Traveling Elegy: Expansive Approaches to Loss in the Poetry of Agha Shahid Ali

Rossini, Maria, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ramazani, Jahan, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

Because he writes on memory and loss, Agha Shahid Ali’s elegiac poetics is often described as coming from a place of trauma. However, I want to explore his elegy as “traveling” rather than “traumatized,” as he mourns productively across borders of place, time, and culture. My approach to “traveling elegy” is informed by memory studies scholar Astrid Erll and her idea of “traveling memory” in combination with Jahan Ramazani’s idea of “traveling poetry.” Both memory and poetry, they argue, arise from movement and merging, an idea that I apply to Ali’s approach to elegy. In this thesis, I look at three poems—“The Dacca Gauzes,” “Lenox Hill,” and “I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror”—to examine how Ali uses traveling to mourn a lost cultural artifact, his mother, and stability in South America. In my reading of “The Dacca Gauzes,” I investigate the relationship between material and poetic memory since Ali is mourning a specific artifact as well as a cultural mode of production that has been lost. “Lenox Hill,” a canzone, prompts questions about the relationship of form to the process of mourning in elegy, and shows how Ali uses repetition to mourn. Finally, in “I See Chile in my Rearview Mirror,” a poem mourning the political instability of Chile and environmental destruction of other Latin American countries, I examine how Ali mourns the loss of a culture that, unlike in “The Dacca Gauzes” and “Lenox Hill,” does not belong to him. Each of these poems provides an opportunity to ask questions about elegy as a productive mode of mourning that responds to a network of loss with a network of memory.

MA (Master of Arts)
elegy, poetics, Agha Shahid Ali, memory, traveling, poetry
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