The Elegy – Part Two

I have been busy with a new online jewelry business at magicbeadstore.com, featuring gemstone jewelry handmade by my artist sister-in-law, Kitty. Here is my brief commercial!

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 Original designs, handmade gemstone  jewelry

Now that the site is up and running, I have a little more time, and I know a lot more (not enough though) about social media with its many possibilities.

In the meantime, I have had five poems accepted. The first two, “Weather” and “Walking,” appear in the recent issue of The Atlanta Review.

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      Atlanta Review, Fall 2016

Two more will appear in Alembic sometime soon, and the fifth, which is about my dear eight-year old friend, Eleanore (see her photo below), will be in the Broad River Review later this year. Also, of the many rejection notices, I received a few “redemptive” ones that had compliments or encouragement from the editors (see earlier blog post about redemptive rejections by clicking here.)

I am still thinking about the elegy as a poetic form. Prone to hero worship, I become enamored of writers who articulate things that I feel but have not been able to say. It is not unusual then that I am in love with Roland Barthes, who died in Paris in 1980, and who was gay, so I’m 0 for 2, no chance of reciprocity. But I am in love with the writing persona who engages me with thoughts that provoke and transcend my own. In my youth (college), I was beguiled by James Joyce. When my husband and I were dating, he was interested in Samuel Beckett, to whom Joyce dictated much of Finnegan’s Wake. We stayed up late at his house, sometimes all night, discussing the two of them, though my mother never believed that was what we were really doing. All three of them enchanted me: Joyce, Beckett, and my future husband.

I have been pondering why the ideas of Barthes are illuminated in my imagination, and the answer has something to do with photographs and the  elegy.

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               Photo: Cultural Services of the French Embassy

Photography interests me, though mainly its psychoanalytic components. To be the one photographed provides interesting psychological dilemmas. As Barthes points out regarding the predicament of being photographed, we want the photo to align with our “profound” self, and yet, he says, the opposite is true (12).We feel ourselves being “observed by the lens,” and then “everything changes.” We go into the process of “posing,” and then derive a different identity based on the “caprices” of the resulting photograph (10-11). He writes:

In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, and the one he [the photographer] makes use of to exhibit his art. In other words, a strange action: I do not stop imitating myself, and because of this, each time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer from a sensation of inauthenticity . . . I then experience a micro-version of death (13-14).

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                     Carla Blurred, 2016

Also, when we view photographs, we face new complications. While photographs offer a “presence,” they at the same time reveal an absence of the same presence. That sunlight no longer falls in just that way on the rose. The face of grandfather when he was young is not the face of the grandfather I knew, and grandfather is altogether gone, both the young one and the older one. The photo of St. Peter’s Square just after the rain reminds me that I am no longer there, and so on. When I view photographs of anything or anyone I have known, I feel an instant grief, even if it is in the background of what I consciously apprehend in the moment.

Of course, the opposite can also be true: the lost presence can be momentarily captured by the photograph, bringing joy, feelings of love, and fond remembrances.

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 A favorite photo with my friend, Eleanore.

I think most people viewing photos of loved ones try to put those feelings in the prominent interior place. Still, the sense of loss is inescapable, even in those moments, for the awareness of something being re-captured is evident. The photograph manipulates our sense of attachment to the person or place or object.

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    Ace: July 2001 – October 2015

While photographs produce feelings of grief for me, the elegy brings a sense of relief and resolution. I sometimes feel that nearly all of my poems are elegaic in tone. Those that are deliberate elegies attempt to reconcile the more profound losses in distinct ways. The photographic image creates a wound, partially healed by the elegy. The attempt to capture an essence in words as well as the outcome of the attempt bring the desired resolution, though, of course, not a permanent end to the grieving process.

Poetry is an apt vehicle for thoughts and perspectives about death, and I wrote about this as a guest blogger at writersite.org, writer Luanne Castle’s blog site. You can find it by clicking here.

That post emphasizes the number of poems about death in a commonly used academic anthology of poetry. Perhaps poetry reconciles us to an inner world that we cannot locate easily without it, due to its nuanced expression, its dreamlike quality, its connection to deeper interior places. Poetry gives me the feeling of being at a core place of being and feeling.

