Cover of Things to Say to a Dead Man by Jane Yolen

Things to Say to a Dead Man

Holy Cow! Press 2011
ISBN-10: 0983325405
ISBN-13: 978-0983325406

During the time that my husband’s cancer returned (see The Radiation Sonnets), though his death, and up to five years later, I wrote poetry. Some of it was to keep me sane. Some of it was to record what happened and how it affected me. And some was in the hopes that what I wrote might go out there and help others.

A number of the poems were printed in journals and magazines both in print and online. And finally, the small literary press, Holy Cow!, and its amazing publisher/editor Jim Perlman took a chance on the book. I have done readings where people wept, came up after and bought multiple copies to give to friends. One woman actually bought 23 copies!


  • THINGS was one of three recommended poetry titles in the Holiday Books Roundup, from the Minneapolis Tribune.

What reviewers have said:

  • “The common language, clarity, and precision that made The Radiation Sonnets so useful,. also distinguish these poems. As long as there are grievers, these poems will have a grateful readership.”—Booklist
  • “Jane Yolen and I were in 4th grade together. Inevitably, we lost touch. Then reconnected as our husbands died. My grief has been silent. But Jane’s poems give it words. So specific to her mate and her experience, she eloquently speaks to all our losses, and how it was to love.”—Susan Stamberg, Broadcast Journalist
  • “Written mostly ‘in the hush after,’ Jane Yolen’s poems to her dead husband brim with both the ache of ‘wading through thigh-high grass’ of the past and the ache of the now world, where he ‘comes calling’ in the guise of the songbirds he loved. Nothing can ‘solve the heart / or salve the heart or safe the heart,’ but there is solace in the grieving and graceful music of this book.—Ellen Doré Watson, Director, The Poetry Center at Smith College
  • “Things to Say to a Dead Man is a stunning book. What Jane Yolen offers the reader is nothing but the truth: this is what grief looks like, sounds like, smells, like, feels like. Only one who has loved so deeply can mourn this profoundly. Things to Say to a Dead Man does what all good poetry should do: it wakes the reader up, reminding us that life is fleeting and therefore full of sadness and therefore utterly beautiful. Like Donald Hall’s Without, Things to Say to a Dead Man is necessary poetry. Finely crafted and full of gorgeous imagery, every single word is an arrow that pierces the heart.”—Lesléa Newman, Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA 2008-2010, author of Nobody’s Mother
  • “Written in the final months of her husband’s battle with cancer and during the five years after his death, Jane Yolen’s Things to Say to a Dead Man is a quiet and elegant chronicle of grief…through the book the reader discovers that it is all right; all right to mourn, all right to be angry, to laugh, and finally to find beauty within loss.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • “The poems in Things to Say to a Dead Man are personal and beautiful…Jane is able to pull us into the places that death resides and to show us the honest stuff of death, how it looks (“Parts of Speech), how it lingers (“Smells”), how we lose (“Taking Your Clothes to the Salvation Army), and ultimately, how we go on (“Fifth Year Anniversary”)…If you haven’t read a collection of poetry this year, please pick up this one.”—Paul Hankins at GoodReads
  • “What to Say to a Dead Man: Poems at the End of a Marriage and After is the most well written poetry book I’ve ever encountered. Prize-winning author and poet Jane Yolen’s sensory details and imagery add power to her expressions of the emotional realities of grief. According to Leslea Newman, Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA, Yolen “offers the reader nothing but the truth: this is what grief looks like, sounds like, smells like, feels like.” Grief is difficult to explain in words, yet Yolen has succeeded, reaching out to readers as few writers can. Many will identify with her loss and be grateful she has given voice to that which inevitably touches all of us.”—Senior News, Atlanta
  • “These poems evoke sense experiences, birdsong, beds,the body. . .. Jane speaks of love and death, the seasons, the journey of marriage, with clarity and subtlety. Her craftsmanship is extraordinary, her range of knowledge wide, her words simple and simultaneously profound. I read a lot of poetry. This is wonderful poetry.”—David Harris, Mitchell Group