Most of my prayers are like drive-by
shootings. Please help me. Please save her.
Thank you for the parking spot.
— Julie Price Pinkerton
from What is My Life About?
a poem in Rattle, No. 45
It’s tough to write about faith — without seeming a zealot, a dimwit, or a preachy daily devotion.
And so, it is with great relief I read the latest edition of Rattle (Fall 2014, No. 45). Presenting “poets of faith,” the journal offers work from over 40 poets with a range of honest, authentic and complicated voices. From drag shows to religious leadership, these poems are powerful because they are rooted in everyday experiences in which the writers reach, seek and struggle with doubt, hope, faith and more.
"I’m often troubled by the label ‘Christian’ and the way it has come to mean intolerance and, sometimes, hate. . .” writes Laurie Uttich, in words that echo my own feelings on faith. "I believe in living as Jesus taught: feed the poor, house the homeless, care for the imprisoned, speak for the marginalized."
(Thankfully, rather than list the literary achievements of each poet, Rattle allows contributors to provide backstory to their poems).
With this issue, Rattle proves that spiritual writing can be touching and tender and also irreverent and sharp.
And this statement from Dan Nemes feels especially spot-on: “The act of writing poems cracks me open. Being faithful, being a poet of faith, means, for me, trusting in the slow and painful, rapturous and joyous accumulation of life, knowing that bearing witness to the suffering and joy in myself, in others, and in creation, is redemptive.”
Perhaps my favorite part of Rattle is the featured “Conversation” between publisher and poet. This issue features Chris Anderson, a college professor and Catholic deacon who lives in Corvallis, Oregon. The interview is a lengthy and comfortable exchange in which Anderson, an unusually down-to-earth religious leader, shares his perspective on poetry as a form of prayer:
“Stanley Kunitz says that poetry, all poetry, is a form of spiritual testimony; it comes in the form of a blessing. And for me that’s how poetry works," says Anderson. "See, the struggle with poetry — the attraction to poetry for me spiritually is its obscurity, its hiddenness. There’s less temptation to ego in that sense, but that's also the struggle . . . And even when you publish a book, or publish a poem in Rattle, nobody knows about it, or if they do, they don’t know what to say about it. And about half the time that depresses me and it feels pointless. And the other half of the time it feels freeing, like an invitation to keep dying to myself: 'Okay, I’m going to keep doing this anyway,' sort of a barometer of my faith.”
Fear not, believers and non-believers and maybe-something believers, poetry of faith is not poetry of proselytizing. These writers demonstrate that poetry written from a place of wonder and search offers far more substance than sap.
Some of my favorite writers are seekers, searchers & believers. Enjoy a flashback through the archives:
Help, Thanks, Wow - Anne Lamott
The Closest to Love We Ever Get - Heather King
Where Silence is Sacred - Pico Iyer
A God in the House: Poets Talk about Faith - Jane Hirshfield
After the Ark - Luke Johnson