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4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  325 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Elegy by Mary Jo Bang was the winner of the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, and a 2008 New York Times Notable Book

Look at her—It’s as if
The windows of night have been sewn to her eyes.

—from “Ode to History”...more
Paperback, 80 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Graywolf Press (first published October 16th 2007)
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Mary Jo Bang picked up the electric guitar, or blue guitar, or maybe Apollo's lyre, and she rocked this book. Is that observation crude, or insensitive to register the emotional tone of the poems? Well, I apologize. I read it at the beginning of Hurricane Ike, and I have enough distance from that read to lodge my enthusiasm in no uncertain terms. From the very raw and suffering poems at the beginning, to the very large return to her aesthetic in the end, a return informed by her experience, and...more
Some poetry collections, when read, defy the written word; instead they paint a world of their own, using images as a paintbrush on the canvas, the reader’s mind. Elegy: Poems by Mary Jo Bang did just that for this reader. Bang chronicles the year following her son’s death in this new collection of poems. Though Bang’s poetry is new for me, she has published four poetry collections and is a Professor of English and the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Washington University.

This volume...more
Diann Blakely
While perhaps not a household name, Bang won this year’s National Book Critics’ Circle Award for ELEGY, the chronicle of a year following the apparent suicide of her son. The collection is characterized by short, honed sentences and syntax that acts like knife-thrusts to the reader’s heart, avoiding any sentimentality.

Bang also allows her story to pool into a larger context — per- haps the largest context — of being and nothingness, time and its sudden stilling. “The snake of time,” she writes o...more
Read the STOP SMILING interview with Elegy author Mary Jo Bang:

(This interview originally appeared in the STOP SMILING Jazz Issue)

Stop Smiling: Tell me about the first poem you wrote. Did that experience reflect why and how you write now?

Mary Jo Bang: I wrote it in high school, after JFK was assassinated, and after reading a lot of Ayn Rand. It was probably no more than six lines. I remember the last line was: “The man who stands alone,” which now sounds like it should be followed by a few bars...more
Robert Beveridge
Mary Jo Bang, Elegy (Graywolf, 2007)

Book-length collections that revolve around a single theme tend to work less well than those that range all over the map. There are any number of reasons for this, but the main one is that most poets just don't produce enough material over a protracted period of time about the same thing to make it work. This is why, when a book does get it right, it's such a brilliant reminder of how good such things can be (the obvious example, to my mind, is Donald Hall's W...more
Well deserving of the award nominations it's received--and the win in the National Book Critics Circle.

Bang chronicles movement through grief--nothing so neat as Kubler-Ross's stages, though there's definitely anger and denial and bargaining in some poems. Instead, the focus is on particular images that can represent the loss or distract from the loss. The poems move associatively from image to image, and the play with language at times connotes ee cummings. While there isn't a strict progressio...more
Mary Jo Bang explores the process of grieving, and how a mother can go on when her son is dead. This book is difficult in both language and content, but exquisitely written. Mary Jo Bang uses punctuation liberally, so that a thought or a sentence seems to end, and then must go on. The choppyness definitely supports access to the writer's state of mind. Portions were incredibly abstract, while others are completely literal and physical. She becomes direct about her subject matter late in the book...more
In Richard Hugo's Book Triggering Town, he quotes the poet Theodore Roethke as saying every poet really writes only one poem over and over again. Here's the book to prove it. While the craftsmanship of these poems is good and there are occasionally wonderful lines, this book was unremarkable for me. It was in fact the same poem over and over again. Even to the point of self plagiarism.

I know that all of us who are poets tend to repeat vocabulary, images, and...yes, occasionally a phrase or even...more
Oct 02, 2008 Farren rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the grieving.
Recommended to Farren by: Mary Jo Motherfucking-Bang

I was so excited about this book for about the first 60 pages and then it became exhaustive, dirge-like, a single note droning on and on. Which, of course, is how grief is experienced. Often that drone is a comfort, sometimes it's a frustrating burden against which you rage and fight. A phenomenal book--a book that is influencing, undoubtedly, the way I am writing--but I difficult book to stay interested in, since it is, as the title indicates, variations on a theme. I found myself dead...more
From Elegy by Mary Jo Bang:

How Beautiful

A personal lens: glass bending rays
That gave one that day's news
Saying each and every day,

Just remember you are standing
On a planet that's evolving.
How beautiful, she thought, what distance does

For water, the view from above or afar.
In last night's dream, they were back again
At the beginning. She was a child

And he was a child.
A plane lit down and left her there.
Cold whitening the white sky whiter.

