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Telling My Father

James H Crews, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Telling My Father is a collection of poetry that interrogates the personal grief of losing my father to a prolonged illness and losing a lover at nearly the same time. The collection does not merely portray the emotional aspects or images of these losses, however. Instead, by utilizing the lenses of spirituality and a close connection to the natural world, Telling My Father explores the ways in which memory never quite leaves us as well as how we refuse to examine our own mortality. Part One of the collection, with poems like "My Father Asks for One Last Thing," "Wanting It Back," and "Telling My Father" (from which the book's title is drawn), dwells mostly in the realm of the past and memory, while capturing the aftermath of my father's sudden death. Part Two of the book shows two men falling in love and the dissolution of that love in poems such as "While You Were Sleeping," and "After Love." This section also sees the speaker of the poems turning more toward considerations of the numinous with playful yet serious poems like "God Bud," "God Spot," and "God Particles," which were heavily influenced by the work of Connie Wanek and Louise Glück. The poem that ends this section, "When I Think of the End of the World," marks a clear turn toward the environment, and what follows is a sequence of what could be called "ecopoems," or poems that find interconnectedness and consciousness in all parts of nature. Especially with pieces like "As You Label It, So It Appears to You," the poems in Part Three suggest that the concept of "God," or any higher power for that matter, remains vacant without an accompanying awareness of the role of the natural world in our emotional lives. Here, a reader might again sense the influence of Louise Glück, especially with her collection, The Wild Iris, as well as the mark of contemporary poets such as Jane Hirshfield, Tom Hennen and Gary Snyder. The particulars of human drama seem kept at a distance in this section, at least until "How Light Leaves," which reaches back again to memories of my father's illness and the moment of his death. Part Four suggests a total integration of the various threads in the book, with ecopoems like "On a Hike" and "Before Language" linked to pieces about the now-distant loss of my lover and a few last elegies for my father. This collection of poetry, though it does tell much about my relationship with my father, also does its best to resist any easy conclusions about what can comfort us during the most difficult times of our lives.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Crews, James H, "Telling My Father" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10042196.