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 AwardSee all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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. ***
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.
ROLE OF ELEGY
The role of elegy is
To put a death mask on tragedy
A drape on the mirror.
....to rebreathe life
Into what the gone one once was
Before he grew to enormity.