We are launching a new series this spring with poets whose work we love and want to feature!
Our next poet is Susan Millar DuMars whose work is deeply inspired by the fragility of the human body and the yearning for God. You can hear Susan reading her poem "Undiscovered" below and read more about the connections she makes between poetry and the sacred.
We lie together quietly
in our big boat of a bed.
His toenail, kneecap, hipbone,
the warm, wet tang of him.
The familiar soft spell
of his voice. Now that I've seen death,
I don't know how anyone
can think there's a God.
I see what he is seeing:
the final clench of jaw, the last
mute struggle, the leak of colour
starting at the hairline.
The way the lips fall open,
dumb. The nurse tucks a rolled cloth
beneath the chin to close the mouth.
We're machines, we break down.
Nothing more. Nothing else.
I remember her body
just after – shrunk,
the skin a new skin,
cold and slack as a white sail
on a windless day.
Something had gone. Though we can't
see the breeze, we know when
it stops blowing. Something had gone.
I only want to know what it was.
Poetry and the Sacred
I was raised to believe in God, but as an adult my faith has taken some pretty hard knocks. Yet there is a shy, soft part of me that still wants desperately to believe. I am protective of this part, because I imagine it is precisely this – this sense of humility and wonder, this wish to emphasise that which connects us over that which distinguishes us, one from another – this is faith, and this is also the mindset from which poetry is born.
Poems slow us down. Their rhythm and repetition, the beauty of their sounds make us want to repeat them, like chants, like prayers. So the words enter our hearts. There is something Godlike in writing a poem, for by naming things we in a sense bring them into existence. But poems also do the opposite; they remind us how small we are, tiny integral parts of the whole. Is not that part of our yearning for God – our need to feel part of something larger than ourselves?
Themes of Her Work
I've just put together the manuscript for Naked: New and Selected, due out from Salmon Poetry in March 2019. This book celebrates my twenty five years as a published poet, so I had to read through all those old poems again. I was surprised how loyally I've stuck to the same themes over those years. One of these is the fragility of the human body: the phases of our lives, our ideas of beauty, sex (usually playful poems), and then letting go. What happens when we leave our bodies for the final time? Then the God poems. Does He exist, and in what form?
If He doesn't, then for what am I yearning?
Sunday Morning, Lorient
There's a man wiping down the carousel
as if it's the only thing that matters.
Beneath his white rag flattered panels
blush and flash like fallen sections of sky.
There's an old man up on his balcony
wrapped like something precious in his white robe.
He's looking at the church across the square.
The air so still he can hear the choir.
A pine cone rattles to the cobbles.
Jackdaws, and the warm wood of this bench
expanding as though with breath.
Small white roses grow on the square,
their fluttering faces like candles.
I need no other cathedral.
In Bed With Anne Sexton
The poem's not the polish
but the nail
you tell me, your fine-boned feet
in my hair.
My pillow hot.
You're laughing with your
whole body, clavicle and hips,
thorn nipples, syrup eyes
bright at the foot of my bed.
Ask yourself why
you dream me upside down.
Am I Chaos? you ask.
You're honest, I answer,
as a fishhook.
You tear the long white beard
teach me to be naked.
Honesty equals chaos.
Liars are tidy
and the mad walk
in muttering circles.
When I tell the truth
I don't know what will happen.
Help me, Anne.
But you're gone
in morning's milk-light, except
for your chuckle that I feel
beneath my ribs;
your voice calling help yourself, honey.
Susan Millar DuMars has published four collections with Salmon Poetry, the most recent of which, Bone Fire, appeared in 2016. Bone Fire was nominated for the Forward Prize and has been featured on RTE Radio One's Arena and The Poetry Programme. She also writes short fiction. Susan lives in Galway, Ireland where she and her husband Kevin Higgins teach creative writing and have coordinated the acclaimed Over the Edge readings series since 2003. Susan's next collection, Naked: New and Selected Poems will be published by Salmon in Spring 2019.
Dreaming of Stones
Christine Valters Paintner's new collection of poems Dreaming of Stones has just been published by Paraclete Press.
The poems in Dreaming of Stones are about what endures: hope and desire, changing seasons, wild places, love, and the wisdom of mystics. Inspired by the poet's time living in Ireland these readings invite you into deeper ways of seeing the world. They have an incantational quality. Drawing on her commitment as a Benedictine oblate, the poems arise out of a practice of sitting in silence and lectio divina, in which life becomes the holy text.