Protest prayers of the Hello magazine era

Book review: Bloom by Mary Lee (Matthew James Publishing)

Mary Lee's potery collection gets a thumbs up from Pope Francis.

Mary Lee's potery collection gets a thumbs up from Pope Francis.

AN EMINENT literary gent recently used the pages of a leading poetry journal to take issue with “the new troubadours of protest and dissent whose combative views” are, he claimed, “promulgated like Papal bulls.”

He is to be congratulated for saying in print what the majority of those who imagine themselves to be the literary establishment - at a time when the internet is making such establishments obsolete - quietly believe. Poetry should not be “combative”; it should, if possible, make it safely to the charity shop remainder basket, without expressing any clear views on anything, or, indeed, having been read by anyone, with the exception of other poets.

Such types, who before the recent explosion of poetry on the internet, had power in the poetry world, generally have a narrow world view which is at the root of their narrow minded ideas about poetry. Politically they prefer Clinton to Sanders, Blair to Corbyn; if Irish they paid their water charges and would never vote Sinn Féin. And anyone who disagrees with them is “combative”.

On the subject of God, though never brave enough to be overtly atheist, a la Christopher Hitchens, they are rarely openly religious in the manner of, say, the great Welsh poet RS Thomas. It is a pinched and depressing world view probably better treated by the application of an enema, than by rational argument, which rarely has any impact on the fanatical literary moderate.

Bloom, the debut poetry collection by Mary Lee (Matthew James Publishing ), stands out because her intelligent poems are not expressions of some retentive scepticism, but belief of an overtly Christian variety, and how that belief intersects with a world in which such things as Hello magazine and crack cocaine exist. In ‘These Are The Facts’ she investigates how “silence is threatened” by technologies which “offer global connection”, even when we would perhaps be better off without it.

In ‘Seen’ she re-tells a Gospel story in which Jesus stopped a crowd who were about to stone to death, a woman caught in adultery. Mary Lee is an overt opponent of crowds whose “righteousness” is mostly an excuse to be cruel to others. She is also unafraid to openly raise difficult issues, such as the role of women in her own church, with the man now at the top of that church, Pope Francis.

In ‘Your Holiness’ she writes, “Please tell them/to create rituals/that take us from/the winter of our exile”. Given that Lee is a Mercy sister, these words are of some significance. There are a number of poems in which she expresses her grief for her recently deceased Mother. ‘Inventory’ is particularly strong: “Every time we say/goodbye, I smell the surge/of your extravagant love,/my suitcase is light.”

Her use of the word “extravagant” is perfect in the context and proof she is indeed a poet. Similarly spot-on is the final stanza of ‘You’re Wondering If I’m Lonely’ after Adrienne Rich: “The leaves will die and green again –/in relinquishing/they harvest./These two, colour landscapes each year./I try to rest into this mystery.”

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