Over the space of four and a half years, and through the pandemic, Norwegian poet Endre Ruset worked with UK poet Harry Man to write poems in memory of those who were killed during the tragic events of the Oslo bombing and the mass shooting on Utøya Island on 22 July 2011. Rather than write a conventional book of elegies, they were interested in preserving some of the values held by these young and politically active teenagers and young adults. They finally arrived at the idea of concrete elegies.
These poems, written in the shape of faces, draw upon a long history of traditional elegy that travels as far back as Virgil’s Georgics. Additionally, Man and Ruset blend found poetry from eyewitness testimony, court documents and material used in the 22nd July Centre in Oslo, so it is the victims and survivors who are brought to the foreground.
For the past ten years, the conversation around mass shootings has focussed on the perpetrators with little attention paid to the real human cost. One of the ways in which we might begin to repair that damage is if we refocus our attention on the world around us – we turn to poetry in times of extreme emotion for this purpose; to help us to make sense of what Douglas Dunn referred to as the otherwise ‘resistant’ subject of grief. This book's intention is to continue that longstanding tradition of empathy and to exercise poetry's capacity to remind ourselves that even in our individual solitude, profoundly, we can still share in one other's humanity.
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