied at ASU and plans to pursue a career as a painter and writer. “Because of her influence on me, I learned to think analytically and began my career as an artist and writer. She was a great teacher, demanding but never overbearing. My passion for art and great literature were gifts she bestowed on me during my formative years, when I was an mpressionable and sometimes mercurial youngster.”
The book may be ordered from the publisher from her website: maryellenabbott.com; the same site is available to those wishing to correspond with the poet.
The writer was honored at a book-signing party held last month at Westside and plans to visit area and regional bookstores in the coming months.
“Remembering Mom” is a poetic love letter to the mother and family of a compassionate, gentle, deeply spiritual and remarkably creative woman.