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As though the ground were a long way down

Jill M Johnson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The poems in the creative dissertation, As though the Ground were a Long Way Down, examine various forms of loss, including failed romantic relationships, the deaths of loved ones, environmental damage, and loss of faith. The title comes from the last two lines in the elegy, "A Thin Parade of Ants," in which the speaker clings "to branches and wind / as though the ground / were a long way down," alluding to the human tendency to avoid facing our own mortality, and also alluding to the stage of grieving—somewhere between shock and acceptance—where we cling to the untenable position of not wanting to believe the one we love is gone, whether family member, friend, or even the ideal of God. Doubt and questioning influence the poems more than fiercely gripped beliefs, especially questions of how to carry on, can we still marvel at the world in the wake of loss, and why do we pretend as though mortality—our own reunification with the earth—were not imminent and inescapable. Although the word "elegy" derives from the Greek word for lament, these poems of bereavement do not reside solely in sorrow, nor are they quite eulogies. Just as they hover between denial and acceptance of death, they also hover somewhere between grief and praise. Forms include the sestina, antilabe, prose poem, modified sonnet, 2-column form, free verse, blank verse, elegy, and lament. Stanzaic forms range from couplets to tercets, quatrains, quintains, and up. Most of the poems are informed by close observation of nature, particularly the dark and rugged terrain of coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest, and they reflect the unexpected allure of a sharp, thorny, gray, rocky, and otherwise inhospitable landscape. As a whole, the collection hangs in the liminal space between anguish and wonder, almost as though staring deeply into the open wounds of loss, while simultaneously diving headlong into the ecstatic free-fall of breathtaking, glorious life.

Subject Area

American literature|Creative writing

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Jill M, "As though the ground were a long way down" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3618107.