Among retired Air Force officer Dan Wetmore’s creative outlets is his passion for writing poetry. In 2016, he released My Mother’s Gentle Unbecoming: The Absentings of Alzheimer’s, a poetry collection published by Saint Andrews University Press. His second collection, Phoboudenopanophobia: Words Now for a Possible Then (July 2022), explores “dementia’s emotional toll on the leaving and the left behind.” You’ll find Dan on LinkedIn and his SWW Author Page. Look for his book on Amazon, and learn more about his work in his 2017 SWW interview.
Why did you write Phoboudenopanophobia?
Penning My Mother’s Gentle Unbecoming, about her descent into dementia, got me contemplating a similar fate, so I wrote this volume as an extended last letter to my family, sort of an “epitaph in absentia”; hoped insurance against having last feelings go unexpressed, in the event the body outlives the being.
Tell us about the structure of the book and how you worked through “putting everything in order.”
As the number of poems multiplied, I saw six different tones emerge: overwhelmsion, dread, desperation, gratitude, resolve, and acceptance, similar to the five stages of grief, it being a book about loss, simply of self. So, to reassure the reader—at risk of spoon-feeding them—that the “voices” constituted an evolution rather than an equivocation, I grouped the birds of a feather, in hope the whole would ultimately take greater flight.
When did you decide to make this a project and step into the journey to put it together?
As the previous volume was dwindling down to completion, this one suggested itself. Though having said all about the subject (my mother), the subject matter wasn’t exhausted, since we speak our empathies and our personal experience with different voices. It was the passing of a baton from one runner to the next.
How did you choose the book title?
The title is a mash-up of three fears:
The norm and the hope is that animacy and identity will prove co-terminal, but death by dementia denies that. So, first fear is of its final phase—having lost all which effectively makes one human: fear of (having) Nothing: oudenophobia.
I suspect the penultimate state of consciousness—just shy of unawareness—is incomprehension. And as what’s feared most is the unknown (and, at that point, everything will be unknowable), the final fear will be that of panophobia: fear of Everything.
And the double-teaming by those possible tomorrows threatens to taint today, prompting a fear of succumbing to dread, sacrificing all remaining moments to a prolonged flinch: fear of Fear (phobophobia).
At what point did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go, that it was finished and ready for publishing?
When the flow slowed to a trickle, and further attempts at purging felt affected; trying to fabricate emotion rather than free it. That said, every quake has aftershocks, and the ledger—echoing the life—is ever a work in progression (and hopefully of progress). A few guests always arrive late at table, but fashionably so—the most composed of the bunch, because not rushed by the deadline which some impatience or another dictated.
What were the expected, or unexpected, results of putting this project together?
Somewhat managing to untie the Gordian Knot of emotions the situation set to roiling; to at least depict the Moebius nature of the matter, given the impossibility of ironing it perfectly flat. Gaining an appreciation of how many others are walking this particular road, and having the opportunity to hopefully return the favor done for me by so many others, of finding something to point to and say, “Yes—THAT!”
Do you have a favorite quote from the book that you’d like to share?
“Though fast flat on a mountain of limestone-capped granite, this is akin to falling: moving without the ability to arrest, orient, or anticipate; the trifecta of entropies which constitutes chaos.”
What does your mature self now bring to the writing table that your younger self never could have?
Appreciation that (despite occasional appearances otherwise) less is more. An identifiable/consistent voice, reflecting settled priorities and a gelled perspective. Grudging admittance that Ben Franklin was right about that perspiration business. And realization that writing is primarily about having written (vice being read). If you can comprehend your own words, you’ve already achieved audience, and everything else is icing on the cake, which liberates you from chasing acceptance beyond (and potentially exclusive of) your own, insulating you from the temptation to pander.
Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you started your writing/publishing journey today?
Resist viewing quantity as the enemy of quality, rather as one means to it, having realized that the more frequently you go to the pump, the less you have to prime it.
What do most well-written poems have in common?
Concision, to include leashed ambiguity (selectively implying multiple things for the price of saying one). Perspicuity, to include exercising the rods of the mind’s eye rather than the cones—seeing peripherally, intimating rather than stating (to include liberal use of simile and metaphor—the more novel, the most mind-blowing).
Is there something that always triggers your creativity?
Always? A strong emotional spasm, usually of the yearning sort; a visceral (pre-lingual) feeling. Which throws down the gauntlet to become midwife to that muddled. And, as closest kin to the ineffable is the oblique, it usually comes into the air as poetry or poetic prose.
Often? Discerning a way in which seeming incommensurables are some way kindred.
What writing projects are you working on now?
A third volume of verse, On Our Knees in Ironies, about my dad’s dissolution at Alzheimer’s hands. Though the last generated, that’s an accident of time, it being thematically second. (Viewing the disease—more to the point, its host—as the subject, when the afflicted was my mother, Dad was serving as caregiver, and I merely spectator [third-person]. In a succession of roles, he became she, and I he, raising [razing?] my status to second-person. Trying to place myself in their shoes had me not only behind the lens, but in front of it; the wolf, at end, fully at the door.)
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Building on the question (above), about what my mature self brings to the writing table, as far as dividends go, adulation and commiseration are nice, but catharsis suffices.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.