Poetic License

A Memoir

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Pub Date 04 Aug 2020 | Archive Date 31 Jul 2020

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At age forty, with two growing children and a new consulting company she’d recently founded, Gretchen Cherington, daughter of Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Richard Eberhart, faced a dilemma: Should she protect her parents’ well-crafted family myths while continuing to silence her own voice? Or was it time to challenge those myths and speak her truth—even the unbearable truth that her generous and kind father had sexually violated her?

In this powerful memoir, aided by her father’s extensive archives at Dartmouth College and interviews with some of her father’s best friends, Cherington candidly and courageously retraces her past to make sense of her father and herself. From the women’s movement of the ’60s and the back-to-the-land movement of the ’70s to Cherington’s consulting work through three decades with powerful executives to her eventual decision to speak publicly in the formative months of #MeToo, Poetic License is one woman’s story of speaking truth in a world where, too often, men still call the shots.

At age forty, with two growing children and a new consulting company she’d recently founded, Gretchen Cherington, daughter of Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Richard Eberhart, faced a dilemma: Should she...

Advance Praise

“Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Richard Eberhart was a close friend of many years, a beloved colleague. I loved his genial personality and admired his unique poetic gift. He was a generous man but, as his daughter shows, a difficult and complex person as well. This is a vivid memoir, flaws and all, and Gretchen Eberhart Cherington has crafted a narrative worth reading closely.”

―Jay Parini, poet, novelist, critic, and author of The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy’s Last Year

“Poetic License is a great achievement that will move powerfully into the world. This is a riveting portrait, in elegant prose, of a once adoring daughter able to reflect as a mature woman, how she searched for her own truth, and freed herself from her father’s dominating presence.”

―Elizabeth Garber, poet and memoirist, author of Implosion: A Memoir of an Architect’s Daughter

“Gretchen Cherington has written a courageous and enlightened memoir of the lifelong impact of sexual molestation. Cherington dives deep into the murky legacy of her father's life to understand what love between a father and daughter should be, how that ideal could be spoiled, and what she had lost. This well-articulated journey gives us the tools we need to take command of our own lives and move into the person we want to become.”

―Laura Waterman, author of Losing the Garden: The Story of a Marriage

“At its core, this powerful memoir covers Cherington’s decades-long search for truth and the shaping of her authentic self. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always clear, empathetic, and entertaining, Cherington writes about coming to terms with trauma brought on by a celebrity father with deep flaws. All of this comes with intimate glimpses into the psyches of celebrated poets, including T.S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, Donald Hall, Robert Lowell, and Anne Sexton. A great read! I was enraptured.”

―Ernest Hebert, author of thirteen books including the seven novels of the Darby Chronicles and the award-winning historical novel, The Old American

“Poetic License is a beautifully written, even-handed account of a woman’s struggle to balance genuine family love, troubling family secrets, and a devastating personal betrayal. Gretchen Cherington’s story is shocking and powerful, yet she has the rare gift of entertaining the reader even as she reveals her troubled childhood and comes to understand the complexity of personal experience as it resonates for a lifetime.”

―Reeve Lindbergh, author of Two Lives and Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age-And Other Unexpected Adventures

“I feel personally grateful to Gretchen Cherington for her compelling and courageous account of growing up as the daughter of a charismatic celebrity. She describes in her father the kind of narcissistic self-preoccupation and work-obsession that are hallmarks of genius in every field of endeavor. Her story offers a much needed correction of the popular belief that a public image is an accurate reflection of what a person is like in his or her most intimate relationships. The account of her personal survival will touch all who read it.”

―Sue Erikson Bloland, psychotherapist, author of In The Shadow of Fame: A Memoir by the Daughter of Erik H. Erikson

“Poetic License is in a class of its own―both a literary memoir and a call to action for women claiming their truth. Cherington boldly asks what every leader should ask: “how did the world shape me?” and “how will I shape the world?” From her childhood among literary greats to advising top executives on changing themselves and their companies, we see that to empower women, we can’t silence their voices.”

―Marshall Goldsmith, New York Times #1 bestselling author of Triggers, Mojo, and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There; two-time Thinkers 50 #1 Leadership Thinker in the world

“Written in lush and vivid prose, Poetic License is both a literary history and a compelling memoir of family betrayal and personal healing. Growing up among a who’s who of literary lions, Gretchen Cherington finds her own triumphant voice with her memoir, drawing readers in as she solves a riveting personal mystery.”

―Andrea Jarrell, author of I’m the One Who Got Away: A Memoir

“Cherington’s powerfully rendered memoir confronts an overlooked truth, that the transition from a childhood marked by betrayal, to one’s true self can be lengthy and fraught. Ultimately uplifting and remarkably authentic, Poetic License offers an inspiring and engaging story of the author’s passage from the shadows of silence and misguided familial loyalty to healing and resounding female empowerment.”

―Joni B. Cole, author of Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better & Be Happier

“Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Richard Eberhart was a close friend of many years, a beloved colleague. I loved his genial personality and admired his unique poetic gift. He was a generous man but, as...

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Featured Reviews

Poetic License by Gretchen Cherington is a powerful and surprisingly positive autobiography/memoir. I don't know that I will be able to do the book justice in explaining my feelings but I will do my best.

While who Cherington's father is plays a large part in why many readers will want to read this, understand that this is her story, not his. His life plays an even larger role in the story of her life than many other father's would, it isn't as a telling of his life that it is covered but rather to give us some idea of how Cherington came to understand his actions. But Richard Eberhart is a supporting character, not the main one. Keep that in the front of your mind here.

I think the tendency in some if not most books dealing with familial abuse is to paint the abuser in the worst light possible. Here it is more a case of using as much light as possible to illuminate the entire person (as compared to either just the abuser or just the adored public figure) and letting the reader decide if that presents an entirely negative image or a more nuanced picture of a terribly flawed person. I don't know if I would have been as even-handed in my presentation if I had been in her shoes.

Some who mainly read this because of the celebrated may lose interest when Cherington moves on with her life. That is a shame because the fact is Eberhart never leaves the story just as formative events never leave any person's life. The strength and real message of the book comes in the part of the book such a reader seems to gloss. How does one make sense of what is hard to understand? How does one not become bitter or completely distrusting of all men? And how does one reconcile the bad with the good within the very person such accounting should never have to be done? It is how Cherington lives her life and comes to understand what happened, as well as understand the perpetrator, where this book offers both ideas and support for those who may be grappling with similar internal battles.

The writing itself is wonderful. While we never completely lose sight of those childhood events that created internal doubt and conflict she also lets us see that her life is a lot more than just a response to those events. Humor, happiness, sadness, and of course conflict are all part of Cherington's life, often amplified because of the past, but always hers to own and turn to whatever end she believes best. And she is a very accomplished woman.

I highly recommend this for readers of autobiographies in general as well as those who might want a voice to help them know they are not alone. This is certainly no self-help book but it does, by showing how Cherington helped herself, shows that there are avenues for self-help even if they are different for each person.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

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