The Contemporary English-Canadian Elegy

We Are What We Mourn

The first book on the Canadian poetic elegy challenges all previous ideas about the purpose of mourning.

Why are so many contemporary poets writing elegies? Given a century shaped by two world wars, vast population displacements, and shifting attitudes towards aging and death, is the elegy form adaptable to the changing needs of writers and audiences? In a sceptical age, where can consolation be found?In We Are What We Mourn Priscila Uppal examines why and how the work of mourning has drastically changed in the latter half of the twentieth century, focusing on the strong pattern in contemporary English-Canadian elegy that emphasizes connection rather than separation between the living and the dead. Uppal offers a penetrating reading of Canadian elegies that radically challenges English and American elegy traditions as well as long-standing psychological models for successful mourning. She sets up useful categories for elegy study – parental elegies, elegies for places, and elegies for cultural losses and displacements – and suggests where elegy and mourning studies might be headed post 9/11.

The first book on the Canadian poetic elegy, We Are What We Mourn challenges all previous ideas about the purpose of mourning and will intrigue anyone interested in how mourning shapes cultural identity.

(McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009)

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“Uppal has made an important contribution to studies of Canadian literature, the elegy, and contemporary mourning practices…Uppal is perfectly suited to make this contribution. A successful poet herself, she is a careful and elegant reader of verse, and a scholar who has obviously read across Canadian literary history, and theories of mourning and the elegy…Uppal’s argument throughout the book is consistent and persuasive. It is also productive: she shifts through thousands of poems about death and loss in order to discover how they might also be about life and hope, about connection rather than separation.”

–Moberley Luger, Canadian Literature 

“Uppal brings the critical acumen of a writer of poetry and fiction herself to imaginative and insightful readings of poets as disparate as Milton Acorn and Anne Carson and as relatively similar as Patrick Lane and Al Purdy. We Are What We Mourn gives provocative critical shape to an important body of work.”

–Leslie Monkman, professor emeritus, Queen’s University

“[A] bold and much-needed first step towards enlivening this lamentably neglected tradition…We Are What We Mourn represents the first book-length study of the English-Canadian elegy, offering readers a compelling survey of selected poets’ elegiac works since 1967…I hope Uppal’s groundwork will inspire new interest in the Canadian elegy.”

–Matt Kennedy, The Dalhousie Review

“[A] fine book on contemporary English-Canadian elegies…Uppal has a keen and sympathetic understanding of these contemporary poets. She writes a full and wide-ranging chapter on each of three kinds of elegy: ‘elegies for parents, elegies for places, and elegies for cultural displacements’.”

–Tracy Ware, Canadian Poetry 

“Her readings of individual poems are interesting and full of fascinating historical details, offering a meaningful engagement with elegy as a stand for continuity with the past…a compelling way of viewing the poetry…includes particularly interesting discussion of the Canadian long poem and the long elegiac sequence…These are all fine readings that can stand well as explications of the thematic threads in Canadian poetry.”

–Karen Weisman, University of Toronto Quarterly