The yellow, brown and green petals of a sunflower
on the front cover immediately catch our eye. We
need to open this book to discover what is inside. Its
unusual length and width make it stand out on a
bookshelf. What a delightful surprise awaits us when we see handwritten poems that
are illustrated with photographs by David McQueen and delicate line drawings by the
accomplished artist, Christine Crozier.
Patrick Flanigan is a physician and writer, born in 1943 in
northern Indiana. He gained his insights into the spiritual
aspects of life and death when he worked as a haematologist
and oncologist. David McQueen is a nurse and photographer,
born in 1953 in South Carolina. He acquired his first
camera in 1973 and recently became a professional photographer.
Christine Crozier is a professional artist who grew up
in northern California. She paints from nature, focusing on
the flora and fauna in landscapes.
The author takes us on a journey of self-discovery by
inviting us to discover and contemplate the beauty of
nature. Like Bob Jacob's book, Perspectives: Hospice
Poems, the themes throughout When Sunflowers
Speak are celebration, struggle, healing and finally
acceptance. But love is the thread
that weaves these themes together
throughout both books.
Several of Flanigan's poems appeared in ONCOLOGY TIMES, Dec.
10, 2005. In this article, Poetry by Cancer Caregivers, the editor
writes: “The world of poetry is a means of expression and a source of
comfort for many who care for cancer patients.” Bob Jacob expresses
this sentiment regarding caregivers and poetry. The first poem in When Sunflowers
Speak is illustrated with a greyish door surrounded by flowers and trees in bloom. It
reminds me of a secret garden, an inner sanctuary where I can let my thoughts wander.
For instance in To Write a Poem (p.1):
You cannot walk
into a garden
and command a poem
to flow from your pen…
Your task is to be there,
awake, seeing, listening,
open to the message
not yet written on the page.
The author give life to inanimate objects. For example in Driftwood (p. 6):
The trees above whisper
about the skeleton below.
Some raise their boughs
To heaven in fear and trembling.
At first, the poems seem more upbeat than those in Jacob's book. However, in reading
further, we realize that Flanigan is conveying the same passion, love and caring as
Jacob. But he says it differently. Jacob's poems all relate to his visits to patients in a
palliative care hospital. Flanigan's writing is more general. In his poem Fog (p. 23) he
gives the fog a life of its own.
Fog quietly delivers its message:
His metaphoric descriptions of the seasons convey the message of birth, growth, adulthood
and death as in Beneath the Snow (p. 86).
During the darkest winter night
slumbering beneath the snow
seeds and bulbs wait
for the windsong of spring…
And in the last verse:
the ancient voices
there is a season.
McQueen's use of cool and warm colors, vibrant shapes and abstract designs give a
harmonious melody throughout the book. For example, the photograph on page 14 of a
pair of shears cutting leaves in a garden can be seen as a pair of hands. The poem
Scents (p.14) also illustrates this abstract concept in the second verse:
The garden sought his attention
to sink his strong hands
into its moist soil.
Flanigan's vivid use of our five senses — taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound — is evident
in many of his picturesque poems. Here is one example in the poem entitled
Sunflowers (p. 30):
Sunflowers are the giants of the garden.
They watch the movement of the field mouse…
They breathe the heavy perfume
of the honeysuckle and jasmine…
They hear the hum of the bee…
They know more than all the other plants…
Also note the anthropomorphic descriptions of the flora and fauna of his garden above.
The poet compares living and dying to the blooming and wilting of flowers in the first
and last verses of the following, The Love Poem (p. 17):
He started to write
a love poem
on the petals
of a daisy…
Before black ink
stained the last white petal,
she touched his neck
and whispered “ I love you ”.
Although poems about dying can be depressing, Flanigan always ends his on a positive
note seen in the last verse of Fairy Dance (p. 25).
Further off shore
spout white plumes
of hot breath
and sing for us all.
The poem on page 37, Now, talks about the importance of each moment in our lives.
but I like to think
I mean this moment
or maybe the next.
with this color in the sky,
this scent in the wind,
this hand on my shoulder…
So does This Life (p. 53):
I struggle each day
hardly able to live
and experience this body…
I am content
to see a face
that simply needs a shave.
Eckart Tolle corroborates this concept in his book The Power of Now (p. 95). He talks
about the pain-body and tells us how to connect with our inner body:
…Feel it from within. … Can you feel it simultaneously in all parts of the body as a single
field of energy? Keep focusing on the feeling of your inner body for a few
In conclusion, Patrick W. Flanigan, poet; David McQueen, photographer; and Christine
Crozier, artist have worked together to produce a book of graphic illustrations, vivid
descriptions of nature, and contemplative writings that will soothe any soul.
Order this book by check or money order for $24.95 plus $2.00 shipping, from
Pacific Grove Publishing, PO Box 803, Pacific Grove, CA 93950; 831-595-1600,
fax (831) 375-4749; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.