Marie Howe: What the Living Do

Marie Howe

“What the Living Do” manages to give me an unsentimental but still deeply felt picture of the pain of living beyond loss.  The immediate occasion for these poems is the death of several friends and family members over what seems, in the context of this books at least, a relatively short period of time.  The real focus, however, is not so much on the dying–the psychic and physical pain of disease, the fear of a passage elsewhere–as it is on the poet herself, or at least her personae. These are not elegies then; or at least not elegies to the dead so much as elegies to who we imagine we must have been before the clefts and rifts that the loss of those we love opens in our lives, or perhaps elegies to the selves we imagine we might

What the Living Do

have become.  Finally, though, these are poems of hope.  I would not call them poems of overcoming.  Grief remains, and in some sense we become, as we age, people who remember the dead, in our voices and in our silences.  But poems of hope in that they recognize that we do go on.  This is what the living do:  they go on, carrying with them acts of remembrance such as these.

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