Elegy Poems

Mary Jo Bang

Book - 2007

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2nd Floor 811.54/Bang Checked In
Saint Paul, Minn. : Graywolf c2007.
Physical Description
92 p. ; 24 cm
Main Author
Mary Jo Bang (-)
  • A sonata for four hands
  • A sonata for four hands, II
  • We took our places
  • No more
  • Waiting
  • Utopian longing becomes more absurd
  • The cruel wheel turns twice
  • Beneath the din
  • What is so frightening
  • Where
  • Ode to history
  • A place
  • September is
  • Enclosure
  • Definitely
  • Landscape with the fall of Icarus
  • Three trees
  • Once
  • November elegy
  • She remembers his hat
  • The watch
  • January elegy
  • No exit
  • Don't
  • The game
  • February elegy
  • Hell
  • Trady
  • To Ash
  • There is no pretending
  • The opening
  • Heartbreaking
  • "In order" means neat and not next
  • Blue sky elegy
  • Intractable, and irreversible
  • Talk to me
  • Words
  • Untitled
  • What if
  • A boy at play is an actor in a tragedy
  • Goodbye is another word for not
  • Now
  • She said
  • The role of elegy
  • We are only human
  • Where once
  • Departure
  • Gone
  • April is ending
  • How beautiful
  • Curtains of emptiness
  • Guilt
  • She remembered
  • Evidence
  • Worse
  • Let's go back
  • One thing
  • The essence
  • There is only this
  • A year ends
  • You were you are elegy
  • Anniversary
  • Visiting.
Review by Booklist Reviews

To mourn the dead is the impetus of art, the soul of poetry. In poems written during the year following her son's death, Bang tears asunder and reassembles the elegy, an ancient vessel, infusing it with feelings pure, piercing, and cauterizing. Each word is a needle, each line a stitch across a gaping wound. Each poem postulates a stark equation measuring guilt, rage, and agony over the shock of losing "the missing." In previous collections, Bang has distinguished herself as witty and intrepid. Here, all falls away, and what is left is the bone of pain. Meter itself is halt, stunned. But beauty will not be exiled, strength recalibrates, and poem by poem, the frozen, silent, monochrome world of grief slowly thaws. Bang's imagery gains vitality and color, twigs put out leaves, syntax attains complexity ("Decisionless and dull, I am one / In a glitter-knitted metallica sky"), yet there is no easy fix. "One hears repeatedly, the role of elegy is, / And then there's a blank." And then there are Bang's poems, filling the void. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Life's tragedies do not often result in stellar poetry, but this powerfully felt collection is the exception. Bang (Louise in Love ) captures the complexity and courage of surviving the death of a child, an adult child, an imperfect child. The grief is multilayered, palpable. In this rendition of living in pain, in absence, in an altered reality, the reader never questions the authenticity of the work. As in the poems of Paul Celan, the shards of the self are split and broken again through mirrors, mathematics, and, most of all, music. In the opening work, "A Sonata for Four Hands," the poet asks, How does the heart stop? On what moment's turning? And this unanswerable question seems to travel under each subsequent piece like a shadow chorus. The book documents the year following the death of the poet's son, but don't look for any sentimental platitudes or sugar-coated meditations on motherhood here. Instead, anyone who has ever experienced heartbreak of wrenching proportions will appreciate how the ineffable shows up on the page and makes us consider our lives anew. This is a book of exceptional grace and strength; it belongs in every library. Highly recommended.—Susan Rich, Highline Coll., Des Moines, WA [Page 106]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

So many authors writing about a child's death deliver the raw material, as if that were enough. Bang's beautifully compassed work is instead transformative, turning anguish into genuine poetry. A stunning and heartfelt read; this year's National Book Critics Circle award winner. (LJ 1/08) [Page 86]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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.) [Page 40]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Provides a collection of poems examining grief and loss of an adult child.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Mary Jo Bang's fifth collection, Elegy, chronicles the year following the death of her son. By weaving the particulars of her own loss into a tapestry that also contains the elements common to all losses, Bang creates something far larger than a mere lament. Continually in search of an adequate metaphor for the most profound and private grief, the poems in Elegy confront, in stark terms and with a resilient voice, how memory haunts the living and brings the dead back to life. Within these intimate and personal poems is a persistently urgent, and deeply touching, examination of grief itself.