“Grief is the Thing With Feathers” by Max Porter (Review)

{ my rating: ★★★★ }

Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter is a collection of prose poetry that chronicles how a widower and his two sons cope with grieving after their wife/mother passes away from a sudden home accident. The husband, the two boys, and their bizarre counselor—a crow—narrate through three stages: immediately after her funeral, months later, and then to the point where the boys seem to have endured the most difficult part of the grieving process.

Positive Aspects:

The poems between the narrators vary greatly in terms of voice, syntax, and tone. This helps ease us into connecting with each narrator while also offering different perspectives about the wife, life, accidents, and many other topics according to the age and wisdom of each narrator.

For example, the boys have a combined view that they expected the world to respond like humans respond to death on television, with sirens and chaos and an endless amount of people watching in shock and huddling around them, but Crow offers blunt reality, which means even those who were close do not mourn much for the dead.

The most fascinating figure of the collection in my opinion is Crow. He’s a metaphor inspired by Ted Hughes’ poetry collection Crow, but what he’s a metaphor for is up to interpretation. Maybe the boys lost their minds when they woke up the first day after her funeral, paralyzed by the fear of all their Mother would no longer be doing or saying, which therefore drew Crow into their grieving process as an imaginary shrink. Or maybe he just is the personification of grief. Whatever he is or whatever he isn’t, the truth is that Crow is most certainly the golden character in the collection.

He recounts stories about his own history on par with the dark fables of Greek and Norse mythology, tells the boys to rebuild their mother as best as they can and he will bring the best one to life only to laugh at their faith, but he remains the most beautiful part of the collection because of his undying devotion to getting the boys through the grieving.

Dad and Crow were fighting in the living room. Door closed. There was a low droning cawera skraa, caw, cawera, skraa and Dad saying Stop it, Stop it, caw, craw, and hocking, retching, spitting, bad language, cronks, barks, sobs, a weird gamelan jam of broken father sounds and violent bird calls, thumps and shrieks and twinging rips. 
(pg 40)

The father is the second best golden character. Though he tries his best to move on as everyone advises him to, grief manifests in deeper and different ways through his entries, ways that made me wonder if grief is more painful for men to endure than for women. His humanity and quiet honesty made for a near instant connection.

Negative Aspects:

My single complaint would be that the poetry has a time problem. You’re never quite certain what is fact, what is currently happening, what pieces of narration are from a future point, and how much time passes between each piece. The result is that there’s a distance between what the reader feels and what the characters feel throughout the entries.

A second read through did help me put my finger on the shifting time between the three sections, but for the average reader or for a person new to modern poetry, it may be nearly impossible to grasp onto something stable while still understanding the poetry.

Conclusion:

Grief is the Thing With Feathers is a powerful collection of prose poetry that captures the most poignant and painful moments a grieving family goes through. Some snippets are so powerful that they can drive you to tears, but don’t let the brevity of the collection fool you: this is not a collection to read quickly.

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