Ordinary Mourning

In some ways, the title of Carrie Shipers’ ABZ First Book Poetry Prize-winning collection may be somewhat misleading, for the impression one gets while reading her poetry is that there’s nothing ordinary about mourning. Indeed, throughout this haunting volume, the work of mourning allows for the most extraordinary of revelations about the relationship not only between the living and the dead, but of that between the past and present as well. And while Shipers concedes in poem after poem that the dead are always with us, their power over us is never as strong as we might guess: “They thought they’d have more courage, the power/to disrupt our crowded world. They thought/we’d pay more attention, be easier to anger/or dismay,” she writes in a poem titled “The Unseen Ghosts.” Elsewhere, she invokes both fictional and real-world spirits whose anguish lingers but whose influence over the living fades with each passing day: firearms heiress Sarah Winchester, victims of the 2006 Sago mine disaster, and Hank Williams, to name just a few. We live alongside the spirits of the past, Shipers insists on every page, and we all must, on occasion, mourn the dead. Yet the point of mourning, for Shipers, is ultimately to move on, to allow the dead to find their own peace while the living do the same. Reverent and, at times, chilling, Ordinary Mourning offers a poignant meditation on the razor’s edge that separates each moment as the present passes irrevocably into history.

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