Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Once, Poems About Grief: Meghan O’Rourke


Earlier this year, Meghan O’Rourke’s memoir of her mother’s death was published as The Long Goodbye. Now her companion book of grief poems has been released — Once. While this collection parallels her journey in prose, the language and rich images of poetry offer a different, and perhaps sharper, way of expressing and understanding grief. You can set the two books next to each other and read both at the same time to experience the full depth of Meghan’s loss.

Meghan’s poems take us inside her mourning of her mother’s death. She speaks with unflinching honesty and we can see grief’s inner landscape of images that are important to her. We can feel what she feels. There are touching poems of relationships coming apart, poems of lethargy, depression, and listlessness that would not leave, and poems about risky behaviors as she tries different ways to regain control of her life.
The poem, “Magnolia,” provides a good insight into how grief moves. Although Meghan feels ready to move on at this point, and signs of normal life have finally begun to return, grief still pushes its way back in at random moments.

She details the currents that run through grief — its powerful surges that toss her around, the unseen movements that flow beneath stillness, and the swirling pools that catch and won’t let her go. Meghan’s poems are reflective and full of striking images that draw us into the feeling of the inner world of grief. Sometimes another detail would have helped me understand what was going on, and now and then I wanted a burst of raw emotion. I don't express strong emotions well, and I seek to learn from others.

While the canon of grief literature is long, there haven’t been many notable books of contemporary grief poetry. The recent books I like include Sandra Gilbert’s Aftermath; Anne Carson’s Nox, which blends poetry and prose; Mary Oliver’s Thirst; Jack Gilbert’s Refusing Heaven; Claribel Alegria’s Sorrow; Donald Hall’s Without (who also wrote a memoir of his wife dying); and Tess Gallagher’s Moon Crossing Bridge. Meghan’s new book is a valuable addition.

You can read my full review in Rain Taxi Review of Books - www.raintaxi.com/once/ .

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