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’.
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)
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.