Publication Details

Jacklin, M. R. "'His Grief Is the Plague': poetry of loss and the risk of losing one's readers." Australian Literary Studies 28 .4 (2013): 79-89.

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The book Lalomanu (2010), by Jorge Salavert, is a collection of poetry written in response to the death of the author’s six-year-old daughter Clea, one of the victims of the tsunami which swept ashore in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga in September 2009. Lalomanu is a deeply moving account of grief and mourning, a book that its author knows will be too painful for some to read. As Salavert points out in his poems, most people he knows seem afraid of his grief; they are unable to respond to, or acknowledge, its intensity. And yet, in its expressions of grief and mourning, Salavert’s poetry also has the potential to move readers in ways that extend far beyond the personal. From one perspective, this selection of poetry can be read as part of a substantial discourse of literary response to calamity and natural disaster, especially following the tsunamis of 2004 that swept the Indian Ocean, and the more recent tsunami that struck Japan following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. From another viewpoint, the poems are significant as migrant literature for what they have to say about language and mourning. The majority of the collection appears in English, but a number of the poems appear in bilingual form, either Spanish and English, or Catalan and English, and this multilingual format is especially important in relation to this poet’s mourning. Also, I want to draw attention to the social actions and outcomes related to both the Salavert/Wykes family’s loss of their daughter Clea and the book Lalomanu. This essay, then, will be organised in three sections: the first will consider literature and mourning; the second, mourning and language; the third, the social engagement resulting from a literature of mourning.