Archive for March, 2009

Dealin’ with Death

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2009 by exclamate

Brian Henry works very closely with the idea of loss/death that is so engrained in the elegy.  However, he diverges from this almost immediately in that he is speaking, instead of the death of a loved one, of the death of himself (or of the narrator) and of the narrator’s family (especially considering that if Henry is dead, he certainly has some skills in writing poetry in that state).  

The second difference I found was that it seemed that Henry was not trying to “bring the beloved back from obscurity” (Powell 83).  If we put aside the fact that this is published and thus a way to immortalize the dead, Henry does not seem to talk well about any of the “dead” within the poems.  For example, in Quarantine 5 he writes:

“and I screamed and screamed as my son

had screamed not at her but for my son

and then of course she died

not in her sleep but with her eyes open”

In this poem, we can see how the narrator is not immortalizing or lamenting any of the three dead characters.  The narrator himself is screaming, uncontrollably (hence the repetition) and cannot seem to feel sympathy for his wife (earlier in the poem, he is in conversation with her, yet when he screams it is for his son).  This also brings in the idea that the son was never comfortable during his death.  The wife wasn’t either.  She died, not in the peaceful, unaware state of sleep but “with her eyes open” not only awake but conscious and aware.  

This seems to me to be the opposite of a realization.  The elegy seems to reach towards some moment of hope, acceptance, or at least understanding.  Henry seems to be, at least so far, mostly regretful and uncomfortable with death.

Elegy for Wife and Son? OR NOT

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2009 by erinl09

D.A. Powell begins his essay with some fairly vague qualifications for elegy: a loss poem that emits great love/respect, that attempts to triumph over death, and hopes to rescue the lost one.  Since they are quite general, it is not difficult for Brian Henry to adhere without completely conforming.

Quarantine certainly is preoccupied with death, but I wonder if it is some else’s death that the voice is lamenting, or if it is his own. When speaking of his family, he sounds detached, perhaps almost bored:

I remember my son died first
my wife three days after
I was relieved to hear him stop
screaming whenever he screamed
I felt like screaming at my wife
only cried she blamed me for
she blamed me for everything (Quarantine 4)

His indignation is that she blames him for their deaths, although “[he] was as close to death as she” (16)? Perhaps it is unfair to say he does not care about their deaths; the dullness likely comes out of them, which we sense in the Quarantine 6 poem.  It is with regret that he states his wife’s “eyes were not on [him],” although “[he] was not there / when she died” (1-4).  But maybe it is guilt-regret, after all, in the following poem he tells his wife he wishes for her to die, and is then happy that she knows, glad that “she died in pain” (10).  The only reason he does tell her this truth is that he knows he, too, is dying, and thus the admission is validation for him.  There is so little compassion in his accounts of her death!  Even his son’s death is only semi-saddening.  He does scream scream for his son (Quarantine 5, line 12), but later he says “I wish I had never had a son” (Quarantine 10, line 5).  Does he mean this?

This confusion stops me from knowing how closely Henry is coming to elegy.  Maybe it would be truer to say these poems are not elegies per say, but elegaic?  They are loss poems, and seem to try to triumph over death, but I am uncertain whether they are borne of great love/respect, and whether the voice wants to rescue his lost ones.  It may be easier for him to detach so as not to be crazy with pain. I think he’s worth the benefit of the doubt.

And where do the dog and young man fit in? Those italicized poems worked as outside perspective poems, satellite poems that were not speaking directly to the main narrative, but more intensifying the memorial effect.  I wondered if the young man was the voice, though younger, because he is identified in relation to the voice: a man who is younger than the voice.  The looking back seems to be done also in regret…

I have a feeling that Henry is going to lead me somewhere I was not expecting.  This analysis might be nullified by coming attractions.

Erasing and/or Memorializing

Posted in Uncategorized on March 9, 2009 by stephroush

In one sense Brian Henry’s Quarantine is a very traditional elegy, as if the speaker is writing out of that mythic Underworld that is the very origin of the elegy tradition. This afterlife/underworld is translated in his early realizations:

“I knew I had died and was dead
though thinking through where I was
as if the thinking could bring me
where death is not an is
instead of where I found myself
watching my wife and son without
seeing them beside me on the ground
but knowing they were there” (Quarantine 1).

Right now, I see the elegy form emerging out of the second strain of the mythic tradition. Structure and Surprise calls this a “surrender to the experience of loss” and “refusing solace in a structure that signals the triumph of death” (84). The surrender to the experience of loss is continually apparent for me in each poem or poem section. I see this in the speaker’s attitude of observation: “the moon / does not care about the bodies there / in that field on the earth at dawn / the moon cannot see and if / the moon could see it still would not care” (Quarantine 1). I also feel the way the speaker is cut off from everything “calls for additional mourners” simply through the dark atmosphere and then more directly in meditation of various losses (Structure and Surprise 83). This speaker seems to be attempting erasure more than memorializing. It might be part of a larger quarantine theme, but I cannot be certain at this point. The speaker certainly devalues his life and the bodies and feels that no one will approach their bodies with reverence, but rather the bodies “had been pulled from the trees / at the other side by the feet / by men in charge of clearing / the town of the sick the dying / the dead dead we were cleared” (Quarantine 4).

The speaker’s detachment is part of the new element Henry brings to the elegy. The speaker is part of what is lost, creating an elegy for himself, rather than an outside speaker looking into the loss through the poem. In addition to new grounds in the speaker, I think Henry plays with our expectations of what should/will be elegized. We are presented with this horrific imagery, cold imagery because the speaker turns away from his family and also feels turned away from. I hope that makes sense. What the speaker does elegize is his own life, but particularly a life that he did not live:

“I feel sad about many things my life
being the main thing
it lacks texture lacks matter
its arc like every other arc
I wish I had never had a son
sons always hate their fathers
I had no wish for a daughter
no wife no lover no no” (Quarantine 10).

I feel fairly safe in suggesting that a reader would expect the speaker to mourn the death of his wife and son and his place in that life, but that is not the case in the opening of Quarantine. So my immediate reaction to these poems in relation to the elegy tradition is that Henry conforms to the tradition in the second mythic strain. The speaker is immersed in loss and writes in an atmosphere that feels similar to Orpheus in the Underworld, but instead of memorializing the greatness of life, this speaker uses death to mourn his existence. I titled this post “Erasing and/or Memorializing” because I see both elements so far in the poems. I think that while the speaker attempts erasure of his textureless life his very voice and description becomes a memorializing of it.

Blog Group B: Post 3

Posted in Uncategorized on March 9, 2009 by karlakelsey

Quarantine begins with a landscape of death. What elements of the “elegy” do you see Brian Henry working with in this book? In what ways does he make these elements new? In what ways does he conform to the tradition as it has been presented to us in Structure and Surprise?