Poetry for the Grieving

Poetry for the Grieving November 13, 2013

An interesting piece by Joy Katz at the Poetry Foundation website: can poetry comfort the grieving?

Poetry felt drained of its possibilities by the time I stood graveside. My disorientation with language was complete as my mother’s coffin was being lowered into the ground and the rabbi read out her name: Elaine.

Elaine. Something seemed off to me about this. A mistake. Maybe even a lie. I don’t know why, but I was absolutely certain of one thing: That is not her name anymore. It was as if someone had whispered this message into my ear. It did not have to do with anything poems had said, or anything people were saying after the funeral, as we were spooning egg salad and potato salad into bowls. “Elaine is with Tom now,” someone told me. And “Elaine is in a better place.” Not Elaine, I thought to myself, as if it were an obvious error of fact that any proofreader would catch.

Later, she says:

The ones that sustain me, I find, have to do with living people, humans who mourn, rather than with the departed. These poems are not “like” grieving—they are not lamentations—but instead open up the isolating process of mourning. They translate sorrow through poetic form rather than confining it to a metaphor. Here are a few of them.

This reminds me of the Psalms, which often, to me, seem to “open up the isolating process of mourning.” (And of rejoicing, too.)

Katz goes on to offer some poems for this purpose, and you can read them here.

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