top of page

Writing about Loss in Poetry

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

First off: Sorry the post is a day late! To log into my website I need a VPN (I live in China) and unfortunately VPN's have been acting up quite a bit the last few days (even as I type this my VPN has shut off). There a saying that when the VPN's aren't working there must be important meetings happening in Beijing. This happens once in a while, I remember one time I couldn't get a VPN to connect longer than around three minutes for about a week.

Onwards! I feel pulled to write about poems on loss today mostly because it seems like there's a lot more loss in the world with COVID, wars, poverty, wage slavery, etc.. Really just everything that's been happening forever around the world but seems to be crazier than ever now. It feels like we're all losing loved ones at a faster rate than we used to. I think the most common form of poetry regarding loss that people think of must be the elegy. It's iconic and we see it in high school classrooms all the time (looking at you, Lord Alfred Tennyson and your "In Memoriam A.H.H."). An elegy is used to speak of/lament/celebrate someone who has died. In a way, an elegy moves through the stages of grief with the speaker going from sadness, to in some way praising the dead, to finding some form of peace. It very much wraps grief up in a nice little bow that I find a bit too idealistic. The pleasant ending thing... isn't really my jam. It's not very realistic, people don't just stop grieving all of a sudden and continue on with their lives. Grief is something that is prolonged, and has periods of deep longing with valleys of acceptance between. It never really 'ends.' It's a bit of a somber topic, but I've found that some of my favorite poems commemorating those who have passed on are those that focus on a person and why they're missed, building on the places, expressions, experiences,etc.. associated with the person. For a great example, look at the heroic sonnets of Marilyn Nelson in A Wreath for Emmett Till. Might be a bit of an extreme example, but definitely worth a read. For this post, I want to talk about one of my MFA classes that focused on the Nirat form, which is a Thai poetic form that blends the longing of a loved one (usually romantic in nature) with a place that the speaker is currently in. A great example of original nirat's can be found in Poems From the Buddha's Footprint (it should be noted that this is, of course, my professor's book, and a great example of how making your own works required readings is one of the only ways to profit on poetry...**that's a comment on society, not the professor's hustle**). It should be stated that this form wasn't originally intended to memorialize the dead and that was, I believe, my own take away from and twist on the nirat form. I had a lot of fun turning these into poems dedicated to people in my life that have passed away, which sounds morbid, but really was a great channel for my emotions. When writing about someone who has died, this is my preferred method. It sort of entangles them in a moment. Here's an example of one such poem I did (and the first!): Sacred Monkey Forest Memorial

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary; tails

snail around each other, mocking my fingers

entwining exhale where you should be, inhale

grief rigid like roots all around entangled

in strangled struggle of hoisting, support, fall,

crawl. I imagine you, parachute angled

down, whole, runaway 82nd Airborne,

like long hair moss worn falling from twisted trunk

towers. Great Recycler gifting you rare form,

limbs re-attached from IED blast lost. We

would be elbow to hand locked saving you trip

-ping downstairs, my soles losing grip on algae

laced stone. Operation Enduring Freedom

superseded, compass set northwest to bathe

in the waters of Mother Ganga, threesome

dragon blessed peek-a-boo sunspots cleansing boy

fresh eighteen deployed, grandpa’s green beret bound;

girl mouth self-sewed shut, cursing polished belt ploys

and footsteps left-right timed fade. Washed to sixteen

green, we kick at each other’s calves, racing north-

east, ignoring fingers picking friends fur clean,

hands to backs to mouths and half-curious stares from white haired counterparts. Seven tiers of bricks

with statues all teeth and wings, us under glare now somehow palm squeezed to palm. Across the way, Hindu crested display of stone slabs weedgrown,

indiscriminate in mud-grass stabbed array.

I remember yours- white marble, shoulders round,

back straight, bound to grass uniform cut. Distant

smoke, five years awaited, monkeys gather round,

arms grasping their young, chins to heads pressed fervent. (This poem was published in My Glorious Quill anthology) What I really enjoy about this twist on the nirat is that it doesn't just limit the subject matter to a romantic interest, but to anyone that I miss in life. I've written a few others and consistently coming back to the structure that this form provides, in that it keeps me focused on bringing the person into a concrete place that I've been to and inserting the longing of their presence into that place. It adds a level of realism for me that I sometimes find lacking in my writing because the poem builds on real details of a place that I've been to. You guys should give it a try! Sometimes it can feel like shoehorning emotions into rhyme schemes or trying to force a happy ending on grief with other poetic forms, so I don't like to turn to the elegy or sonnet to discuss death. They just don't feel like they do the person who is the subject justice. Now, on to housekeeping... I went to a writing sprint again! Woo! But I had to leave early... In the end though I rediscovered an old story I used to work on and polished up a poem I had written a few weeks earlier, so it wasn't a total loss, I just could have done more.

About the beta reader, I was hoping to get back feedback today, but they asked for an extension into tomorrow. Guess I'll find out what my first non-partial reader thinks then! I'm excited! One poem, "Swimming" has been accepted into the Tipton Poetry Journal. To equal everything off, my poetry manuscript did get it's first publication house rejection from Tin House. They were my number one, so now my plan is to stop waiting and to start mass sending my poetry collection to places ASAP. I am in the process of brushing up 5 new poems to start circling around and am hoping for the best! 加油!Let's keep trying our best!

Here's some photos form my week! Until next time~ (I set up my PS2 and got my hands on some Chinese rations as well!)

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page