Evolving Origins: Writing Personal Loss As a Point of Departure with Rosebud Ben-Oni

Today, we will be looking at Writing 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 to the NPR podcast “After Loss, Turning To Poetry For Grief And Healing,” which highlights Kevin Young’s amazing project. 


(1) For 1 minute, list the names of those no longer in your life. Make sure to time yourself.

(2) Assignment 1 verb and 1 noun for each name listed.

(3) 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.

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 Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a recipient of the 2014 NYFA Fellowship in Poetry and a CantoMundo Fellow. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan, a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a graduate of the Women’s Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater in NYC. She is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013) and an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Her work appears in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Bayou, Puerto del Sol, among others. She writes weekly for The Kenyon Review. Rosebud is the founding talent and voice behind “Evolving Origins.”