Today, we will be looking at Personal Loss as a point of Departure, and two very different poems in depth. Rather than think of departure as an ending, I’d like to delve into the idea of departure itself, and see what can grow from it. Think of all the people who are no longer in your life and the various circumstances surrounding each situation. How did these departures change or affect you? How did they point you in new directions whether in your work or in your actual life?
“Elegy” by Natasha Trethewey. Traditionally, an elegy is a poem of serious reflection, usually a lament for the dead. Interestingly enough, Trethewey’s father was alive when she wrote this elegy; in real life, he had not actually departed the physical world. Does this change your reading of the poem, esp the lines “Your daughter,/I was that ruthless”? What might it say about Trethewey and her father? What themes do you see in this poem?
Read the story behind Trethewey’s poem here.
“What Work Is” by Phillip Levine. Is this a poem about work? And if so, what different kinds of work? How does the theme of work touch on his relationship with the speaker’s brother? Also, pay attention to the addressed, to the “you” in the poem. How does this “you” change? By the end of the poem, who is the “you?” What or who is the speaker losing/has lost/in danger of losing? How does this shape the poem?
Hear Levine read the poem here.
Please read and listen NPR podcast “After Loss, Turning To Poetry For Grief And Healing,” which highlights Kevin Young’s amazing project.
- For 1 minute, list the names of those no longer in your life. Make sure to time yourself.
- Assignment 1 verb and 1 noun for each name listed.
- Choose 1 of the names, and write in one sentence what you want to say that person. Say it from your gut. Don’t overthink it.
- Now, write a poem addressed to this person no longer in your life. It can be an elegy, but doesn’t have to be. This is a very open assignment. The only requirement is that it addresses the person as if you are speaking directly to them.
Born to a Mexican mother and a Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a CantoMundo Fellow and the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists’ Collective, 2013). Her work is forthcoming or appears in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Bayou, Arts & Letters, Puerto del Sol, The Feminist Wire, Dialogist, B O D Y, Lana Turner Journal, Slice Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and elsewhere. In 2010, her story “A Way out of the Colonia” won the Editor’s Prize in Camera Obscura. A Leopold Schepp Scholar at New York University, she won the Seth Barkas Prize for Best Short Story and The Thomas Wolfe/Phi Beta Kappa Prize for Best Poetry Collection. Rosebud was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan where she earned an MFA in Poetry, and was awarded grants from the American Jewish League for Israel and the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. She was a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where she completed post-graduate research. A graduate of the 2010 Women’s Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater, she is at work a new play MIDNIGHT IN MATAMOROS with Bob Teague of Truant Arts; it will feature music by Carlton Zeus. Her plays have been produced in New York City, Washington DC and Toronto. Rosebud is an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and at work on her first novel, The Imitation of Crying.