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U of A Press - February 16, 2006 - 3 Comments

Elegy

Elegy by E. D. Blodgett

Reviewed by Eric Barstad

In the winter of 2004, E.D. Blodgett was approached by Yukiko Onley to write a poem for her late husband, landscape watercolourist Toni Onley. Unsure of whether he was up to the task, Blodgett agreed to write a small series. Soon, however, one poem led to another and another, and Blodgett knew “that after the first few poems this was not going to be a little series” (82). Instead, the sequence became Elegy (U of A Press, 2005), a collection exploring grief and loss.

Elegy is a book in memoriam, a kind of tribute. It is, however, misleading to think of this book as a collection of poems; to do so would be a disappointment, for the pieces themselves, taken individually as works of art, are neither striking nor memorable. Instead, the collection must be read as a book of prayers, apostrophes and laments to an “absent soul.” We are meant to feel the solitude that accompanies loss, the amplitude of grief:

prayers are only us
and in them we become

someone else who
fills a larger space
with more uncertainty (31).

At the back of the book, Blodgett explains that Elegy explores the movement from personal to universal sadness: “If I know Yukiko’s sorrow in any way, I know it as the sorrow of loss that everyone knows. And knowing it, I know it as elegy, in which sorrow is transmuted. Once transmuted, it is hers and mine and everyone’s” (83). We follow the speaker throughout this exploration, trapped inside our shared grief. It is a place devoid of other living beings, devoid of colour – a grey, monotone inner-universe. All throughout the book we see the same repeated images, symbols, and themes: the sea, rivers, tears, rain, flowers, trees, leaves, ghosts, fog, darkness, the moon and stars, autumn, absence, silence, the soul, flesh, and bones.

My hand has ghosted into
the sea followed by
the flower that had sprung

unbidden on its flesh
the gift that I must give
and as they disappear

I know that you have come
imperceptibly
into my soul where you

take up a residence
beneath the stars that fill
its distant firmament

no gift given without
a giving up to that
dwelling of death we are (68).

One thing I’ve always struggled with as a reader and writer is the legitimacy of grief expressed as art, as poetry. How do you stay true to sorrow while making sure each line on a page has six syllables and each stanza contains three lines? In this way, the emotions expressed in the book can sometimes feel adorned, somewhat false. But Blodgett is aware of this and acknowledges poetry’s shortcomings:

why is sorrow just
what poets say when grief
cuts deeper than the words

so finely crafted that
grief becomes but
music charm and sighs (22).

Yukiko Onley’s black and white photographs that accompany the poems, however, are not falsely adorned; they are unsentimental and presented without explication. Like the poems, the photographs present a world of grey, and there are some very striking images. It’s too bad, though, that the quality of the reproduction isn’t a bit higher; the photos can often seem grainy and they lack the “pop” and contrast that would be afforded by a higher gloss paper. As such, the photos are almost too grey, bleed grey, when they might have provided some solace from the colourless world of the poems.

In the end, Blodgett has crafted Elegy with a compassionate and meditative hand, but I would not recommend this book as a collection of poems. Instead, this is a shared lament, a prayerful journey through loss, and a reader must approach it accordingly, as a whole; that’s the only way to make it through, out of the grey and the dark and back into the light:

music of light has no
melody known but when
its presence is announced

nothing remains untouched
turning to light within
the dark that silently

withdraws (79).

Eric Barstad is the editor of PoetryReviews.ca, and he currently lives with his wife Erin and their two cats—Finnegan and Pickles—in Brooks, Alberta.

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