"Perimeters of Grief": Elegy in and out of Bounds in Fred D'Aguiar's Memorial Poetry
Keywords:mass death, school shootings, anti-elegy, sonnet, memory
While Fred D’Aguiar’s preoccupation with acknowledging the dead and honoring their memory gives his work an idiosyncratic elegiac quality, it is with the publication of the poetic sequence “Elegies”, from the collection Continental Shelf (2009), that the author overtly pitches himself in the traditional terrain of the elegy as a poetic genre. This sequence, a response to the Virginia Tech shootings (April 16, 2007), the deadliest gun rampage in US history to date, invites critical attention not only because it remains critically unexamined, but also because through its title it presents itself as an elegy when an anti-elegiac turn has been identified in modern poetry. This paper will explore D’Aguiar’s intervention in the debate surrounding elegy’s contemporary function as a genre which oscillates between the poles of melancholia and consolation, thus contributing to shaping the contours of an ancient but conflicted poetic form for the 21st century. I will be arguing that D’Aguiar’s poem suggests that for elegy to serve the troubled present it may benefit from the cultivation of an unembarrassed attachment to the deceased, from avoiding depoliticizing tragedy and from the exposure of its socio-historical underpinnings. In sum, it should be open to engaging with such critical issues as the struggles of collective memory, or the turning of grief into mass-mediated spectacle.