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Poem begins with grief, ends with the NewsHour

Dan Chelotti’s poem “Grieving in the Modern World,” was published in his first book of poetry, “x,” published by McSweeney’s. Read the text of the poem below.

We caught up with poet Dan Chelotti at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Minneapolis in April. Later we asked him what gave him inspiration for his poem “Grieving in the Modern World.” Here’s what he wrote to us: “I wrote this poem in between classes I was teaching at Elms College. I was sitting in my office and I was humming Billy Bragg and Wilco’s version of Woody Guthrie’s song for Ingrid Bergman. I started to write with an image of Ingrid Bergman in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ in my mind and I let the language lead me to the tiny heartbreaks of the end of the day, and how we cope with them. I love the feeling of not knowing where I am going when writing, of not knowing where or when the poem will end. I never thought I would end a poem with NewsHour, but it was what this poem needed.”

“Grieving in the Modern World”

When someone died
in ancient times, say,
in a battle, or from
a thorn and the lack
of penicillin, the women
were said to let their hair
down. Their grief freed
them. Over time, this
custom was lost, and is
now represented by
over-edited movie
scenes where a woman
cuts her own hair
in a fluorescent bathroom.
The cut comes out uneven
but cute, striving after
Ingrid Bergman in
For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Woodie Guthrie also spent
a lot of time striving
after Ingrid Bergman.
He kept a broken watch
in his pocket to symbolize
how time stopped when
he saw her. Woodie Guthrie
never got to use that line –
but he did, for a time,
save the world. It would
seem fitting to let my
hair down to show how sad
this makes me feel,
but the microwave is
almost finished heating
my dinner, and News Hour
is about to begin.

Dan Chelotti is the author of “x” (McSweeney’s). He is an Associate Professor of English at Elms College, and he lives in Massachusetts.

This video was filmed at the AWP Conference & Bookfair. Special thanks to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

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