Sunday, 20 October 2013

Death Is Not The End

Remembering the late American poet Rachel Wetzsteon, Adam Kirsch reflects on an immensely promising career cut short:
The manner of her death—she committed suicide, on Christmas Eve—has had the paradoxical effect of making her at once better known and less understood. More people have probably heard Wetzsteon’s name after her death than while she was alive; the poet-suicide is an archetype we understand all too well, and she seemed to fit it neatly. Yet this fame, such as it is, has not yet provoked much serious critical attention to her poetry. (In 2009 the New York Times published her obituary, but it had not yet reviewed any of her books.) Even now, the sense lingers that Wetzsteon’s work is not complete, that it is not yet time to start assessing her achievement. To acknowledge that in fact her achievement really is complete, because there will never be much more to her body of work than we already have, is thus a recognition of tragedy. But it is also a recognition of Wetzsteon’s success. For the truth is that, in her four books, she established her mastery over a style and a set of themes in a way that only true poets manage to do.
David Yezzi ponders the effect of Wetzsteon's death on the poems she left behind:
Some poems grow on us over time; others are diminished. Occasionally, we embrace a poem beyond criticism, beyond its value as literature; we internalize it for its life-value. Some poems synchronize with our breath, take root in our hearts, where they assume a private and indelible meaning. Death is not the end when a poet dies. What we dearly miss is everything they have to tell us about the minutiae of life, about head colds and deadlines, restaurants and articles, embarrassments and triumphs. And gossip, always gossip—about our doings and others’. But the poems keep talking. They talk with even greater clarity and power, in fact, because they are no longer in process. They are finished. Yet like all good art, they continue to unfold, have things to say, even new things to say that we hadn’t heard before.

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