Nancy Smiler Levinson

I began my writing journey penciling adolescent musings on a notebook purchased for a nickel at Woolworth’s Five and Dime.

In time I went on to reporting for newspapers and magazines, then researched and wrote nonfiction books for young readers.

Never once, throughout those years, did I ever attempt to pen a poem.

I neither mimicked A.A. Milne’s “Wheezles and Sneezles” nor scribbled words rhythmically like Robert Louis Stevenson’s swing soaring up in the air so blue. I had not even tried to write a poem as short as William Carlos Williams’ poignant plum-eating twelve lines.


When I reached my mid-sixties, my husband, Irwin, a decade older, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He had been a loving husband, devoted father, and “by trade” an internist and cardiologist.

I, a loving wife, also became a devoted caregiver over an inordinately long time. Accepting and adjusting to new normalcy meant continual new normals with his increasing decline.

Limited time and energy robbed my writing life. How could I awaken and breathe the morning air each day without going into my home office and sitting down to write?

“Are you journaling?” friends asked about our situation. “Are you taking notes? Keeping a diary?”

A diary? Like – Monday: hard day; went to neurologist this morning; husband refused to speak to him. Tuesday: he lost the car at the mall.


No. The tedium of such would have crushed me further. Along with the daily and nightly dealings with dementia, I was unable to research and work on a book, leaving me to feel empty and anxious. I had nothing

to hold onto for myself. But I knew that to keep upright and take on the role of caregiving I had to write.

I don’t recall ever having had serious “writer’s block.” But I’d heard teachers advise the stymied to sit down and just start writing. Anything. Are you hungry? Thirsty? What do you see out your window? Even if you repeatedly type, “I don’t know what to write,” that sentence can begin to morph into something else.

So, I sat down and started typing. Anything. But how I surprised myself!

Suddenly I was in the present tense, second person. I was speaking to my husband.I had no instruction, no guide other than poetry I’d read in literature classes. Moreover, I could never have imagined that “pouring my heart out” eventually would become a book of poetic narrative.

I wrote as I lived our heartbreaking lives, the story as we stumbled and struggled, wept, laughed, loved, and kept going. I didn’t write daily, and I didn’t blather the mundane, but selected events, incidents, and feelings, and the manuscript grew, becoming a meaningful ongoing project.

Indeed, I wrote throughout a decade. Of course, my manuscript was oft revised and edited, and after my husband’s death, MOMENTS OF DAWN: A Poetic Memoir of Love & Family, Affliction & Affirmation, my book, a poetic narrative, was published.