A Conversation with Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.

Eugene Ostashevsky and Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. at Music & Literature:

Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr., would seem to write discrete lyrics but no reader gets far in her work without succumbing to an overwhelming sense that a quest is relentlessly underway. It’s a quest that can only be fathomed through a total immersion in history and landscape and immediate psychic needs of those en route: kids out for a journey to the east, soldiers heading into death, the somewhat hidden but ever present presiding consciousness of her two long poems, Series India and Salient, the poet herself as a pained and adamant devotee to some ancient faith on a pilgrimage to the edge of the abyss. The immersion is at times so deep that we might doubt the existence of the wisdom that the figures in her poems are in search of and that the poet herself feels an unassuageable need for, and yet the force of the imagination brought to bear on this imperative for transcendence, and the acute mastery of cadence, phrasing, and image, make us want it too: to see the other side of death, to feel within ourselves some ecstatic completion.

Her first book, Series India, reveled in the counterpointing of two realities—that of the naïve and pained journeyers with that of an uncompromising narrative intelligence devoted to the divine. The book moves back and forth between the authentic pains and foibles of the partially informed on a spiritual spree, and the informed curiosities of a poet deeply at home in thinking about ritual practice, worship, and yes, the fate of the soul.

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