The Poetry of Death

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I attended a writers retreat recently. The instructor was poet Erin Hollowell of Homer, Alaska. Her forthcoming collection of poetry is about the death of her mother (and sex, for counterpoint). She mentioned she is almost fifty and had never experienced the death of someone very close to her.

You might think she would consider herself fortunate, but she lamented that generations younger generations had also not experienced deaths of a loved one early in life when they could become accustomed to it. So far, I am included in that number.

Since we no longer experience high rates of childhood mortality and accidents that kill still youthful adults, are we more sad and less willing to accept death when it comes to someone close to us? Are we grateful we got as much time with them as we did? Often people who have a long lifespan may have a short health span. At the end of their lives they might spend a decade or more sick or immobile. In those cases, the bereft may be less mournful when the sufferer is gone.a

Many people who object to lengthening the human lifespan point to those years of ill health, assuming a longer life mean a longer period of time spent sick. Proponents point to advances that are alleviating or curing aging related illness and even stopping cells from aging in the first place.

For my poet friends, will advances in medicine make poetry about death nearly obsolete, with only a small audience to appreciate it? What would that be like?

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