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“Without a Philosphy” by Elizabeth Seydel Morgan

While pondering the distance between the vertical six feet of physical separation between the living and the dead, Elizabeth Seydel Morgan has written a beautiful book of poems titled, Without a Philosophy. With exquisite details, Morgan equates death and violence with the ordinary gardening life and struggles with birds and weeds as well as louvered doors and walking to Mexico. The slant that Morgan takes with each poem, to get at the different aspects of enduring life with grief, are enlightening, brilliant and somber. Morgan uses three separate sections within this book of poems to take the reader through the experience of knowing a loved one is dying and grieving with and for them. Showing various stages of grief and acceptance, Morgan also takes care to highlight the struggles of stagnation within the grieving, how life becomes stale and the body seems immovable while also exploring the feelings of transience of self, life and love. One of my favorite poems is “Shutters” (10):


Through the slanted louvers, light

cracks the shadowed room; October

Sunday afternoon asserts its life.

Slats of brightness on your blanket

insist the sky outside is cold blue.

Your cheeks would redden like leaves

if only you could rise and come outside.

We could breathe bracing, electric air.

We could walk,

walk fast to keep warm

because there’s a chill out there in the park

though the grass is still green

and most of the trees here in Louisville

haven’t faced the fact of frost. I can’t sit still,

leafing The Times as you lie there.

Its pages litter the light-barred floor.

But who am I to feel so stuck inside,

for we both know the truth

that when we were young I spent

so many golden Sunday afternoons

in shuttered rooms. Crack a cold beer

and oh how we loved shutting out the sun,

some football game droning

its thudding plays beneath our breathing.

Morgan distracts the reader with the fascination of the negative and positive perspective of the light that leaks through the louvers of the shutters and onto the floor. This surprising focus is jarring as the simple “light-barred floor” brings up thoughts of being imprisoned by a death sentence for both the person dying and the person living. She alludes to the self imprisoned choices we make to hole up in the house watching sports or other things instead of living life outside in the sun and how that can be a lovely security and a missed opportunity. The ambiguities within this poem are just enough to allow it to speak to most everyone who has dealt with death.

After reading through these poems, highly recommending the book to everyone is a logical next step, as most people have dealt with death in their lives, or will. This is the kind of book that will allow you to take your unique grief experiences in conversation with Morgan’s poems about her experiences and though you won’t find answers to the tough questions, you will find comfort in viewing your own experiences from new perspectives. Morgan is masterful with discussing the tabooed macabre from a slant that engages all senses by the time the final poem is read, ironically leaving the reader feeling very alive.

Recommended by Julie Dymon

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