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Elegy: Poems Hardcover – Oct 16 2007

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In her powerful fifth collection, Bang asks, What is elegy but the attempt / To rebreathe life/ Into what the gone one once was. Writing to mourn the death of her adult son, Bang interrogates the elegiac form and demands of it more than it can give, frustrated, over and over again, with memory, which falls pitifully short of life: Memory is deeply not alive; it's a mock-up/ And this renders it hateful. The urgent line breaks of Bang's fractured sentences build their own drama, as if her precisions might determine whether or not she will cross the fissures between what she wants to say and what she can't. Aware that there is no vocabulary equal to conveying the pain of losing a loved one or the struggle to be faithful to the loss, the poet ruefully admits, That's where things went wrong./ Is went into language. Plumbing a world made strange by grief means forsaking the mundane; as a result, there are only a few everyday objects in these poems— an overcoat,roller-skates and Phenobarbital pills. Ostensibly a linear account of a year of sorrow, the structure of the collection suggests rather that grief might be crystalline, the poems accruing around a memory that won't move on: I say Come Back and you do/ Not do what I want. While the poet must write and rewrite in order to get her subject right, the mother of a dead child writes to fill the a bottomless chasm.Like Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, Bang finds no easy consolation, and there is pain for the reader here, too, as when, toward the end of the collection, Bang writes, Everything Was My Fault / Has been the theme of the song. Calling to mind Sharon Olds's TheFather and Donald Hall's Without, two other harrowing contemporary book-length poetic studies of loss, Bang offers, if not hope, a kind of keeping company, a way, however painful, to go on: Otherwise no longer exists./ There is only stasis, continually/ Granting ceremony to the moment. (Oct.)
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"This is our beautiful glimpse of forever. Mary Jo Bang's Elegy is a harrowing, necessary work." --C. D. Wright
"These poems (elegies) are written under the sign of Necessity. They exist because they have to exist. This means they are still burning from the forge, carry pain that is radiant, and cut a guiding path for the reader. Because she is already, before the hour of necessity, a serious and accomplished poet, all that she knows comes to her aid and has the kindness to make these poems great." --Fanny Howe, citation for the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
The fifth collection of poetry by Professor of English Mary Jo Bang Nov. 3 2007
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The fifth collection of poetry by Professor of English Mary Jo Bang, Elegy uses free verse to communicate the loss of an only child in the prime of life. Eschewing self-pity, false comfort, or blame, Elegy burns with the power of heartbreak and the timelessness of memory. Highly recommended. "How Beautiful": A personal lens: glass bending rays / That gave one that day's news / Saying each and every day, // Just remember you are standing / On a planet that's evolving. / How beautiful, she thought, what distance does // For water, the view from above or afar. / In last night's dream, they were back again / At the beginning. She was a child // And he was a child. / A plane lit down and left her there. / Cold whitening the white sky whiter. // Then a scalpel cut her open for all the world / To be a sea.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Good, but not what it could have been. March 30 2009
By Robert Beveridge - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Mary Jo Bang, Elegy (Graywolf, 2007)

Book-length collections that revolve around a single theme tend to work less well than those that range all over the map. There are any number of reasons for this, but the main one is that most poets just don't produce enough material over a protracted period of time about the same thing to make it work. This is why, when a book does get it right, it's such a brilliant reminder of how good such things can be (the obvious example, to my mind, is Donald Hall's Without, which traverses much the same ground Elegy does). When a book fails to do so, on the other hand, that doesn't mean in any way that it's as bad as the successes are good; much of the time it just means that the quality of the poems varies a bit more than one would like to see in a single-author poetry collection. Elegy is one of those books, with poems ranging from the blindingly brilliant to the quotidian. There's nothing here that's bad, some pieces just suffer in relation to others.

"A caboose climbing an emerald hill.
Daily we tend the garden.
Daily we wave

Our lashes like little flags
In a cordial wind. I? Who isn't
Ever I in a circular now."
("We Are Only Human")

Compare and contrast to:

"How could I have failed you like this?
The narrator asks

The object. The object is a box
Of ashes. How could I not have saved you,

A boy made of bone and blood."
("Landscape with the Fall of Icarus")

It all works, some just works better than the rest. Give it a look if you see it at the store. ***
This book jumped out at me......... Nov. 10 2012
By dream factory - Published on
Format: Paperback I picked it up and bought it. No joke - I was reading a collection of A. R. Ammons poems when this book pushed it's way out off the bookshelf and fell at my feet. At first I thought it to be one of the 1000 Dunio Elegies editions by Rilke. This is something special all to itself.

And I'm glad it did cause it's a wonderful collection of poems which revolve around the theme of Ms Bang's son's death. Indirectly yet poignantly. At times gently, others uncomfortably.

There is no criticism here, just allow four stanzas from four of the sixty poems to tell you about itself.

He'd already slid. Into the state of wishing
To be all he had been which was now but a blur
Haze on the way to becoming a star.

Dreamland kept getting larger. It expanded
To embrace both time and timelessness
One minute left on the steps and told to be still
Another minute sent to a misaligned elsewhere.

It begins to sink in. Dead
Is dead, not just not
Here, the knife never dulls,
Does it, dearie
On the blade side.

The role of elegy is
To put a death mask on tragedy
A drape on the mirror. rebreathe life
Into what the gone one once was
Before he grew to enormity.
There is a Vernacular for Loss July 31 2009
By Exordia N. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"You are now/ only an aspect of my brain. My eyes/ see you. The Balance of what you are// And what you do- the syntax/ of inaction versus the syntax/ Of deliberate action." - p. 29 Extracted from Bang's stunning anthology on loss. Subtle, immaculate, & comprehensive. Everything about Bang's language is clean like an autopsy room. This is how the dead washes the soul of the living. Her poems read like sorrow sanitized by the seasons, by September & November, and inescapable injury of January. Beautiful and austere. How does one die of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs? How does one begin to express a voice that transcends drainage. "Your head the scene of a wonderful theater/ of the most tender gray of the fog/ that joins the sky to the earth./ A tangling of truth and memory." p. 20 I have fallen in love with Bang's astringent dialogue on sorrow. There is also something commanding about her simple vernacular. Something commanding about her sorrow. What a lovely fifth book; my first exposure.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A profoundly wonderful work Sept. 23 2008
By nana loves grands - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This author uniquely captures the essence of losing a close loved one. She evokes the details of the feelings honestly and gracefully without letting them overwhelm. I heartily recommend this book to one and all, as we all must deal with death at different times of our lives. Mary Jo Bang is first-rate, I may be looking for more of her work in the future.