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.

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.