Jasper L. Edwards
Poetry is the art of exploration, examination, and observation. Each reading is influenced by the coming together of the poet and the perceiver.
Possessing a capacity for capturing the small moments of beauty and expansive areas of insight, poetry is an art form that embraces and conveys emotions and defines events. Highly personal and yet universal, writing the obituary poem offers a chance to create work concerning the greatest topics: the nature of existence and the meaning of a particular life. It touches upon memory, death, belief, longing, and our interconnectivity.
The Poetry of the Obituary
Call it funereal, eugenic, memorial, or obituary, the form of the poem that we currently often read at funerals comes from a type of folk poetry called the obituary poem that reached the zenith of its popularity in the US in the late 1800s. It is centered on the story of the death of an individual or a group of people. It is explicit in naming and discussing death and often seeks to console listeners with images of life after death.
The Well of Emotion
Creating a funeral poem can be artistically rewarding and emotionally compelling. The vital elements are insight and heartfelt feeling. If you express yourself with integrity in regards to the subject, then that is the core of the work. That said, it can be intimidating to begin on a topic that allows such a breath of scale. Here are some ideas to get you started on creating your work.
Of Visitation and Creation
- Exploration: Jot down special memories, feelings, escapades, significant sayings, quotes, and mottos. Let your ideas and memories come, and don't censor anything. Examine the lessons that emerged from difficulty. Dig deep to discover the humorous, the heartfelt, the quirky, and the dynamic. What makes the subject uncommon or universal?
- Purpose: What do you hope to communicate to the audience? What is the reason that you are writing? It is helpful to have a specific goal in mind. It is fine if the goal is emotional catharsis, closure of the ties that bind, or commiseration with other survivors. It can simply be to commemorate a loved one's life.
- Viewpoint: Does your poem concern the life and legacy of the individual? Dwell on how he lived or the cause for which she died? Seek to console the bereaved or to redress an injustice? Explore ideas of an afterlife or reincarnation or the legacies that we leave behind? Examine the meaning of existence and our time on earth?
- Tone: It may seem odd to think about tone when writing poetry on the subject of a human being's exit from this world. And yet, if you can think of a mood, there is a fine bit of verse celebrating or exemplifying it. Sadness, grief, rage, despair, yes, these all come to mind. However, many people have requested that Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" be played at wakes, memorials, and tributes, and this might be interpreted as proof that the philosophical discourse on death takes many forms.
- Space or Place: Will you be creating this verse for your eyes only? Reading it aloud at a memorial service? Is this going to be shared at a Celebration of Life Ceremony or passed among friends gathered at the local pub or will it grace a Facebook page?
- Time: The element of time is a natural thought for all that is eulogistic. Celebrating and memorializing a loved one often touches upon the temporal. And you may want to keep time in mind when creating the poem. In a ceremony where you will be the chief eulogizer, a longer work may be the right thing, with a shorter piece perhaps not feeling quite complete or leaving a period to be filled in the service. However, if you will be reading as part of a larger ceremony, then brevity can be the right call for the work.
- Intimacy: A funeral poem can feel like an opportunity to claim or cement bonds with the deceased. It can be natural to want to share intimate memories. And this can be a beautiful thing. But keep in mind that relationships are often fluid, quite complicated, and it can be useful to ponder how much you want to disclose, and how your audience may interpret your sharing.
- Form: If you can conceive of it, there is a eulogy-inspired verse created in that style. That, or you are going to write it now. To bring the content into form, take your notes where you captured scenes, words, and wisdom and merge them with your techniques of function and form.
Of Visitations and Creations
Here are some ideas to help you think about how you are going to craft the piece. You have an artistic and poetic license to engage with:
- Free verse: Poetry without constraints or the structure of a consistent metrical pattern or rhyme scheme, but which possess the power of passion and freedom to go anywhere.
- Blank verse: Words crafted with a specific meter that usually avoids rhyming.
- Rhyme: Showcasing rhyming sounds, often at specific positions.
- Narrative: Starring the standout element of the story. The how, who, where, and why that we find fascinating.
- Jisei: Influenced with Buddhism and Shinto philosophy, often in the form of haiku or tanka, it contemplates one's approaching end, employing metaphor rather than directly referencing death.
- Ode: A tribute to a person, place, event, or experience.
- Lyric: Immortalizing an individual, with an appeal to the emotional.
- Ballad: Whether in musical or poetic form, the ballad sings with storytelling, often following a pattern of rhymed quatrains.
One of the greatest honors that you can bestow is crafting a poem commemorating a special individual.