elegy

Mourning worlds

A review of Prageeta Sharma's 'Grief Sequence'

Photo of Prageeta Sharma by Mike Stussy.

Prageeta Sharma’s Grief Sequence opens in the long aftermath of a loss, in grief’s viscosity, which seems to choke out every poem it encounters. The grieving process — looking, not looking, feeling, not feeling, hearing, not hearing — has become a string of aesthetic encounters, together with refusals to encounter, that risks exhausting itself. 

Prageeta Sharma’s Grief Sequence opens in the long aftermath of a loss, in grief’s viscosity, which seems to choke out every poem it encounters. The grieving process — looking, not looking, feeling, not feeling, hearing, not hearing — has become a string of aesthetic encounters, together with refusals to encounter, that risks exhausting itself. At the hospice, where her husband will soon die from esophageal cancer, Sharma recalls wanting to know “the tools and methods poets and artists had to say goodbye.”[1] It doesn’t matter, she decides.

Victoria Chang's negative elegy

A review of 'Obit'

Photo of Victoria Chang by Margaret Malloy.

Victoria Chang’s Obit is a book of grief. Yet cutting across its overt autobiographical subject matter, the death of Chang’s mother, the book joins a tradition of apophatic lyricism that runs through Keats, Dickinson, and Ashbery, as well as Chang’s own prior books. (Here’s how she defined love in her previous book, Barbie Chang: “a slow drip without a puddle a faded / paddle on the beach // that the eye cannot see.”) Death is the ultimate object for a secularized apophatic poetics, and Obit anatomizes the unsayability of loss. “Similes — died on August 3, 2015. There was nothing like death, just death. Nothing like grief, just grief.”

Victoria Chang’s Obit is a book of grief. Yet cutting across its overt autobiographical subject matter, the death of Chang’s mother, the book joins a tradition of apophatic lyricism that runs through Keats, Dickinson, and Ashbery, as well as Chang’s own prior books. (Here’s how she defined love in her previous book, Barbie Chang: “a slow drip without a puddle a faded / paddle on the beach // that the eye cannot see.”[1]) Death is the ultimate object for a secularized apophatic poetics, and Obit anatomizes the unsayability of loss.

Hers to elegize

Aria Aber's 'Hard Damage'

Photo of Aria Aber by Nadine Aber.

Aber is the child of Afghan refugees who was raised in Germany and educated, in part, in the United States. Her poems in Hard Damage wrestle with the challenge of writing of a place and a political crisis that she neither lived through nor witnessed, but whose presence remains central in her life through traumatized relatives, news of the seemingly perpetual war in Afghanistan, and her own longing for a home where she has never set foot. 

“Not yours to elegize,”[1] instructs a relative in Aria Aber’s debut volume of poems, Hard Damage. However, Aber’s Prairie Schooner Prize–winning book could be read as an attempt to mourn those losses from which the consoling voice seeks to redirect her. Aber is the child of Afghan refugees who was raised in Germany and educated, in part, in the United States.

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