Friday, June 3, 2016
A literary journey of faith and poems
The poems in True, False, None of the Above by Marjorie Maddox take us on a unique journey of reading, writing, and encouraging literature, which the poet-author believes “is not an escape from, but rather a confrontation with reality, a reality that includes the overarching struggles of the soul.”
Anyone who has felt the influence of literature in their formative years and beyond surely appreciates the power of the written word, whether approached as teacher, writer, or reader. We enter worlds unlike our own and people unlike ourselves, who overcome conditions we’ve never experienced, yet we identify with their humanness and expand our way of viewing life from perspectives we most likely would not have seen on our own.
By broadening our experiences and engaging us in thought, literature helps us to develop empathy and understanding of others. If we also happen to be poets or writers, literature enlarges our understanding of what works well in our writings and what does not. As Maddox said in a recent interview, “I am a firm believer that writers first need to read good literature,” which, as an English professor, she certainly has -- as her own work exemplifies.
In her Preface to True, False, None of the Above, which Cascade Books kindly sent me to review, the poet-author tells us, “This is a book on the intersection of words and belief, on what it means to be a poet of faith, on how books mark and mirror our lives, and how sometimes the journey we experience on the page leads us to faith.”
For most of us, that’s a slow process of growth. As the opening poem “On Defining Education” describes in its last verse:
Please, feel free to confront.
I’m not talking about who you should be
but are. Let’s start with the essence of seed
and see what sprouts from there.
Some writers might have gone on to sermonize about mustard seeds and their strong biblical connection to the growth of faith, but Maddox seems to be searching for more subtle marks of faith as we see in “Bookmark.”
Let the lines and Spirit speak for themselves without
sounding brass or tinkling cymbals.
The poems discover and demonstrate that lighter, quieter touch as shown, for example, in “Fishing for Sestinas.”
At first, there is only paper
as plain as sleep without the dream,
as flat as the sea without its waves,
no sound, no ripple, no fish
slipping in and out so
suspiciously. Ah, now write
that, not worrying about wrong or right
but only what floats up to your paper,
what your fishing pole of a pencil tugs so
deliciously toward your eyes.
Those lines illustrate beautifully what we hope to experience as we write in any genre. The last poem, “Belief and Blackboards,” does this too and, more, as it presents a classroom setting where the poet sees “flakes of manna in the unexpected snap/ of chalk” and brings the essence of reading, writing, and experiencing literature into these closing lines:
And this is all we need:
the real, the spiritual, the Real;
the thin laughter in the background;
the crescendo of the poem rising, covering each desk,
each tile: floor and ceiling.
Book review by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016
True, False, None of the Above, paperback