Last night I had the opportunity to attend a poetry reading at the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe. The event was sponsored by the Manitoba Writers Guild and featured two poets, Erin Mouré from Montreal and Sally Ito from here in Winnipeg. It was Ms. Ito, a recent acquaintance of mine through St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, who I had primarily come to listen to, and although I found Ms. Mouré’s poetry interesting, it’s Ms. Ito’s collection that I am focusing on.
I’ve called this a review (of sorts), because I come at this with no claims to being any sort of literary critic. I’ve had a somewhat love-hate relationship with poetry since the 9th grade, when while taking an “enriched” English Class, which I had somehow been dumped into, I ran across a teacher whose main purpose seemed to be to destroy all traditional ideas we had about poetry. It was not only that poetry didn’t need to have rhyme and meter, but rather that anything that contained rhyme and meter was almost certainly not poetry. I think the singer inside of me chafed to0 much at such a thought and poetry took a back seat in my reading and writing preferences.
Grade 12 English further eroded poetry’s place when the substitute teacher, perhaps as events transpired later, transfixed with his own mortality, forced on us poem after poem on the subject of death.
Yet, at the same time, poetic language has still exerted a degree of pull on me. Perhaps it is connected with the reason I enjoy musicals. There are sometimes when only a song can express the emotions locked inside of me. Likewise, the poetic impulse is awakened at times when prosaic writing is unable to capture the meaning I wish to convey. I don’t necessarily mean writing in the form of verse when I speak of poetry, but rather that writing which calls me and others to the exercise of our imaginations as we interact with the text.
As a preacher, I find this to be doubly true. More than just needing to understand the text and the context of the words of Scripture, I need poetic vision to help me not only interpret, but also to convey the depth, beauty, majesty, despair, longing and hoped for fulfillment that are found in those pages. The language of the poet is one way in which I am better able to do that.
Alert to Glory:
One of the reasons that the language of the poet is so important is that it sees the glory that lies behind so much of the mundane. The back flap of the book, with it’s very brief bio of Ms. Ito states that: “To express a deep abiding love for things ‘visible and invisible’ is what she aspires to in writing her poetry;” this collection captures that love rather admirably. I also think to see the visible without the invisible or vice-versa is to miss the fullness of each.
This sense of fullness is one the strong characteristics of this collection. In her poem “Broken Things” she states “Those who find another use for broken things are saints.” It is not the re-purposing that matters, but rather the saints are those who can see a new and different future for the chipped teapot, as well as maybe, on occasion being able to see a new different future for the person, who has been chipped away at by the strains of life, by their failures and/or sin.
The book is divided into three sections the third being called “Claimed for a Season,” with these poems focusing primarily on motherhood. Here the writing is even more earthbound than in the other two sections, focusing on the mother’s body as well as on the relationship between mother and child. Poems such as “Bitch-Self” and “About Her Hysterectomy” delve into the deeper pains of motherhood that are outside my knowing as a man, and yet somehow are still able to draw me in, to make me pay attention to that which I will never have to experience.
That ultimately may be the gift of the poet, to draw us into that which we can never experience for ourselves. In this collection Ms. Ito does a fine job of that, and I recommend this book very highly to all. I feel confident in saying that over the coming years the wisdom of this collection will be finding its way into my thinking, writing and sermon making, on more occasions than I yet realize.