The elegy is the traditional poetic form of mourning. Many poetry anthologies suggest that this literary form consists mainly of white male poets who mourn the deaths of other white men. In this seminar, therefore, the aim is to investigate the history of elegy in order to uncover the voices of women poets and poets of colour that have accompanied the predominantly male genealogies of grief expression. Many of them have, as Eleanor Perry points out in her study Radical Elegies (2022: 16), been treated like “illegitimate children” that are “disinherited from the elegy’s family line”. Reading a selection of elegies from the sixteenth century to the present, this seminar will contextualise poetic expressions of grief and mourning within the history of the emotions, paying attention to the question whose lives have been regarded as worthy of being mourned and whose have been excluded. Drawing on a broad definition of elegy, we will investigate various types of grief expression and loss, for instance the death of a loved one; imaginations of the afterlife; reflections on mortality; loss through separation, estrangement or exile; loss or destruction of nature; loss of identity or culture; loss of the self; and the viewing of the dead (body).
Recommended reading, in preparation for the course: Eleanor Perry: Radical Elegies: White Violence, Patriarchy, and Necropoetics, (London: Bloomsbury 2022) and Diana Fuss: Dying Modern: A Meditation on Elegy, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013). Reading materials will be provided online.