My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoyed reading my colleague Christine Perrin’s book, Bright Mirror over the past several days, and was only sorry that I had not made time for it before now. Like many folks, I am less confident of my reviewing of poetry than I am of prose, but as I read the sense of this being an observant poetry kept coming to my mind. A lot of poetry, of course, is observation, seeing us and the world in new ways, and thus helping us to see the world and ourselves in new ways as well, an act that both gives us a truer picture of the world and also an act that paradoxically changes that world through the act of vision. Christine’s poems have that quality in abundance, whether in seeing her children, her church, her nature, or herself in new ways.
But I think by “observant” I also mean that it is a poetry of the act of being observant, in multiple ways, a poetry of ritual but also a poetry of attending, of tending to the world that she sees. Some parts are about ritual as she meditates on various rites of the church. So I think I might speak of this being an “observant” poetry in the ways that one is an observant Catholic, or an observant Jew, or, in Christine’s case, the observant Orthodox–those who attend the ritual of the church or synagogue, and thereby tend to the work of the church, which is ultimately about enacting God’s work on earth. But I felt this quality in many of the lyric poems about nature, and even more so in the poems about her family, her children and about motherhood, my personal favorites of the collection. Motherhood seems less in these poems about “raising” children than about tending them, and attending to them, much as one might tend a garden in others of the poems in this collection. Tending is less an action designed to force the crop, than one that seeks to make what is already hidden there come to light, to fruition, to flourishing.
These are not tragic poems, but running through them is a sense that this flourishing is etched with the fact of impermanence, the presence of failure, the inevitability of death. Indeed, I was vaguely reminded of Wallace Steven’s sense that Death is the mother of beauty, that our experience of beauty is somehow only made possible through the fact of its, and our, impermanence. For Christine, this beauty, somewhat like the Inklings that she references throughout the collection, is a foretaste of resurrection, something that points toward an enduring love even though the flower wilts, the friend or father dies, the children grow older and in their own ways are bruised or broken agains the rocks of their own lives. In one of my favorite poems of the collection, Christine is speaking with a friend in Italy whose wife has died in childbirth:
But Luca, her husband, wants to travel
to Jerusalem, to the foot of the cross.
He wants to touch its ruined wood,
get splinters in his fingers, his lips.
That must be the way it feels
to lose a young wife. Holy Sepulchre
some call it and others,
Church of the Resurrection
I suppose it depends on the day.
When I told the guide it was hard to believe
that Golgotha and the empty tomb could be held
under one roof, he tipped his head back
and laughed at me, saying my name–
Christine–as if that was my answer
Holding Golgotha and the empty tomb together under one roof, is, of course, the work of the church, the liturgy or work of the people as we observe the rites of death and resurrection each Sunday, each day, in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is after all, the celebration of both a death and a life. This, too, is the work of poetry, and I am thankful that Christine has undertaken it.