February 2023

Far From Ordinary

Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce



One could be forgiven if upon first glance, one took this book to be a devotional volume or set of meditations for the times in the church calendar not spent preparing for the major feasts of Christmas and Easter—called Ordinary Time in the liturgical branches of the Christian church. However, the collection is neither proselytizing nor at all ordinary. Instead, it is the work of a poet of religious faith whose daily life is informed by and undergirded by that faith.

Take for example, the title poem. "Today is a day like all other days. //Today, like every day,/I worry about time." The day happens to be Sunday, "the twenty-third Sunday/in Ordinary Time, and the priest wears/the emerald vestments redolent/of ordinariness…." Ordinary secular life goes on. "Today, you talk blandly to me of mortgages,/the sump pump, the price of gasoline." And yet some hint of the holy—or a spiritual plane—arises. Pushing her daughter in a swing, the poet sees "there's only this—/the churning autumn leaves, the tree branches/that lift as in prayer, //this wind, this swing, this girl."

In "Holy Thursday" (the Thursday before Easter, sometimes known as Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Last Supper), something similar happens but in reverse. First the poet recounts a careful washing of her toddler daughter's feet before dressing for church. Today, I washed your tiny feet in the kitchen sink,../The layers of grime from a backyard afternoon/peeled away as if I were an archaeologist…." At the service, the traditional washing of feet as originally performed by Christ with his disciples, takes place. "One by one, the priest begins to wash/each pair of feet, as he does every year on this day/in imitation of Christ." But the girl, as small children will, breaks the spell. "You [the daughter] climb up on the pew and pad along barefoot, your footsteps/echoing and hollow…./I…grab you,/just before you fall, as the priest dries each foot with a towel,/leans forward, kisses them."

Possibly the most explicit statement of the poet's faith appears in the appropriately titled "My Faith," but even here it is grounded in and supported by earthly things. "An Easter egg/in a cut glass bowl…./I take it out, cradle it in church,/in the purgatory of the children's room…./I cradle it/like a baby,/like my children as newborns…./I carry on/each day, praying at stoplights…./listening…/to the quiet voice of God/still humming beneath the noise of the day."

A splendid villanelle takes off from its epigraph: "Not one sparrow falls without your Father seeing it." (Matthew 10:29) The poem describes an unexpected discovery of a nest of sparrows next to the speaker's house and concludes, "So far away the God who knew me best/and yet He cares for sparrows such as these/beside the house, our uninvited guests.//So soon they'll fly, to heaven, east or west./Who knows what will become of you and me./Today we found three sparrows in a nest/beside the house, our uninvited guests." That note of doubt mingled with hope is characteristic of many of the poems in this collection.

The book also contains many more purely secular—though perhaps tinged with a sense of the miraculous—poems filled with closely observed and telling details. "Raindrops/on a briefcase.//Tree buds/the color of wine. //The singing highway/that rings us." ("The Poet in D.C.") These short, focused lines give the poem a power far beyond its surface simplicity.

The book closes with a lovely poem, "The Things We Have Survived," a poem of love both romantic and spiritual. "My love, in all our years together/how many times did the world end?//Today I learned 'apocalypse' means 'unveiling.'/Today I learned the end is not the end. //Today I pulled the curtains back and let the light in."

This collection is a remarkable debut and promises much more good work to come.

Sarah was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about her life and work.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. You're a poet of faith and several of the poems in the book touch on this. How does this aspect of your life inform your work?

My Catholic faith probably informs my poetry more than anything else. Being Catholic has always been at the core of my identity, and has influenced so much of my life, so it's not surprising that it would be a major theme of my poetry. There's also a richness to Catholicism that makes it very fertile ground for poetry, metaphor and symbolism. 
One aspect of Catholicism that especially influences my poetry is the idea of sacramentality, which means that God and the sacred can be experienced through the senses and through ordinary experience. To me, the idea that the sacred can be experienced through something tangible is similar to poetry, where words have both a literal meaning and a deeper meaning. 
One thing that Catholicism teaches is that the "ordinary" work that we do - our jobs, doing chores, raising children, etc. - can actually be sacred if we're fulfilling our state in life. You don't have to do extraordinary things. A lot of my poetry is about finding the sacred in the mundane.   

When did you start writing poetry and how did that come about? Who are some poets or others who have influenced your writing?

I've been writing poetry since I was a kid, probably from the age of 10 or so. I knew I wanted to be a writer from a very young age. We would do creative writing in school sometimes, and I found that expressing myself through writing was much easier for me than expressing myself through talking.  

When I was younger, I was very idealistic/naive, and I thought I would write ALL THE THINGS when I reached adulthood - poetry, short stories, novels, essays, etc., in addition to having a job and a family. It wasn't until I took creative writing classes in college that I realized that I'm much more of a poet than a fiction writer. Poetry is the most artistic form of writing, and I found that I'm really drawn to the pure artistry of words, and not as drawn to coming up with characters, plots, dialog, etc., although I've always enjoyed reading fiction. 

 Also, poetry is short, which I find is important when I'm trying to squeeze it in around everything else in my life. Writing a good poem can take a lot of time, but it still seems less overwhelming to me than a multi-page story or novel.  

I enjoy reading poets who are informed by their religious faith, but are not preachy and are committed to literary excellence, like Mary Karr, Franz Wright, Christian Wiman, and Luci Shaw. I also like the accessibility of poets like Billy Collins. I don't think poetry should be too hard to understand or pretentious. I've also been influenced by Mary Oliver's close observation of the world and ability to be astonished.

What is your writing routine? How do you fit poetry into the tasks of family, especially children, paid work, etc.?

The poems in Ordinary Time were actually written over a period of almost 20 years. I've never really had a set routine for writing poetry, since I have four kids and have always worked at least part time, and my life and routine were always changing. I just write in bits and pieces when I can. Recently, I've been working on my poetry while working out. A few of the poems in this book were mostly written while I was on a stair stepper machine.

And finally, do you have any new projects on the horizon or any forthcoming publications?

No forthcoming publications right now, but I fully intend to keep writing and submitting my poetry. I'm also going to be one of the featured readers at Reston Readings [in Reston, Virginia] on April 30th. Hopefully it won't take me another 20 years to publish another book.

I certainly hope that myself. Thank you again for your thoughtful comments.

Order your copy of Ordinary Time from Plan B Press:
https://www.planbpress .com/store/p69/Ordinary_Time_by_Sarah_DeCorla-Souza.html


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Gregory Luce is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
He is the author of five books of poetry, has published widely in print and online and is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic, he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA.
More at: https://dctexpoet.wordpress.com/
For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives.

©2022 Gregory Luce
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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