Six books that explore loss through poetic means ‹ Literary Hub

When my father committed suicide in December 2009 and I felt lost in grief, I found myself reading many books to better understand my experience. In the middle of reading, I also started writing. The work I did in this first period became Sinkhole: A Legacy of Suicideeven though it took me a few years to conceive the book and many more to finish it.

Over the next ten years, I studied grief as both a reader and a writer. Grieving is a messy and complicated process, which is not easy to tell. In my own writings, I was often bewildered by the task. As a reader, I was sometimes frustrated with how certain books made the story arc too slick, too sentimental, too melodramatic, or too wordy. As a first-time poet working in prose, I wanted to cling to lyricism, I wanted to embrace brevity, and I wanted to express emotion in as succinct form as possible.

Here are six books by writers with similar goals, books that explore loss through poetic means, and books in which I have found solace, inspiration, and profound instruction.


Catherine Savage, Frosted glass: a test
(coffee press)

In this highly lyrical and nuanced book-length essay, Kathryn Savage mourns her father’s death from gastric cancer as she searches for answers in the trash of a polluted industrial site in Minneapolis where she grew up. What begins as a personal investigation quickly broadens into a fuller ecological investigation conducted by a writer with a fierce and painstaking attention to language. Savage uses extensive research and journalism to study brownfields and the Superfund site in his commentary, but much of the book’s power points inward, giving readers an intimate insight into the flexible, authoritative spirit of the writer.

Mourning sequence

Prageta Sharma, Mourning sequence
(Vague Books)

Mourning sequence, Sharma’s third collection, traces her husband’s short-lived battle with cancer and the year after his death. Sharma sifts through the rubbish of her lost marriage with surprising candor, revealing both anger and anxiety at her husband’s absence. Although the book marks the stages of Sharma’s grief, time is confused in the narrative and grief is depicted as a complicated and fluid state. “I was a fringe cord stuffed with storytelling,” Sharma writes at the start of the book, “and with sensitive throbbings of sentimentality in search of a plunger: I probed each lyrically tangled course, unfeminine but finding solace in her sewing.”

Me, the beyond: Essay on the time of mourning

Krista Prevallet, Me, the beyond: Essay on the time of mourning
(Test press)

Written over a period of six years after the death of his father by suicide, Krista Prevallet Me, beyond is an unflinching look at the grief and confusion often felt by those who have committed suicide. Prevellat, known for her experiments with form, builds in this work a narrative from fragments, alternating between the language of a police report and the lyricism of poetry, embodying the entanglements to which Prevallet refers in his definition of the elegy: “The afterlife is a tidy bundle that presents a simple truth,” she writes. “Elegy is the complexity of what is actually left behind.”

Sorrow is the thing with feathers

Max Porter, Mourning is a thing with feathers: a novel
(Graywolf Press)

The beginnings of Max Porter Sorrow is a thing with feathers– part fable, part novel, part essay – chronicles the years following the tragic death of a woman from the alternate viewpoints of her children, her husband (a scholar of Ted Hughes) and a crow who enters the home and helps guide the family through their lives. sadness. Crow speaks in a sort of poetic verse and ties together this weird and fantastical story, which also happens to be an in-depth examination of heartbreak. Insanely inventive and difficult to characterize, this book will be of particular interest to readers who are fans of gender experimentation.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Notes on bereavement

Written in the wake of the death of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s father in 2020 (at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic), this stripped-down, meditative book focuses on the early and acute stage of bereavement, which is often difficult to understand and deal with. describe. Adichie approaches the subject of her father with the eye of a novelist – painting a vivid and loving portrait of her father both as a character and as a man – but she also employs lyricism in her search for the language of her pain “How is it that the world goes on”, she writes, “inhaling and exhaling without change, while in my soul there is a permanent dispersion?

Victoria Chang, Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence and Grief

Victoria Chang, Dear Memoir: Letters on Writing, Silence and Mourning
(Milkweed Editions)

In her first non-fiction work, poet Victoria Chang Dear memory explores the connections between grief and memory in a collection of found letters, poems and collages. Chang writes about his mother’s death, his father’s dementia, and his family’s struggle to talk about trauma, racism, or their past. Chang’s letters question this inherited silence by directly addressing the ancestral dead of Chang. She writes to ask questions that have become urgent following the death of her mother. Chang’s text is interspersed with striking collages that use family photographs, handwritten documents and dialogues that make for an unforgettable reading experience.



Sinkhole: A Legacy of Suicide by Juliet Patterson is available through Milkweed Editions.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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