Elegy: Poems

Nothing has inspired so much bad poetry as loss. The ineffability of grief, after all, is part of what makes it so awful. The bereft are cruelly left a voice full of recycled sentiments which can only belittle a beloved. But the opposite proves true for Mary Jo Bang's beautiful Elegy, as she chronicles the death of her son with truly stereophonic horror. Here is the insomnia, the spooky dejavu, the pharmacology, the amnesia, the nightmares and the white noise of loss. Bang pours it all into a lyric poetic line that is blunted down, burnished as obsidian.

You left nothing
Left to say and yet there is this
Incomplete labyrinth

Of finished thought, this
Wash of days over energy?s uneven rock. This
Vault door?s hollow closing

Crash behind which I say, Stop,
To the accidental.
Uncle, to the twisty wrist.

No matter how she beseeches, Bang cannot get her wish, and bitter lament follows. "The role of elegy is/to put a death mask on tragedy...To look for an imagined/Consolidation of grief/So we can all be finished/Once and for all and genuinely shut up." But loss lets loose a syntactical virus; a supercharged ontological magnet. It warps our sense of time, cruelly fooling. "He lived in her mind/As a limited aspect where time kept circling." And so it is perhaps no solace -- but worth saying, anyway -- that the much-loved son has become immortal in these essential, powerful poems.

July 28: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped on this day in 1814.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).