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3.97  ·  Rating details ·  471 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Mary Jo Bang's fifth collection, Elegy, chronicles the year following the death of her son. By weaving the particulars of her own loss into a tapestry that also contains the elements common to all losses, Bang creates something far larger than a mere lament. Continually in search of an adequate metaphor for the most profound and private grief, the poems in Elegy confront, ...more
Hardcover, 80 pages
Published October 16th 2007 by Graywolf Press
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3.97  · 
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 ·  471 ratings  ·  59 reviews

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Sep 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
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
Tyler Jones
Sep 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: grief, poetry
There is a special depth to one's grief in the first year after the passing of a loved one. Not a single day will go by without you thinking of them, and the reminders of loss are everywhere. What Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking chronicles in prose, Mary Jo Bang does here in Poetry, and the poetry is so intense and personal that I feel a little awkward to presume to judge it. It is beautiful. The grief is so powerful that I had difficulty getting through the book. I could only read two or ...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
Apr 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Siel Ju
Oct 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
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.
Kevin Estes
May 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I truly don't know how Mary Jo had the presence of mind and enough strength to put her thoughts together in regards to such a tragedy into lyrics so mournful yet so eloquently. I wrote a poem of this magnitude once and it completed drained the life out of me. In my humble opinion, her self-expression of the one situation that most of us fear more than anything in this lifetime was pretty remarkable. As for certain reviewers that nitpicked at this collection......I know we're all entitled to our ...more
Keith Taylor
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Seems to me that someone would have to have a very cold heart not to respect the bravery of this book -- its author's search for a tone that could control her grief. It's a difficult and painful book to read, but an important one nonetheless. Here's a thing I wrote a while back:
Brian Wasserman
Jan 27, 2017 rated it did not like it
pretentious and not my type of book
Oct 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 21, 2009 added it
Shelves: interviewees
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
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-my-shelf
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
Mark Desrosiers
Oct 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: death, poetry
In which death becomes ash, hallucination, cartoons, "the heart and its dumb numbered afterecho", lots of sunlight, more sun than you'd ever figure. These are spun -- never wrenched -- into an alternately sublime and wince-inducing verse of mourning. On the whole this is tough going, and difficult to review because sometimes her skill is undercut with what appears to be a real personal therapeutic impulse -- that curse of all bad poetry. But things do emerge here that I think are valuable as art ...more
Aug 11, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Aug 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Robin Goodfellow
Sep 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I would give this six stars, maybe seven or eight.

Elegy made me burst into tears, literally, repeatedly. It is lyrical grief in 64 parts, properly voiced in silent sobbing. I cried to ecstatic euphoria. Accuracy and precision do not encompass the profound power of these poems. This is not empathy but pure recogniton transmitted, broadcast, inspired. I have lived a miniature lifetime of her sorrow, felt as my own. I have now lived my own future sorrow in prescience aided by Mary Jo Bang, my Virg
Jun 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Christina M Rau
Oct 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Elegy is simply sad, but also inspiring. It does not go into a sappy, overly sentimental deluge of emotion. Instead, it questions time and offers memory. Lots of poems repeat others, and sometimes one poem seems exactly the same as another, but that does contribute to confusion and blurring that occurs when coping with death. Mary Jo Bang's play with language and interesting line breaks display a subtle expertise in the craft of poetry.
Dec 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
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.
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
The circumstance of this book is heartbreaking -- the poet had lost her son and the poems chronicle the first year of mourning. So unlike most chapbooks, there is a real sense of time's passing between the poems. Throughout the book we are told what month it is, and themes reoccur as they naturally would in grieving. Mary Jo Bang is a talented poet and these are powerful poems. I recommend it, good read.
Tim Kahl
Aug 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Absolutely breathtaking. I have a little memorial shelf for my brother and father who both recently died. After finishing this book I placed in on that shelf- there seemed to be no better place for it.

This is a must read for anyone experiencing grief, or anyone who wants to attempt to gain empathy on the depths and layers of bereavement.
Feb 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
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.
Jan 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.
May 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: serious-stuff
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.
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
RD Morgan
Sep 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Yes, yes, yes. If you enjoyed The Niobe Poems by Kate Daniels, you will enjoy Elegy.
Nov 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
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"
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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
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