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"THE NOVICE MOURNER"
Joshua McKinney, professor of English

IMAGE: The Novice MournerSince the musings of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, poets have embellished words in hopes of better coping with death. And English professor and poet Joshua McKinney is no different.

Only in writing his new collection, The Novice Mourner, McKinney explores whether there is an appropriate way to grieve.

"If I could figure that out then I would save myself a lot of … well, a lot of grief," says McKinney.

The sudden death of McKinney's father was a catalyst for the collection.

"This book was a way of coming to grips with that event, though not in a conscious way," McKinney says.

A son trying to achieve his father's approval is a prominent motif in the collection. But poems also delve into fear of dying, parental fears of losing a child and immortality. The eclectic collection includes free verse and prescriptive forms such as a sonnet, a rondeau, and a slightly modified villanelle.

"Forms can be tools. Sometimes you use a hammer, sometimes you need a saw," McKinney says.

In "Altered House," McKinney explores the spatial and physical adjustments experienced after loss by contemplating the loss of his cat. "For she was docile and could teach. / For she cannot creep. / Lounge-reading, I reach to touch / where her warm weight was."

Although about death, the collection is not morbid, sometimes capturing enthusiasm, joy and the discovery of youth. It won the 2005 Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize.

(BEAR STAR PRESS, 2005, $14)

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