Then a scalpel cut her open for all the world
To be a sea.
This wonderful collection of poems chronicles the year following the death of her son, who died from an accidental overdose of prescription medication.

These poems hold every emotion you might expect - grief, sadness, anger, regret and, most importantly, a glimmer of hope that the author is moving forward.

I found these poems deeply moving and very accessible.

I would stronly recommend this collection for anyone - whether they are dealing with grief or not.
Certain poems and concepts feel redundant, but how do you tell someone in mourning to abbreviate? Much of the book's project is the inescapable return, how some months become prisons and some pain becomes mantra. Ideas of fixation, time, and terminability occupy every piece, exhibited even in the prosody (repetition, a final irregular stanza). Though some images reoccur at a distracting rate, those images are typically applied productively. I read absorbedly, sunkenly.
Donald Hall's poetry speaks eloquently of love and loss. This book, not so much. The treatment seems more academic than impassioned or stoic. Some of it comes off as trite. But, it may not be the best introduction to Mary Jo Bang. I do like this:
"the soft mask of his fixed expression hinted at a connoisseurship of difficulty."
The volume is going into my recycle pile. Not shelf-worthy.
An excellent, truthful collection about the loss of her son. The ruminations that loss brings have been tiresome to other reviewers, but to my eyes, they are painfully, unbearably accurate. It's an incredibly painful and difficult read.
An excellent collection (on an unfortunate and sad period of time in the author's life). The poems don't simply convey the sense of loss, mourning, regret, and longing--they somehow make it feel like these feelings are happening to you. The imagery is stunning but the raw emotions, offered without any hint of drama for drama's sake, are the strength of this work.
Tim Kahl
A bit too obsessive about grief for me, but that is the theme of the book. A disciplined project with some nice turns of phrase throughout. I was hoping for a little bit less obsessive brooding towards the end. If this is what is needed to make books hang together, then let them fly apart a bit more.
still mulling over this intensity. my favorite lines (this time around):

...How does one live
With sorrow? His hand on her shoulder
Saying, your love

Of precision will only get you in trouble.

-from "Curtains of Emptiness"
A collection of poems written by a grief stricken mother/poet. It is full of anguish and the giant void that you feel when you lose a loved one. I am giving a copy to my Mil to read. I think she will appreciate the others share her horrible, neverending pain.
The signature poem in this collection, I feel, is "You Were You Are Elegy." The language, images and movement are superb. I find there are a handful of poems I feel strongly about here, and the others don't stand out well enough as separate units.
Like a Kaddish for her son, encompassing the entire text;it is graphic and and raw in its grief, but it doesn't dissuade the reader from finishing it. This is remarkable in itself as it the book is singular in its subject and unflinching.
Bang opens the door to a mother's grief and speaks the unspeakable. Although her son is no longer with her physically, her love for him continues and shines through her pain. It takes a great deal of courage to reveal oneself as she has.
RD Morgan
Yes, yes, yes. If you enjoyed The Niobe Poems by Kate Daniels, you will enjoy Elegy.
National Book Critics Circle
See NBCC Board Member Kevin Prufer's review at Critical Mass, as part of 30 Books in 30 Days:
Siel Ju
Much less playful / less interesting language than previous books. Lyric poetry about her dead son. May be of more interest for those who've recently lost someone they loved.
Heather June Gibbons
What a gorgeous, terrifying book. Not since Ariel have I read so many poems in one collection that attempt to record the living abyss with such eerie and startling precision.

Read this for class; I liked it, but I do think it's an uneven collection. A good exercise in avoiding sentimentality, but I could've done with a tad more sentiment.
a must read. a good cry ... but also, oddly, a smart cry. makes me want to understand the mind (my mind) before I get Thwacked by Grief.
Favorites: "A Sonata for Four Hands," "The Cruel Wheel Turns Twice," "A Place," "Once," "Now," and "How Beautiful."
J.j. Penna
A departure from Bang's earlier work. These elegies weave Bang's emotional loss with a fierce lyrical voice.
This is a great book, wondering about the punctuation but I think that is because of the class I was just in.
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Mary Jo Bang is an American poet. In her most recent collection, The Bride of E, she uses a distinctive mix of humor, directness, and indirection, to sound the deepest sort of anguish: the existential condition. Bang fashions her examination of the lived life into an abecedarius—the title of the first poem, "ABC Plus E: Cosmic Aloneness Is the Bride of Existence," posits the collection's central p...more
More about Mary Jo Bang...
Louise in Love The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Apology for Want The Bride of E The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of Swans

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