Obit by Victoria Chang

“The obituary writer said that the obituary is the moment when a someone becomes history.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 115 pages.
Read from September 10, 2020 to Sept 14, 2020 and from November 19, 2020 to November 27, 2020

The beautiful thing about reading is that it plays many roles and serves a multitude of purposes. Reading allows everything from escapism to learning, opening up your mind to a new world view or a way to open up your heart to feelings you’ve compartmentalised. Especially good poetry, that seems to be its specialty.

“The way grief is really about future absences.”

p. 18, Obit

I can’t remember how I found this book. It feels like it found me. The first time I read it was nearing the one year anniversary of a death that I had still hadn’t come to terms with. I read the book, noted its form, and enjoyed its content. I even related to it but it wasn’t enough to pull me out of the protective grief-shell of denial I had surrounded myself in. The second time I decided to read this book, the anniversary was fresh but had passed but something had changed in that time. It’s like I was finally able to process some of my grief because just enough time had passed making the pain less sharp. I was able to drop my shell, just a little bit.

When I revisited this book for the second time it was with unclouded eyes and a heart that was little bit more open to the pain and beauty it would bring.

The way our sadness is plural, but grief singular.

p. 32, Obit

Obit is written in the style of a newspaper obituary with each section detailing the death of the author’s mother, the grief and pain of her father’s dementia, as well as parts of herself as it too died. Written in the freshness of the loss of her mother, Victoria Chang spent the next two week putting her grief and all of her losses into words in the form of obituaries. Having now lost both of her parents, her father first, her words carry the weight of the author’s loss. She discusses the shared familiarity of sadness yet the loneliness of grief. The otherness she shares with her family and her friends as well as the discussions she has with her children take shape within the poems. She also discusses the loss of different parts of her father literally as well as through carefully thought out metaphors as she slowly loses the man she knew to dementia.

It’s true, the grieving speak a different language. I am separated from my friends by gauze. I will drive myself to my own house for the party. I will make small talk with myself, spill a drink on myself. When it’s all over, I will drive myself back to my own home.

p. 23, Obit

Maybe that’s what happens when language fails, a last breath inward but no breath outward. A state of holding one’s breath forever but not dying.

p. 20, Obit

This small book of poetry sums up grief in a concise way that really only those who know loss will understand. It’s healing and refreshing to know that though our grief is unique and can’t be shared at least there are some relatable features in its loneliness.

The men had dug up the dirt stood with their shovels and waited. I looked at their eyes for and sign of drowning. Then I noticed that one man’s body didn’t have a shadow. And when he walked away, the grass didn’t flatten. His shovel was clean. I suddenly recognised this man as love.

p.22, Obit

The format that Chang has chosen takes on a numb familiarity which not unlike the numbness that comes with the immediacy of fresh grief. The writing feels formal like an obituary but is the opposite of many obituaries in its honest emotion.

Like grief, the way it dangles from everything like earrings. The way grief needs oxygen. The way every once in a while, it catches the light and starts smoking. The way my grief will die with me. The way it will cleave and grow like antlers.”

p. 50, Obit

Chang acknowledges how grief changes a person, how there is no going back from this loss that feels so earth-shattering and how grief becomes this ever changing omnipresent entity in your life that you have so little control over.

To acknowledge death is to acknowledge that we must take another shape.

p. 28, Obit

I don’t remember the last time a book of poetry so aptly captured such raw feelings, especially my own. Chang writes in such a concise and visceral manner that makes her approach to grief accessible for even those who are stone-resolved in denying it. Chang’s work is a stunning tribute to grief. It’s personal and intimate yet highly relatable. I would recommend this book to anyone going through the grieving process, no matter where you’re sitting with it.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.”

4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 138 pages.
June 9, 2020 to June 11, 2020.

I was gifted a copy of this book from a friend who could passionately recite lines of the poetry composed inside of it. She spoke so eloquently that I was instantly hooked by the words and wanted to read this book for myself.

The author, Kahlil Gibran, was an American-Lebanese poet who is most known in the English-speaking world for this book and has become one of the best-selling poets of all time. Even though many of Gibran’s works were not originally written in English, this one included, his execution and skill lend itself wonderfully into English translation, giving the feeling that you are reading the story as it is meant to be read. The Prophet was published in 1923 and has since had more than 163 different editions in print.

The prophet Almustafa is about to leave the city of Orphalese where he has lived in exile for the last twelve years. Its people are saddened to see him leave and ask him to speak before them before he leaves them. Each chapter is a poetic essay in which he speaks on a variety of topics, from love, religion, prayer, marriage, death, pain, children, and more.

The simplicity, wonder, and beauty of the advice that the prophet gives is one that transcends any religion or belief as it touches the root of human experiences. Each topic touches on something that is uniquely human and are situations and qualities that we can all relate to.  The chapters are accompanied by Gibran’s own artwork bringing to life the words in each chapter. He was a man of many creative talents.

“Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”

This book, in some ways, is what poetry should be. It’s not complicated, you don’t have to decipher its meaning, and its content is accessible by everyone who wants to read it. Poetry often gets a bad rap for being highfalutin and pretentious making it a genre of books that many people don’t want to read or haven’t enjoyed reading in the past. Gibran had humble beginnings and his work is a testament to his humbleness. Poetry can be resoundingly beautiful, soul-touching, and thought-provoking without being complicated. The Prophet and its popularity is a testament to that.

The Prophet is also the type of book that can be revisited numerous times as its words and lessons never lose their potency and can serve as wonderful reminders in times of difficulty or uncertainty. I particularly enjoyed the sections on love, marriage, children, pain and death and I am sure will serve as helpful reminders when I need them. This is also the type of book that doesn’t need to be read in entirety or in one sitting, as each chapter is unique and can stand on its own. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is apprehensive of poetry or for someone looking for inspiration in everyday life.