For more than these reasons, I connect photographs with the elegy, both conceptually and experientially. If photos remind me of losses, elegies give me hope in their attempt to, as Max Cavitch mentions, “apprehend the ultimate, most unknowable condition . . .”  He goes on: “Elegy is a genre that enables fantasies about worlds we cannot yet reach . . .” (1).

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated
by Richard Howard, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981.

Cavitch, Max. American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning From the Puritans to         Whitman. University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

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16 thoughts on “The Elegy – Part Two

  1. Wow, I just found this, Carla. Beautiful post. Yes, sad to see Acey here, but glad too. And what you say about photographs is so true. You remind me of something I recently read that I have not yet processed. I am reading a memoir called “Her” by Christa Parravani. Parravani is a photographer and photography professor who wrote about losing her identical twin (a writer). On Goodreads I read a review that fascinated me: “I randomly found this at the bookstore tonight. This is a memoir written by the photography teacher I had at Keene State Fall 2006. Each week in class we had to post pictures on the board for our professor (Christa) to critique. I was a student that one day surreptitiously in class took a picture of Christa while she was sitting on on the table hunched over. I posted this picture on the board and not until she had described the picture as showing a woman frail and sad did she realize it was a picture of her. She immediately fled the classroom leaving me (and the rest of the class) wishing the earth would open up and swallow me right then and there. Needless to say I got an A, and this story made it in the book.” What does it mean when we don’t recognize ourselves in a photograph?

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    1. What an intriguing moment! Thanks for sharing it. It must be strange to realize that she did not immediately recognize herself! Perhaps a splitting off from those emotions caused her to view herself differently than she later appeared to herself? Photographs haunt and fascinate me. So good to see you last week! xo

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  2. What a great post! My mind especially latched onto all the R. Barthes stuff about photos and posing. Writing is the same way. We “pose” for the reader, or pose different ways for different readers. Enticing for a lover, pristine for mom and dad, intellectual for a teacher, etc. Knowing that we have a reader changes us as we write what we write.

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    1. Thank you for reading the post! Yes, that is a good point, Jeannie. We have either numerous aspects as individuals or as one of my literature teachers said once, we all have “many selves.” One of the joys of writing is being able to adopt different personas for stories, a kind of role-playing sometimes, and others an expression of a part of our own identity. How do you go about considering the reader when you are writing something? Is the audience always in your mind?

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  3. I mostly write for my students these days, so my audience is mainly middle-class white people whose mean age is 85. My narrator is a blander version of my “real” self. I tell true stories, and since I read them aloud, they need to be quite clear. I think a lot about clarity.

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  4. Carla, from jewelry to photography and writing, you have many talents. You are quite right that poetry taps into an inner world that few other forms can do.. that is a one reason I take to it so readily. May your creative pursuits continue xx

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    1. Thank you, Christy! The jewelry is all due to my sister-in-law, who is a jewelry designer. I just do the mailings and the Shopify site. She is a remarkable artist! After teaching for more than twenty-five years, I am grateful for these years to do other things, and writing feels like the home-place. Thank you for your response!

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  5. So much to think about with this wonderful post (and the comments you and Luanne exchanged). This line: “While photographs offer a “presence,” they at the same time reveal an absence of the same presence.” I love old photographs, especially of my family and even more especially of family members long gone, many I never knew. The photos remind me that they once had a presence (such a presence that they begat a massive family tree) and I feel their absence, even if some of them died before my lifetime. I can’t help but wonder about them, what they were like when they were my age, etc. And now I think I understand why I am camera-shy. I have one mental image of myself which the camera usually gives the lie to. And then there’s that sense of not being authentic if I’m posing or being posed. Rarely, there is the candid shot that I’m drawn to because, while I know it’s me, I don’t quite recognize myself and, for some reason, I think that’s a good thing 😉

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    1. Presence and absence are certainly themes that I love to ponder, and photos are ways to do that. My mom put together a genealogy book related to her mother’s family, and she put as many photographs in it as she could get from family members around the world. It is a great gift to all of us who knew little about each other! The comments that Barthes makes about posing for photographs and the psychological dilemmas and situations presented by the camera are fascinating to me! Reading, books, photos, being the subject of photos: all of these things present opportunities for exploring identity, and also for much anxiety. :/

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Kourtney! I was delighted to be accepted by the Atlanta Review, and they were great with their interaction and responses. My sister-in-law is the brilliant jewelry designer. She comes up with something new every week!

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