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Christianity and Literature Vol. 60, No.4 (Summer 2011) REVIEW ESSAY Broken by Mercy: Poetry and the Paradox of Faith Angela Alaimo O'Donnell A Parable ofWomen: Poems. ByPhilip C. Kolin. Itta Bena, MS:YazooRiver Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0972322454. Pp. 30. $12.95. New Tracks, Night Falling. By Jeanne Murray Walker. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0802825728. Pp. 86. $16.00. Living on the Flood Plain. By James A. Zoller. La Porte, IN: WordFarm Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-60226-002-3. Pp. 86. $12.00. In The Letter of His Holiness John Paul II to Artists, 1999, the Pope describes the artist's essential role in creating and maintaining the complex nexus between art and faith: [T]rue art has a close affinity with the world of faith, so that, even in situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience. In so far as it seeks the beautiful, fruit of an imagination which rises above the everyday, art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery. Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice .,. to the universal desire for redemption. (10:2) An artist and a poet himself, John Paul II knew from experience the poet's compulsion to engage mystery, to explore the unseen by means of the seen, and to cultivate a voice with sufficient range to express the whole scale of human suffering yet, at the same time, hold out hope for deliverance from the evils that afflict us. In living out this vocation, the poet embarks on a journey, as both artist and human being, that will necessarily take him or her to dark places, a via negativa that informs the work and the life. The pattern of such pilgrimage is evident in the work of many revered poets, though it seems a trope especially appropriate for the Christian writer in its analogical enactment of the Way of the Cross: Dante makes 637 638 CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE his pilgrimage through Hell and Purgatory toward Paradise; St. John of the Cross faithfully keeps watch through the hours of the soul's dark night; T. S. Eliot endures The Wasteland of doubt and despair to discover the consolations of Four Quartets; and Denise Levertov practices "work that enfaiths" (247), discerning in the course of her long writing career the gradual and unconscious conversion of her mind and heart. In John Paul's terms (and in the words of St. Paul), even as these poets work out their individual salvation in fear and trembling, they also provide us with voices and accompanying visions to guide and inspire us as we work out our own. This essential role of the poet as spokesman of our deepest woes and desires is as ancient as poetry itself. What we listen for when we encounter a poem is the news we need most to hear stated in language we savor and trust. What you'll hear, ifyou listen closely, according to poet Jeanne Murray Walker, is the sound of"a human voice talking to you:' Walker's most recent collection, her seventh book of poems, New Tracks, Night Falling, delivers precisely this-a poetic voice that is passionate yet poised, willful and yet wise, resigned and yet full of yearning. Hers is, in short, a human voice, inflected with all of the paradox our species lives and dies by. The play of paradox informs the book, in fact, from the title onward: the two phrases, New Tracks and Night Falling are yoked by a comma, yet each pulls in opposite directions. In her elegant and eloquent preface to the volume, Walker introduces the metaphor of tracks: Writing poetry ... is as unpredictable as following tracks in the snow. It is a learning process through which I have discovered most of what I know. If I roll up my sleeves and work ... some kind of quiet truth occasionally shows up....I have faith that the tracks we see lead to understanding of our human dilemmas and sometimes take us to places that...


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