Using poetry to help you survive the endless season of grief


The season may be turning to spring and a sense of optimism, but for many Canadians, it’s more an endless time of grief. The pandemic has seen to this on a variety of fronts, and people have learned to live and function under what appears to be a never-ending cycle of sadness. Capturing the messaging, or putting one’s finger on the subject can be difficult, but award-winning Canadian poet and writer Gianna Patriarca, does so in her latest tome, To The Men Who Write Goodbye Letters (Inanna), a small, compact selection of poems that draws attention to the ever-shifting world of grief through a Canadian perspective.

Patriarca, who has written extensively on such common threads including books featuring short stories, poetry, fiction and non-fiction, reflects on death in its relationship to the times we are living in today, through passionate passages that lay bare the pain of loss and lost chances. Of not having opportunities to say goodbye,  says the author, and connecting in a way to the world we are all living with today.

When asked why she wrote her latest book, Patriarca says “it came out of three years of losing people I loved and respected, from a couple of friends taking their own lives, to my mom and my aunt and uncle’s death all in one year, as well as the death of my first love, poet Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, and of (Chef) Anthony Bourdain.”

Patriarca explains in a recent interview that pain was “haunting” as the deaths came one after another, but she did not want to turn her book into a “maudlin tragic exercise. I didn’t want it to be academic and analytical. I wanted to make it beautiful as these people were in life, to give loss the poetry it deserves and not always the sadness … loss is something none of us can escape and what we do with it is up to us.”

Can poetry thrive in this day and age? Patriarca says poetry is the new vehicle to send out the message. She talks about her earliest poetry influences during her university years,  of attending readings by well-known Canadian authors like Irving Layton and Margaret Atwood, and later still,  being influenced by the work of poet Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, who, “opened up a whole new world of literature for me.” Later came the masterful works of writers such as “Blake, Pavese, Pasolini, Scotellaro, then the Americans like Plath, Anne Sexton, Nikki  Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks and the Canadians, Leonard Cohen, Gwendolyn McKewan, Dorothy Livsay … I read them all, always trying to find my voice in my own words.”

Her voice can be heard in her latest book, where there is a comforting familiarity in the stanzas – of streetcars running east and west along Danforth Ave., of losing favourite poems once written along the lake in northern Ontario. The book is pure Patriarca, offering comfort through words written during this season of grief.

“Loss continues, but so does hope, and hope will get us through this,” adds Patriarca.

Check or your local bookstore for more details. To reach the author, visit

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