On Mariela Griffor’s “After Death”

On Mariela Griffor’s “After Death”

How can a poet depict grief without sentimentality? What is the best way to employ journalistic detachment while still carrying the power of nouns, of details, the weight of the fact, in the work? How can such “weight” effect the reader’s emotion?

These are the questions every writer struggles with. Each poem, if it is a successful poem, provides a different answer. Here is a short piece by Mariela Griffor:

After Death

They opened the door,
she saw their faces
covered with white feathers.
The long honey hair
strewn, on the floor.
The long curls –
she saw the sea
algae along the coast
of the Pacific Ocean.
“I want to be someone
else, but keep my dress, I want my dress
my shoes and my pink underwear.”
A flood of tears
fell through their eyes.
They tried to hide them.
They didn’t say one
word as they finished shaving her
imperfect round head.

Is this poem an elegy? Or is it a kind of pastoral where the drama of the situation is the field of our recognition, a fact is an imaginative place, and the readers, faced with these facts, are given the weight of emotion itself? A good poem leaves one with more questions than answers. In a good poem, the fact opens us up to a kind of mystery we thought facts should solve. “Only feeling survives” the test of time, Mr. Ezra Pound has taught us. And, his friend Dr. Williams, asserted that in poetry there are “no ideas, but in things”. The poem at hand, with its detached, rather cold final image (“they didn’t say one / word as they finished shaving her / imperfect round head.”) seems to give a voice to these formulas, going above them. We are given cold facts, yet it is a living emotion that stays with us when the poem is finished.

What is the secret of avoiding the sentimental in poetry? Perhaps the secret is understanding that sentimental = crying in front of the reader. Whereas emotional = making the reader herself feel those tears. This is what drama does: it shows us life on the stage; the emotions after the performance is over, are all ours.

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