GRIEF SONGS: A BOOK REVIEW

Grief Songs is a beautiful and haunting collection of poems that has left an indelible impression on my soul.

The book pays homage to the author’s parents, Elliot and Katherine as well as her brother, George. All deceased. The heart and essence are within the minutiae of the detail of each poem; where the everyday objects or events become increasingly poignant and resonate with vitality, a life lived, a life no longer except within memories of a few. Memories such as the crooked smile of her father, the perfect portrait of the siblings, ‘his (her father’s) precious angels’ who are immortalised in a click but belies the earlier unruly behaviour of the children when:

‘George had cried piteous tears
while I railed against my bangs’

A doll during a seaside outing is recalled in the stark awareness that:

‘just Lulubelle and I now
detritus of a beach day’

Each poem within Grief Songs is preceded by a photograph and coupled with the poem these become a powerful and emotional combination.

Grief Songs I, II & III consists of one striking poem each. The majority of the poems in the book are tankas within the Poems of Love and Remembrance section. Tankas are a Japanese form of poetry, a type of short song, over five lines with a 5/7/5/7/7 syllable count format.

The hypnotic poems take on a life of their own as familial love, warmth, kindness and care is recalled. Liz’s mother is described with the memorable and striking words of:

‘for a time she stood fearless
my protector, my mother’

One of the later poems summarises her mother’s life in:

‘sixty years safe under glass
minutes tucked into envelopes
decades left in dresser drawers’

The book is a tribute to her parents, their early life, family trips, love for her brother. An early poem describes how the siblings are enjoying a day on the beach, ‘no diagnosis / his arm around her shoulders’. Another photo and poem describe ‘George Gauffreau enjoys a Coke/classmate, friend, brother deceased’.

Katherine, Elliot, Liz & Geoge Gauffreau at Hannaford Cove Beach in Cape Elizabeth, Maine – photo courtesy of the author, with thanks.

I am deeply moved by the profound inner landscape captured within the ordinary days of family life. Remarkable moments mulled over time. In one poem, entitled ‘Time’, Liz fondly remembers her father’s story-time and her mother’s words of ‘wait till your father gets home / not a threat but a promise’. A father one senses is a hero for young Liz who, as a two-year-old, sits beside him, pen in hand as he writes his sermons. ‘oh the places she will go’. For now, she is happy to be close to her father and recalls on her confirmation day that there is ‘more time with Daddy for me’.

Liz Gauffreau’s book dares to directly approach an emotion that in modern society is often not acknowledged; the universal experience of loss is one of the rawest and most absolute of emotions and one that has become increasingly sidelined in search of ‘happiness’.

Not by Liz Gauffreau who in response to her own close personal losses in life decided to highlight the contradiction of grief. Where dark and light coexist on an existential level, where memories blend with the present, a buffer for living with intense and overwhelming grief. The transient nature of life is explored through these snapshot moments, caught in the black and white of photographs, in the black of the text, through colour images. The memories are retrieved, examined and shared in the most tender and thought-provoking poetry.

Ultimately the book becomes not only a study of Liz Gauffreau’s grief but also of one’s own as well as one’s identity upon losing those closest to us.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Paul Stream Press (September 2021)

Available: Amazon US Kindle $ 2.99 Amazon US Paperback $ 10.57
Amazon UK Kindle £ 2.16 Amazon UK Paperback £ 3.84

About Liz Gauffreau

Elizabeth Gauffreau writes fiction and poetry with a strong connection to family and place. She holds a B.A. in English/Writing from Old Dominion University and an M.A. in English/Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire. She is currently the Assistant Dean of Curriculum & Assessment for Champlain College Online, where she is an Associate Professor. Her fiction and poetry have been published in literary magazines and several themed anthologies. Her debut novel, TELLING SONNY, was published by Adelaide Books in 2018. Liz lives in Nottingham, New Hampshire with her husband.

Read more about Liz Gauffreau on her website and blog. Connect with Liz on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest and BookBub.

122 thoughts on “GRIEF SONGS: A BOOK REVIEW

  1. Am I late to the post on Liz’s book? Yes, and I apologize; I was away when this one came out and am just now catching up. But I’m so glad I’m here now. Liz, this book of poems sounds so authentic and intense and REAL. As Annika says, in our culture we try to ignore/sideline/deny grief, loss, pain. Yet we all experience it, and writing about love and loss and hope is a beautiful way of celebrating the souls we have known.

    1. Never too late, Pam! 😃 Thank you so much for your thoughtful words and I’m touched how you note that ‘writing about love and loss and hope is a beautiful way of celebrating the souls we have known.’ So true and Liz brings such warmth, love and immediacy to her sadly departed family members, the detail touching one’s soul, the emotions universal.

