Sometimes a book finds you at just the right moment. There have been a handful of these in my life before, but Bianca Stone’s second collection of poetry seemed destined to find me when I needed it most. Of course, I didn’t know when I pre-ordered the collection based off the title and “Introduction” alone that the book would arrive the same week my grandmother died. Or that I would hold onto its pages like a life raft through the waves of grief as I tried to cope with a loss that I hadn’t been prepared for, no matter how long it had been coming. The Möbius Strip Club of Grief functions not only as a transcription of bereavement, but also as an exploration of poetic legacy, the gothic, and a family history.
They say don’t judge a book by its title, but—as a relative newcomer to contemporary poetry—I’m guilty of just that sin. Stone’s title is an homage to her grandmother, Ruth Stone’s poem “The Möbius Strip of Grief”, and it’s funny how something so simple as adding the word ‘club’ creates both a unique setting and a new tone for the author as she works with and against a legacy of poetry and family grief. There is no foreword, but many of the chosen blurbs touch on what makes the book unique among its contemporaries. John Ashbery, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1976, is quoted on the front and back of the cover, and says, “[T]here is nothing tranquil about these poems or the state in which they were written.” And there’s a lot of truth to that. Many of the poems I’ve read about death or mourning are sorrowful, weeping things that drip off of the page like too many tears; Stone’s words rip through your heart like the first time you hear that a loved one has passed. They are sad, heartbreaking, funny, angry, and every other state of the supposed stages of grief that one is supposed to go through but not contained in any order.
The work overall may be dealing with grief, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t humor. Death and the darkness it brings with it, also serves to point towards the light. A lot of the humor is contained in the first section of the book, dedicated to the setting of the “MSCOG”, its workers, and their loved ones. The dead are frequently in some kind of state of undress but, rather than being bothered by it, Stone makes the imagery mundane and almost empowering. Grandma, whether she’s meant to represent Ruth Stone or not in this setting, flits throughout the poems of the collection that’s dedicated to her.
The second section of the collection takes readers out of the MSCOG setting and more directly into how the Stone family was affected by the loss of Ruth. Some of the poems, such as “How Not”, directly address the stages of grief and how Stone felt about them. There are four elegies dealing with swearing, cliffs, gangs, and clothes. Many of the poems permeate with the sense of knowing, but not remembering that someone has passed. Stone literally raises her grandmother from the dead in several of the pieces, but nothing ever goes back to the way it was. Stone’s lines have a way of reminding readers that, even after death, the memories never leave us, but rather than this being a comforting image it’s literally haunting.
While many of Stone’s poems are not expressly written as the personal, it’s hard not to read them as confessions, imaginings, and renderings of her own grief on the page. Yet, Stone makes her own grief universal in a way that speaks to new readers who are looking for something beyond the traditional gothic flourishes. She brings her familial experience and pain to the surface and, in doing so, shares with the reader her own catharsis so that they may reach theirs. The Möbius Strip Club of Grief is more than a peep show into despair; it’s a journey through family bonds, death, the poetic legacies of Sexton and Dickinson and Ruth Stone, blue jays, the concept of genius, self-destruction, motherhood, and much more. Stone pays tribute to those who have come before her while carving a new place for her work in the genre. From one grieving granddaughter to another, Bianca Stone’s work should be part of any bereavement basket.
My favorite poem from the collection “Making Applesauce with My Dead Grandmother” can be found here.