Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Fifth Committee Member
Number of Pages
Four Junes is a poetry collection of elegies and pastoral elegies that aims to discuss and explore the interconnectedness of the body within the frame of health and illness to the landscape of long-term and short-term dwelling and ideas of home. Through fractured frames of home oppositional in landscape and environment, the collection discusses how the body functions and exists in health and unhealth and explores the reactions and processing of half-deaths involved in cancer, and specifically, stem cell transplants as treatment for terminal illnesses. More specifically, the cancerous body and healthy body are contrasted to one another and considered as contingent upon the landscape. The land of the East coast is introduced and referenced as the original, sentimental home of farm fields, long beaches, and greenery, while also being considered the land of unhealth. In contrast, the land of the desert with its perceived barrenness is an unexpected oasis from unhealth, and though psychological and physical trauma manifests in the desert landscape, an aesthetic of lightness and peace pervades the poems. Lastly, as discussed through the perspective of a partner to an ill counterpart, the elegies attempt to walk the reader through the experience of illness and procedure through the lens of love and express what it means to love a body thrice plagued by illness.Four Junes began as two shorter projects: a series of elegies and a series of desert pastorals. In the Fall of 2021, I completed an independent study with Claudia Keelan in which I studied the form of elegy. I was interested in exploring and studying this form as my husband, Ray, underwent a complete stem cell transplant. In a stem cell transplant, every cell in the blood is destroyed in order for healthy cells to be pumped back into the body, starting anew. As a means of coping, I identified the procedure as a kind of death of Ray, a “half-death,” and expanded Ray to be a series of different men: the man before (the ghost), the man after, and the man now (the live man). To explore the idea of this half-death, and death of life blood, I turned to elegies for reinvention: to go beyond the traditional melancholic ode to someone or something that has passed from this life onto the next. I wished to explore elegy as the discussion of the in-betweens: deaths of what is known, splinterings of known lives, and change as the harbinger of loss and new life. In order to break away from the tradition of elegies like Milton’s “Lycidas,” Tennyson’s “In Memoriam,” and Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Doorway Bloom’d,” I began with constructing elegies in which the speaker addresses the “body before,” which would not exist the same after Ray’s procedure, and often diverging from the typical elegiac formula of an ending with consolation. Instead, the focus was on the continued question of the reality of existences, and how illness can reshape existence and cause prior versions of ourselves to be annihilated. Additionally, I did not want to adhere to the elegiac stanza that emerged in the 18th century and consists of a quatrain with an ABAB rhyme scheme in iambic pentameter, but instead, allowed for free verse to mirror the constant anxiety of illness and uncertainty of reoccurrence. Additionally, the collection includes a series of desert pastoral elegies. In January of 2022, six months after his procedure, Ray and I moved to Las Vegas so I could complete UNLV’s MFA program in person. I began writing a small collection of desert pastoral poems, adhering to the convention of exploring withdrawal from modern life to that of an idyllic, rural setting. Instead of the tradition of Theocritus’ romanticized shepherds, the poems’ speaker depicts life as a waterer on a cactus farm, and in the spirit of including the elegiac to the pastoral, the waterer acknowledges an undefinable grief tied to changes in love and home. In terms of the landscape, the poems have the intention of seeing the landscape as more than just a living entity, but one that, similar to Ray’s landscape, held trauma: scarring, flooding, periods of life and periods of drought, barrenness, and death. The desert poems encapsulate the continuation of our experience and compares the lifetime repercussions of Ray’s procedure with that of the cyclical trauma of the desert over differing seasons. There were four literary inspirations that aided in the composition of Four Junes. Larry Levis’ Winter Stars and Elegies were vastly helpful in my understanding of how elegy and pastoral can merge and provide an exploration of loss and landscape, in almost a dependency upon each other. Levis focuses much of his energy on the relationship with and death of his father, and how, often, there is an inseparable bond between his memories of his father and the landscape upon which he grew up. Being the son of a farmer, he often experienced his father within the lens of physical earth: dirt, crops, growth, and wither. While his father was young and healthy, Levis produced poems of brute- like health and good crop yields, and as his father’s health declined, one can see a shift in the perception of the landscape: land withering, dying, becoming incapable of producing fruit. As my relationship with Ray began upon a flower farm, Levis’ work was the perfect starting point for understanding how to view a relationship dependent upon the land. Second, I sought Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen to study the elegy and its possibility for intersectionality with landscape and mental health, and its relationship with memory. Nguyen discusses the death of her brother, who, before his death, cut himself out of every family photo, and how this lack of visual memory has affected the mourning process, stages of grief, and understanding of loss. I was struck by her effortless ability to craft a dichotomic discussion of the self and the other. There is a raw, vulnerable window into the grief and ache of losing and how it alters behavior as traumatic response, as well as a heartfelt dedication to re-finding and re-embracing the one lost and identifying the living remnants of the individual. Additionally, I was moved by the use of visual memory via the cut pictures and collage-shaped poems, and crafted section collages using my own visual memory elements from our experiences. Leila Chatti’s Deluge was wonderfully helpful in her discussion of unusual illness and, specifically, possible infertility. The key to her collection is that there is a professing of constant lightness to be found within the darkness of sickness and facing death, and I was inspired to use natural elements and the desert elegies as evidences of this lightness. Levis’ evocation of land, Nguyen’s vulnerability in loss, and Chatti’s hope found in illness all guided this collection into the direction of shades: darkness and lightness passing over the land as well as darkness and lightness passing over a body.
cancer; desert; love; poetry
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Brown, Sara, "Four Junes" (2023). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 4646.
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