Author Tags: Poetry, Religion
Emigrating from England in the 1970s to complete a master's degree in Classics, Barbara Colebrook Peace later became a Canadian citizen. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies of poetry and in literary journals. Colebrook Peace lives in Victoria. Directly based on the Bible, her collection of poetry Duet for Wings and Earth re-imagines the life of Christ.
Duet for Wings and Earth (Sono Nis, 2008). $14.95 978-1-55039-164-0
Kyrie (Sono Nis, 2003)
P.K. Page: Essays on her Works (Guernica, 2000).
PHOTO by Patty Loveridge
Duet for Wings and Earth
from Hannah Main-Van Der Kamp
Duet for Wings and Earth by Barbara Colebrook Peace (Sono Nis Press $14.95)
It was standing room only. Generous bowls of punch stood between floral arrangements. A beautiful appetizer buffet amazed guests and the large crowd had filled every seat at the Victoria Art Gallery.
A famous visual artist being celebrated? No. It was a November night and three relatively unknown B.C. poets were launching their books. The event marked the fortieth anniversary of Sono Nis Press. Launched by Michael Yates in 1968, later sold to Dick Morriss of Morriss Printing in Victoria, and now owned and managed by his daughter, Diane Morriss in Winlaw, B.C., Sono Nis continues to publish occasional poetry titles as well as children’s books, local history and steam train arcana.
The launch was also unusual because it was for three Victoria–based poets who often write together, and each writes out of a different religious tradition. Each preceded her portion of the reading with a mini-liturgy of her own faith.
Dorothy Field broke and shared a large challah, the braided egg bread eaten on the Shabbat and Jewish holy days. Barbara Colebrook Peace introduced a vocal trio who sang a Christian cantata-like back-up. Kelly Parsons used silence and a meditation bell to evoke her Buddhist practice.
Though it is not unusual for poets to have a private religious practice, it is not common for contemporary poets to celebrate their religious beliefs and perspectives quite so openly in a secular setting.
The publishing arms of religious groups may feature poetry and the traditions themselves often use poetry in liturgies and ritual observances, but for a secular publisher to feature this work so prominently, and for the poets to speak without reservation about their spiritual affiliation, qualifies as rare, almost odd.
In Wearing my People, Field explores her return to, or re-discovery of Jewishness. Her work is largely narrative. It moves from her New York childhood where Jewishness was something to discard, to Jerusalem and to Alabama where her ancestors settled. The family histories are not told in a linear manner. Three sections divide the book but there does not appear to be an easily perceived rationale for the divisions. Many pieces are prose pieces that, though interesting, lack linguistic subtleties. The poet has provided a useful glossary on all things Jewish which are in part a record of her own reclamation of the richness of her heritage that she was denied as a child. The questions “What is a Jew?” and “Where is home?” are reiterated and they have many answers.
In Duet, the Christmas story is re-imagined. Like any true (literal and/or metaphorical) good story, retelling it from perspectives other than the conventional one vivifies the story. Though there are some places in the fundamentalist Christian world where this might be considered a desecration, poetry isn’t read much by literalists. Retelling is a way of honouring, a deepening. Joseph speaks as well as the donkey. Even the little town has a voice. The sheep wonder if they are more important than they ever dreamed. Although these poems assume a conventional theology of the Incarnation and the role of Judas, their humour and tenderness are a freshly polished story.
Mary speaks, “When I rub my hand in gentle circles/ over your back to make you bring up wind, / I think of the wind/ moving over the face of the water/ at the beginning of the world, / and it was wind and breath and spirit/ All in one word.” It takes a skilled poet to bring together baby Jesus’ burping with the creation story.
At only thirty-three poems, Kelly Parsons’ I Will Ask For Birds is the slimmest of these new titles but not at all slight. A beach poem follows a monk poem that follows a dog poem. It’s an earth-centered spirituality. There are angel poems but also grandmother-in-the-nursing home poems.
Parsons learns to write with a quill that teaches her patience “a kind of flying / a choreography of the waiting.”
Kelly Parsons died not long after the launch of this book. In her “Tea Meditation,” she writes, “the sound of the village bell enters into all that is / with its shiny brown voice. This cup contains / the jasmine bud / clinging to the vine / before she is picked / and invited to give up / her fragrance…”
There is no universality without particularity. An Anglican cantata for Bethlehem. Latkes from a wandering Jewess. Monastery quail from a practitioner of stillness.
Congratulations to Sono Nis for forty years of publishing (Diane, please continue to accept poetry manuscripts) and for braiding these three poets.
Duet: 978-1-55039-164-0; Will Ask:
1-55039-165-8; Wearing: 978-1-5539-166-4
-- review by Hannah Main-Van Der Kamp