The Treasure’s Never Where I Look to Find it
A Feature Review of
Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems
Ursula Le Guin
Hardback: HMH Books, 2012.
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Reviewed by Caitlin Michelle Desjardins
I’ve been contemplating the shape of the soul lately. Death does that to us and in the circle that is my life, a child has recently died. So I’ve been thinking about the soul: where does it reside? What shape does it take? Where does it go? I’ve turned first to the poets, for I’ve found that the poets—Irish mostly, with a dappling of American (for who can truly contemplate soul without a sincere nod to Mary Oliver’s Bone?)— are invaluable companions in this journey of contemplation and wonder. If anyone has influenced the shape of my thought on the shape of the soul, it has been John O’Donahue. The soul, he says might after all not reside inside the body. Perhaps, instead, the body resides inside the soul. And perhaps the soul is not fixed, but fluid and tendrils of this soul in which I live can reach out towards other souls, be they souls of winged birds, aging oaks, little children or lovers.
With this image of the soul in my mind, I found myself opening the new and definitive collection of poetry by a woman known to me previously as a fiction writer: Ursula K. Le Guin. I sensed an appropriateness that she would find her way into my hands just now, for her fiction—mysterious, imaginative and elegant—has taught me a great deal about being, about names and dragons, and that which we fear and love. Until now I have not known that Le Guin as a poet, but in fact the front matter lists 11 previous books of poetry and it is clear in the first half of this book that poetry has been as much a mainstay for Le Guin as fiction, though she isn’t as widely known for it. I confess, too, that though I may not judge a book by its cover, I have been known to judge one by its title! Finding My Elegy gripped me from first glance. Le Guin, now into her 80’s, is just the sort of sage whose elegy, ‘a poem of serious reflection,’ I suspect will have words both disturbing and healing. My premonition proved correct.