      Pam, I am sorry for the late reply as I am still away … and loving every amazing moment of travel once again! Hugs 🤗 ❤️

  2. Hi Annika. I wholeheartedly agree “…an indelible impression on my soul.” I love Liz Gauffreau’s writing in general. I was deeply moved by this book. I also found it relatable, helping reflect on personal experiences. Thank you for sharing an excellent, comprehensive review of “Grief Songs.”❤️

    1. Erica, I am not at all surprised you’ve read this book and found it equally relateable. It has stayed with me since the review and helped me find light within losses in the family as I recall the small details and events from the past. Thank you for your kind thoughts about my review – it means a lot to me.

      BTW, it is wonderful and a joy to see you on my posts – thank you! hugs xx 🤗❤️

  3. Hi Annika, this sounds like a beautiful collection of powerful poetry. I understand the emotions of this, having lost my parents and a brother in the last 3 years. Memories are so important when this happens. I don’t read a lot of poetry but this is the kind I would definitely relate to. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Barbara, my heart goes out to you and your close losses these past years. You are always such a positive person, ready with a smile and helping hand for us even through your own traumas and grief.

      Liz’s collection of poetry is incredibly touching and soothing, their depth growing with each reading and one I am sure would mean a lot to you.

      Take care, my friend xx

  4. What a thoughtful review of Elisabeth Gauffreau’s book Grief Songs, Annika. Like Cindy mentioned, I felt like I was reading with you, and got a very good idea of where Elisabeth was writing from.

    Grief and loss are things that are very hard in life for many of us, and it sounds like Elisabeth doesn’t hide from it, instead acknowledging it as a part of life that should be accepted and talked about. As you said, emotion isn’t often acknowledged in modern society and it’s time it is acknowledged more and not ashamed of. Sometimes it’s hard to revisit such difficult memories but it is these memories that help us to appreciated the people we have or had, and move forwards.

    1. Mabel, thank you so much for your insightful and thoughtful comment! Liz’s book is uniquely wonderful in its own right and also how it makes us think about our own grief and how such an emotion is viewed in society. Memories are so precious and everyday I recall little snippets of close family members I’ve lost. When talking to others about them I wonder will this be considered upsetting, should one ask first? A conundrum.

      In ‘Grief Songs’ Liz directly addresses the memory, the emotions intertwined – incredible revelations, powerful writing that one wants to savour over time. It means a lot that you felt you were reading the book with me.

      1. It’s such a good question, talking to others about people whom are no longer around. It’s such a sensitive subject – but I guess some times are better than others. Enjoy your day, Annika 🙂

  5. You really gave justice of Liz’s book Annika. I felt like I was truly reading the book right along with you as you shared some wonderful snippets that were so touching. This is beautiful and captivating and I’m sure she’s thrilled. 💖👏👏👏

    1. Cindy, bless! Thank you so much for your wonderful comment and it means a lot that my review carried you along with the book. There were so many quotes from the book which I’d highlighted to share and had trouble choosing just these few. This is definitely one of those books that stays with the readers long after reading it. ❤️

  6. Annika, your review of Elisabeth Gauffreau’s book “Grief Songs” is wonderful and deep. Your words have convinced me to buy it soonest. You introduce and review the book with such tenderness and clarity. The poems included give me a strong sense of reading more.

    Grief is indeed a subject that so many in the Western world find difficult to talk about which make it so much harder to go through and gradually heal.
    You say “the universal experience of loss is one of the rawest and most absolute of emotions and one that has become increasingly sidelined in search of ‘happiness’.

    The love and light in the family is wonderfully highlighted by the chosen poems and through your
    review. how wonderful it is to grow up like this and so hard is the loss.

    miriam

    1. Miriam, thank you so much for your thoughtful and heartfelt comment – I am touched that my review nudged you to buy the book and I am sure you will find it equally rewarding and enriching. If there was tenderness in my review this reflects the tenderness and poignancy of the poems

      The small selection of poems I shared gives a great sense of what to expect and it was difficult to restrict myself to just these few lines! Yes, the light and joy shine out from a wonderfully close family life yet equally the sadness of loss felt ever more keenly. The book balances both perfectly and reminds us to live anew through our memories!

