Mary Jo Bang

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Bang, Mary

Last Updated: Aug-02-2009
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)


Elegy is a poetic journal, comprised of 64 short poems, describing the year following the poet's son's death. Ms Bang's 37 year old son, Michael Donner Van Hook, died in June 2004 in lower Manhattan of an overdose of prescription medications. Giving herself a year to write the poems in Elegy, Ms Bang submitted many of them individually and then published them in the current monograph form in 2007.

The elegy is a poetic form going back over 2500 years and originally consisted of elegaic couplets, alternating lines in hexameter and pentameter. Traditionally they were initially used for lament. Since the earliest Greek and Roman poets, many poets have written poetic laments, very few of them any longer in elegaic couplets. The most famous elegies in English have been Milton's Lycidas, Shelley's Adonaïs, and of course Tennyson's In Memoriam. Modern poets writing elegaic poetry include Heaney, Hardy, Stevens, and Plath, the last particularly when writing about her father. 

Ms Bang's Elegy, written for her son, is a powerful collection of individual poems, not a long flowing poem of parts; it consists of mainly short poems rarely exceeding a page in length, with the exception of "The Opening", four pages long. She often addresses her son directly.  All the poems depend on tropes that recur frequently, e.g., clocks and numbers to discuss hours and time, the cycle/circle of past/present/future (in this case, a non-future) time; the irony of the cyclical nature of memories but not the physical presence of her son's ashes in a box; many Classical mythical figures; dreams; the sea; and the interplay of vision, glass and mirrors.

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