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Writing the Self-Elegy

Writing the Self-Elegy

The Past Is Not Disappearing Ink

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Edited by Kara Dorris


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About the Book

An innovative roadmap to facing our past and present selves
Honest, aching, and intimate, self-elegies are unique poems focusing on loss rather than death, mourning versions of the self that are forgotten or that never existed. Within their lyrical frame, multiple selves can coexist—wise and naïve, angry and resigned—along with multiple timelines, each possible path stemming from one small choice that both creates new selves and negates potential selves. Giving voice to pain while complicating personal truths, self-elegies are an ideal poetic form for our time, compelling us to question our close-minded certainties, heal divides, and rethink our relation to others.
In Writing the Self-Elegy, poet Kara Dorris introduces us to this prismatic tradition and its potential to forge new worlds. The self-elegies she includes in this anthology mix autobiography and poetics, blending craft with race, gender, sexuality, ability and disability, and place—all of the private and public elements that build individual and social identity. These poems reflect our complicated present while connecting us to our past, acting as lenses for understanding, and defining the self while facilitating reinvention. The twenty-eight poets included in this volume each practice self-elegy differently, realizing the full range of the form. In addition to a short essay that encapsulates the core value of the genre and its structural power, each poet’s contribution concludes with writing prompts that will be an inspiration inside the classroom and out. This is an anthology readers will keep close and share, exemplifying a style of writing that is as playful as it is interrogative and that restores the self in its confrontation with grief.


Kara Dorris is an assistant professor of English at Illinois College and the author of When the Body is a Guardrail and Have Ruin, Will Travel.

Contributions by: Carol Berg, Lauren Berry, Sheila Black, Bruce Bond, Kristy Bowen, John Chavez, Juliet Cook, Adam Crittenden, Jehanne Dubrow, Floydd Michael Elliott, Rigoberto González, Stephanie Heit, Kasey Jueds, Anne Kaier, Catherine Kyle, Teresa Leo, Denise Leto, Raymond Luczak, Jennifer Maritza McCauley, Kyle McCord, Rusty Morrison, Naomi Ortiz, Carl Phillips, Kevin Prufer, T.C. Tolbert, Tanaya Winder, and Jane Wong. 


“In this anthology, poets mourn the selves they used to be or never became. While some interrogate and confront, others introspect and reflect on those lost selves. Whether it's a memorialized moment or a choice that pivoted a life, each of these voices is listening to the past and speaking back to it.”—Traci Brimhall, author of Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod 

“‘What if?’ This is the question that productively drives this engagement with the self-elegy: somewhere between dream and selfie; with bodyminds shifted, twisted and nailed. The poets in this book engage their form with elegance and ultimate joy in their acts of creation. They also invite you into their fold: each poet offers prompts to the reader, as well as essayistic thoughts, de-mystifying and re-mystifying these acts of (inter)corporeal magic.”—Petra Kuppers, author of Gut Botany + Eco Soma: Pain and Joy in Speculative Performance Encounters 

"Underscoring 'agency,' 'multiplicity,' and 'other,' a trifecta of inter-related themes that remain central to a broad array of negotiating Disability experiences—both individual and collective—the 28 poets in this iconoclastic new volume edited by Kara Dorris bring the self-eulogy into palpable distinction for a new generation of readers and writers. Negotiating temporal transformation while centering body-mindedness, authors both emergent and well-known cohabitate to contribute boldly to a global and local burgeoning Disability and Crip poetics movement. Writing the Self-Elegy is an aching palimpsest, a vibrant hologram, and an uneasy anthem that unapologetically defies categorization with its secular grace. I trust this book—including its badass triumph over inspo-porn—will find accessible homes and meaningful engagement in imaginations, conversations, and classrooms everywhere."—Diane R. Wiener, author of The Golem Verses, Flashes & Specks, and The Golem Returns, and Editor-in-Chief of Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature