Monday, May 23, 2022

"Why will you not speak?": Mourning in Denise Levertov and Denise Riley

Denise Levertov's poem "The Mourners" (from her 1984 collection "Oblique Prayers") concludes with an appeal to the mourned person whose body the speaker has been carrying through the poem: "Why will you not speak?" This same figure of asking the lost one to speak runs through Denise Riley's 2016 collection "Say Something Back", written after the death of her adult son. In "A Part Song", Riley attempts to "extort your reply" to her poems, while "Under the Answering Sky" speaks more generally for all mourners: "What do the dead make of us / that we’d flay ourselves trying / to hear them though they may / sigh at such close loneliness." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 May 2022)

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