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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Holy Heathen Rhapsody by Pattiann Rogers: a review

In her new book, Holy Heathen Rhapsody, the poems of Pattiann Rogers embrace almost every element of life in such varied disciplines of study as Astronomy and Zoology. Despite that amazing range from A to Z, a single word in the prior sentence best describes her poetry as “embrace.”

More than the juxtaposition often used in well-written poems, this poetry has metaphoric fusion, holding together (embracing) layer upon layer of life, praised and celebrated in musical chants and litanies of landscape, earthscape, worldscape, and explorations of the universe as well as inner space. These poems take us to the last frontier – of finding infinite connections through metaphors that expand our awareness and explore the environmental and metaphysical mysteries binding all of life together.

In “Yearning Ways,” for example, the very grasses reach, stretch, advance, and sometimes capture or conquer before moving on in a yearning way of growth, deemed both “angelic” and “obscene.” And, in “Co-Evolution: Seduction,” sensory lines of summer invoke “in the genes of the people/ a new longing for beauty” as the poet witnesses “Bumblebees with magic keys…everywhere/ opening snapdragons with magic locks.”

Decidedly observant and unfailingly precise in her word choices, Pattiann also takes us into what I couldn’t help but wonder is her own backyard. In the title poem, “Holy Heathen Rhapsody,” for example, I envisioned her lying on her back beneath a tree, finding comfort in its presence and the joy of summer, rather than in the “celestial” sky with neither sign nor shelter.

With a lack of signs and certainties to resolve old mysteries, we become aware of new ones, for example, in “Multiple Universes” seen in “Summer’s Company” where a “ship, a speck/ passing by above on the green/ undersurface sky of the ocean, has no/ notion of the volcanic flow seeping/ from a sizzling crack in the earth/ miles below, the only line of light/ appearing on the ocean floor.”

These poems honor such connections – visible or invisible, seen or unseen – as the poet herself becomes, not the poem or the subject of the poem, but the connector, the presence who, in a field of bluebonnets, became “the field, blue crests, stem/ fire and surf. I was the shadow ship./ I was the evening passing.”

Passing an evening with these wonderful poems, I thought of Walt Whitman’s inclusive lines and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty,” as I read the “Scarlatti Sonata Testament,” where “Each barb/ of every feather, every black-tipped ivory hair, every/ luminous scale and fan-like fin, each knuckle of spine…/ at the root of all glare and mettle, every breath quiver,/ every one, every single one, is beheld and declared.”

The A to Z of these poems encompass, too, the Alpha and Omega in such poems as “The Snow of Things” where the poet flatly states, “I don’t know if Jesus ever walked/ in snow…,” but if so, “He could have told them the parable/ of the blindness of snow-filled fogs/ and white-outs….” – a metaphor I especially like as a way of revealing the abstract of forgiving love. Although I don’t recall its actual mention, forgiveness comes close to defining the acceptance and, yes, embrace of life in all its distant ways and diverse forms found in, on, under, and above the earth – and in these poems.

Thank you, Pattiann, for this review copy and for helping us to see our connectedness and the creative beauty profusely sown and shown, even in sow grass, shadows, and beetles. Thank you for your vast embrace attesting to such Love.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler

Holy Heathen Rhapsody, paperback

Holy Heathen Rhapsody, Kindle e-book

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