Besides telling about the difficult hurdles Cindy Frankel has faced, the book is offered as motivation for others wanting to advance beyond sadness.
Writing out her emotional reactions has long been one way of bringing personal insight and solace to Cindy Frenkel, and she often chooses poetry as her expressive form.
As a child, Frenkel’s interest in creative writing, hers and others, intensified while attending Cranbrook Schools during the late 1960s and into the 1970s, and her interest developed into a wide-ranging career. She worked as an editorial assistant at the New Yorker in the 1980s and has been an instructor at Lawrence Technological University for the past seven years.
As the last century moved into this one, a series of overlapping family tragedies, divorce and death, repeatedly brought Frenkel to her home desk as the setting for writing about the enduring impact.
Her decision to offer a group of poems for publication — some appearing in literary journals — succeeded last year, and her first chapbook, The Plague of the Tender-Hearted, will be released by Finishing Line Press in September. Besides telling about the difficult hurdles Frankel has faced, the book is offered as motivation for others wanting to advance beyond sadness.
“I didn’t want to just survive all I experienced,” said Frenkel, 61, a resident of Huntington Woods. “I wanted to thrive, and that’s what’s happening now. My work has given me meaning. I wanted to teach, and I wanted to write.”
Frenkel, the only daughter in a family with three older brothers, explains that she was raised in a loving way but was discouraged from talking about relationship difficulties and troubling feelings. The conversational focus of her parents was on what people did, and a youthful portrait by her dad, which became the book cover, keeps with that focus by showing her at ballet.
“I wanted a deeper connection with people,” Frenkel said. “I wanted to talk about ideas and feel that there was safety in that exchange. My parents avoided difficult subjects and believed people shouldn’t talk about grief.”
As Frenkel coped with a brother’s addiction and suicide amid her mother’s terminal illness, she also was coping with her own divorce. The most important part of her ability to thrive was in being motivated to raise her daughter with understandings she gained after her own frustrations.
Her poem “Raising her is better than” lists outstanding pastimes and ranks each day of parenting above other dramatic experiences: the Holy Wall in Jerusalem, cold water on a sweltering day, French gardens … In contrast, “How You Said Goodbye” recalls the last conversation with her beloved brother.
“Part of writing poetry became my way of processing grief,” Frenkel said. “I wanted my brother’s life to have meaning, and if this poetry could be presented in a way that was compassionate, real and helpful to someone, then the book was worth doing,”
Frenkel studied writing at Bennington College in Vermont before getting a bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. Although enrolling in master’s studies at New York University, she moved into a degree program at Columbia University because her father encouraged Ivy League credentials.
Important to Frenkel’s studies was attending classes taught by award-winning favorite poets — Galway Kinnell and Joseph Brodsky. She has included some of their instruction methods, such as memorizing a favorite poem, into classes she teaches, some of which were in urban elementary schools.
Frenkel’s first book project, 100 Essential Books for Jewish Readers, was a partnership with Rabbi Daniel Syme, who also experienced a brother’s suicide. In working together, they moved away from family problems and into a variety of reviews.
Frenkel, who has written for newspapers, submitted an article about her late brother to the JN in 2018, connecting to the suicide of designer Kate Spade. Wanting to reach out in many ways to help others feeling desperate, she was on the founding board of the group A Single Soul, started by Rabbi Syme to prevent suicide.
“I’ve had the great privilege of lifelong friends and even some of my brother’s friends who were in recovery and really heartbroken when he died,” she said. “They helped keep me afloat after his death.
“I try to pay it forward for all the people who have been so kind to me, and this book is about a woman claiming her power. It’s about my life and having a voice. I think it’s a life-affirming manuscript in that regard.”
The Plague of the Tender-Hearted and information about the author are available on her website, cindyfrenkel.com.