THIS collection is a wonderful doorway into a secret garden of delights. Mark Burrows has chosen ten poems from each of 13 poets whom he has edited at Paraclete Press, which is based at a Benedictine ecumenical monastic community on Cape Cod. Several poems are so striking that they would work well in worship and public prayer. Many more repay deep attention and demand time.
Burrows’s selection includes four women, two monks, and a rabbi. Some are already well known; others are making their name. Some seem to find it easy to meet God; others wrestle in the darkness with the Unknown One. Three poets are translated into English. Ten of them are still alive and still writing.
It is not just the selection of the poets which impresses: it is the way in which Burrows paints a unified world with the particular poems he has chosen. This book is built on a confident certainty that God is found around us in everything — in the tradition of the Church, in the words of scripture, in the struggles of life, and in the created world. It is built on the belief that we come to understand more of who we are and where we belong when we pause to look around and to breathe.
It is a clear response to those who argue that poetry is too slow a form of writing in a hectic world. The range and variety of these poems is extensive. SAID translates Psalms with immediacy, Scott Cairns is conversational and personal, and Phyllis Tickle finds beauty in the landscape in which she is set. Some poems repay deep attention, like “He Sleeps” by Fr John-Julian. Some leave the reader breathless at the magic that the poet is doing in front of us, as in “I did say yes” by Paul Mariani, which has Mary’s Yes echoing down the centuries to fill our ears today.
What poetry can do with time is impressive throughout this wonderful collection. These poems kaleidoscope time until there is only the living present, in which we are brought face to face, in a breathtaking epiphany of recognition, with our timeless God. This book urges us to slow, to stop and to see.
The Revd Richard Lamey is Rector of St Paul’s, Wokingham, in Berkshire.
The Paraclete Poetry Anthology: Selected and new poems
Mark S. Burrows
Paraclete Press £15
Church Times Bookshop £13.50