      Do let me know your thoughts on the book when you’ve read it if possible. ❤️

  7. Pingback: Ekphrastic Poetry: Photos inspire Poems | Mary Clark, Writer

  8. This is such a lovely review to share, Annika. Bravo to Liz!
    The lines “minutes tucked into envelopes, decades left in dresser drawers” are so powerfully penetrating, one can only pause to fully embrace its bounty. Breathtakingly beautiful.
    Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Heartfelt wishes to you both. xo

    1. Natalie, I took many such pauses to ’embrace its bounty’ of the poems! I love your description of them as ‘powerfully penetrating’ and ‘Breathtakingly beautiful’ – have you read them yourself? As a wonderful and gifted poet yourself, I am not surprised you can appreciate the depth and profound nature of just a few lines quoted here. Thank you so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment here. Wishing you a great start to February. xx

  9. GREAT review, Annika. The way you give us snippets really helps to get a feel for the book. This seems quite personal as a tribute to the parents, yet universal enough with the topic of grief. 🙂

    1. Exactly, Yvette! 😀 The universality of grief is something we all will experience and it is captured beautifully through these very personal tankas. It was difficult to choose which snippets to share here as I had saved so many! Thank you so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment. xx

    1. Carol, it is indeed inspiring and offers hope within the darkness of grief through the memories. The book reminded me of your Mourning Has Broken and my review of it in 2016 … it takes courage and conviction to write such personal yet universal books.

      1. Thanks for thinking about my book, Annika and your review of it. Gosh has it been that long! As I read your review of Grief Songs I was also thinking about Mourning Has Broken. Writing about our griefs helps us process them and keep our memories alive.

    1. Thank you, Luanne. Grief Songs rightly deserves to be widely read and your review captures the personal yet universal aspect perfectly and I like how you’ve pointed out that it can be ‘enjoyed by poetry newbies and aficionados alike’. So true!

  10. I just finished reading Grief Songs yesterday. The tanka form was an inspired choice by Liz. Your review captures those moments of connection, of loss, of hiding pain, and enduring love in these poems.

    1. Mary, it is fascinating how some forms of poetry suit one piece of work better than others. I’ve never tried to write a tanka – it was ages before I even tried haikus. It takes a gifted writer to portray so much within just a few lines – Liz is a natural. I’m glad you found so much within my review of Grief Songs. The sense of enduring love is the constant light throughout!

    1. Jo, thank you so much for your lovely comment … there were so many snippets I wanted to share and had to restrain myself from adding more! The promise hinted here is definitely fulfilled when reading the book.

    1. Jan, it is a very special book and one I think you would find rewarding and enriching read! Good to hear it’s on your radar. The numerous other great reviews definitely tempted me to buying the book!

  11. Annika, thanks for this beautiful, heartfelt, and soul-searching review of Elizabeth Gauffreau’s poetry collection. Loss and grief are shared human experiences. Grauffreau reveals that holding on to the gift of the life once shared with our departed loved ones makes all the difference in our healing process. The verse “decades left in dresser drawers,” when referring to her mother’s life, brings to mind so many memories of a woman’s life.

    1. Rosaliene, thank you so much for your profound comment and your words about the review mean a lot to me. The light within the healing of grief through the concentration of the gift of life truly makes this a remarkble and precious collection of poems, showing us a path to living with grief. The quote about the ‘dresser drawers’ was my favourite tanka in the book – the first time I read it I just had to stop and absorb the universal truth of the words – incredibly powerful.

    1. Jacquie, at first I’d been hesitant in reading the book as I thought it would by heart-wrenching … in the end it is actually heart-warming and life-affirming. I think you would find it an enriching read. Many thanks for your lovely comment.

      1. After losing my dad and grandparents it took time to look back on the many memories with light and love more than pain and loss. I can see how this collection is a road to recovery.
        Congrats to Elizabeth on treading that path ❤

  12. A wonderful review, Annika. You always do such a wonderful job with these. “I am deeply moved by the profound inner landscape captured within the ordinary days of family life.” That was my response to this book as well. Liz’s grief songs are so personal, yet intensely relatable. Congrats to Liz for the beautiful book and review. 🙂

    1. Diana, exactly! I was not sure what to expect before I started the book and was floored by the personal yet universal message within the poems, how each small detail was instantly relateable, how there was joy within the knowledge of grief. A joy to review here and like you there was so much of the book I wanted to share I’d underlined half of the book! In the end had to restrain myself to the few lines here. Your review captures the essence of Grief Songs exactlyand beautifully — how true that it is ‘poetry that speaks to the heart’. ❤️

    1. Khaya, thank you very much! 😀 I never imagined I would be reviewing poetry books when I started blogging and writing book reviews … actually your ‘Seasons Defined’ was my first poetry review. 😀 It is wonderful how the friendships here take us down roads we never imagined! ❤️

    1. Balroop, thank you so much and it is fantastic the emotions the collection evokes within the readers – a book I will be returning to often! I remember your special and thought-provoking review well and how true that it reminds us to ‘reflect on how each moment of life is precious’.

    1. Darlene, I’ve already read it a few times and I can see myself returning to savour it many times this year – and seeing something new each time. She captures the duality of joy and pain exactly and shares it beautifully.

    1. Norah, exactly apart from the fact that the poems open up so many questions … what exactly happened, why those emotions?? I’ve been reading about many more tackling memoirs in poetic style and I think that sounds very exciting!

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