“A tempest threw a rainbow in my face
so that I wanted to fall under the rain…”
that is the complication…”
“…i’ve given up my claim on
so that i won’t be immobilized by my own light…”
“…So when He had descended thus
into our persons and the grave
He broke the limits, opening the grip,
He shaped of every sepulcher a womb.”
The Paraclete Poetry Anthology: Selected and New Poems
Author: Various; edited by Mark S. Burrows
Published: 2016 | Paraclete Press
Length: 186 pages
We have spoken of art as a means to enrich the imagination as we turn towards God, allowing us to connect with him more honestly and with understanding. Religious poetry shapes us in this way also, if not even more directly. Hopkins, Donne, Dickinson, and many of the Romantics–who even without intension speak of God’s world as if stripping a veil–have been my gateway to a sacramental appreciation for life. I would like to think that spiritual sensitivity did not end with them.
I have such difficulty appreciating modern poets–and by modern I refer to anyone within the last 100 years. I love poets of bygone eras because I understand the main message after a first reading while they still blossom under continued scrutiny. Too often I attempt to read either poems whose meaning is obscured by experimental zest or whose regurgitation of previous thought reads like a nursery rhyme. Along with other art forms of the age, the theme is so often political or a result of pervasive Nihilism that even those I grasp in message do not resonate within the depths of my humanity. In contrast, the Paraclete Poetry Anthology introduces quiet souls of recent days with the gift of illuminating layers of beauty and truth in a way that is transparent yet profound.
My favorite discovery of this collection is Polish poet of the 1920s Anna Kamienska. Her simplicity and humility offer every line up as a posture of prayer. She is raw in her acknowledgment of the pain of humanity:
“Tell me why it is through the body
through torment of the body you speak to the spirit”
Yet what shines through as a constant is an ultimate peace inside of her giving her the freedom to let herself go in trust of the Divine love:
“It’s not from the grand
but from every tiny thing
that it grows enormous
as if Someone was building Eternity
as a swallow its nest
out of clumps of moments.”
Some pieces in this collection directly meditate on Psalms or on theological truths as you might expect from such a religious mix of authors–and I love these!–but many also speak of the unpretentious elements of living, every day joys and valleys. Represented are monks and a rabbi, professors of literature and of theology. But there are also cooks and gardeners who spill their passion on the page for us to drink. From Germany, Poland, Australia, and throughout the states these poets reflect with the uniqueness that their varied cultures and lives nurture.
It seems apparent that these poems were not selected as pieces that fit a specific spiritual schematic, but are offerings on a wider spectrum. They are the working out of days through a Christ shaped lens and represent many parts of the journey from many different slants of light. I might even call them psalms.
I find myself giddy with the tasting.
Review copy courtesy of Paraclete Press