Just in time for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I will be emceeing and reading with Lorraine Healy, Suzanne Paola, and Annette Spauling-Convy from St. Peter's B-List, Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints, a spirited and compelling poetry anthology edited by Mary Ann B. Miller and published by Ave Maria Press earlier this year.
As the title suggests, this collection focuses on contemporary responses to saints, from the well-known variety to the obscure. Speaking of obscure, Alice Friman's contribution, "Seeing the Sights," tells of a holy woman named Vilgefortis, Saint Starosta, aka the bearded saint:
There she is
nailed to her five-o'clock shadow. / No weeping mother. No deposition. / No miracle in the tomb. She dangles / in her side-show getup, beyond tweezers / or depilatories, electrolysis or laser, /
forty bucks a shot. Grind golden scissors, / strop a magic blade. It will do not good. This is God's hair, tough as wire, / inspired as twisted nails.
Poems by Edward Hirsch, Dana Gioia, Brian Doyle, Erika Meitner, Martin Espada, Jim Daniels, Franz Wright, Mary Karr, Kelli Russell-Agodon, Susan Blackwell Ramsey, Rebecca Lauren, Sarah J. Sloat, C. Dale Young, J. D. Schraffenberger, and many other fine poets grace these pages with tales of the forlorn to the fabulous. One of my favorites, "Shopping for Miracles: Lourdes, 1979," by Alan Bereka, gets to the root of why this is my kind of saint anthology:
I returned to the States with a glass flask
filled with holy water which I gave
to my mother ... she remained
bedridden and continued to say the rosary
through her pain every day until this died.
In a similar fashion, Kelli Russell Agodon's speaker, in "Being Called Back," welcomes both the priest and the medic:
I know the priest would come,
offer everlasting life and pray
over my body, but I'm betting
on the medic, the EMT, the blonde girl
who works weekends at the fire station
to keep her daughter in private school.
That this book would include poems so utterly doubting the power of faith is testament to its democratic approach, an admirable quality in a book that could have ended up being one-sided, preachy, dogmatic: too damn devout for its own good. Maybe it's that the editor knows there are saints in our malls and parking lots, staying up for us in fire stations, picking up our trash. They may never be recognized by the Catholic Church, and yet no one questions their ability to save us.
If you live in the area and want a taste of the thought-provoking poems that await you, come down to Elliott Bay Books in Seattle on December 8, at 7 pm, and listen to four contributors read their own work as well as their favorites from the book.