Poetry in Motion: Between the lines of “Holy Ghost” from Reunion
December 17, 2018
Deanna Young's newest collection
Reunion (Brick Books)—a pastoral-gothic hybrid that plays with forms from ballads to prayer to Biblical sermons—weaves in and out of time looking back on a younger self who is confronting old violence. Below Deanna tells us in her own words about her collection, when it began, how it confirmed for her "the magic of creativity" and shares a poem with us.
I went away and wrote the majority of the poems of Reunion in a fevered, semi-conscious rush, the first time for me of such prolonged enchantment. “Ghost Prayer” came first, an invocation, and soon the ballads, “Supper Prayer” and “Recrimination,” among other poems. The experience confirmed for me the magic of creativity, and poetry, and highlighted the times when the writing process is not thus charged, enlightened, when I am dragging dead-weight words out of a pit. Once you have loved, how do you settle for less? After the spell broke, back home, I was able to enter the sacred chamber several more times. Now came “Holy Ghost,” “Visit, 4 a.m.,” and “The Gully.” The long “Reunion” came a year later, the product of another mini-retreat. The editing was by turns also sacred, and mundane.
My writing practice is haphazard. It has no pattern and no rules. Hardly a practice.
We had no paper then, or we had
no pen, or no words. How to say it. We had
no voice. No listeners. Just deaf night
It comes out of the dark—or the light—and nabs me, or murmurs my name. It is not about a desk, or a room, or a time of day. I used to think it had to be tied to such structures. I’ve let go of that. And the guilt that comes with it. The Shoulds.
and the flames that chased us up the stairs, that
found us panting, singed. There was
no story then, no greater myth. It was just
I no longer fret. The work is important and not public—not in its need, its inception. The practice is important too, but it is not formulaic. Not form but free-fall. This could change tomorrow.
our life. No big picture. No art
but the Bible. No thought but that the Lord must have made
some mistake, our souls in error. We went
Some days I try to dig, à la Heaney. Some days I approach the door of my suffering, à la Glück. Or swing it wide. I step over the threshold into the abyss. Only rarely, mind. Therein lies my practice—the plummet. I try not to think mid-fall.
into the closet willingly—it was a game—
as into a time machine. More in hope
than faith. In there saw only starless space.
I try to listen down, down, until—a voice, faint and urgent. Then transcribe. Not invent. Transcribe. To write freely like this—like right now—is fairly new for me, a danger. Maybe it’s a bad idea. I am drunk on not caring.
We prayed. When I open this door
let it be some other place.
There was music though, astounding.
In my core I am afraid you will think my words (me) stupid. Unintelligent is a more genteel word but I am not genteel. And yet I was born royal, as you were. I am afraid you will think my words (me) ugly, fat. Now old, too. If you’re lucky you age.
It flowed from the stereo and filled the house
like Jesus. It was Aretha in raiment of gold
and Elvis the King. It flew into us like grace and shook
When I was a child scales covered my body. I scratched them and they bled. You think I am being metaphorical. If only. You think I am whining, then. I am merely stating a fact. You find the facts unpalatable, embarrassing maybe. As do I. A boiled potato, no butter, no salt. Every night it made me gag.
our spirits loose. We fell to the floor like change, all
scattered silver. There gathered ourselves
into swords of light, there rose and followed the tambourines
Don’t try to tell me that to be covered in scales is not ugly. I know ugly. I do not wish to mince words. Yet every act of writing is a mincing of words. Chop-chop. Please read everything here with a line through the middle, a strikethrough. Consider it all a momentary lapse.
into the shimmering forest-mind
where we could think. We walked among
the years like trees and, trembling, came
Why should I care what anyone thinks. I am alive, for fuck’s sake. Why should you care, after what you’ve been through. Please do not care. I mean, do no harm, including to yourself (an immeasurably tall order)—let that be your guiding principle, at least. Then write without shame, without the need for approval. Maybe you already know this. I wish you had told me sooner.
to a sky-filled river. Stepped into its rush like deer
to drink, cold wonder pulling at our legs.
We gave ourselves up for lost, raised our arms like thieves—
I swear, and some people don’t like that. Yet it is my practice. Everything swearing is, I adhere to. The oath of it. I wrote the poem between these lines between the lines of consciousness and un-. A blasphemy against the past.
Sun lit the blood of our fingertips, field sparrows
sang our names—and thus in rapture
were we saved.
The only lines that make sense to me: the broken ones, the upstarts. My fondest wish is to shroud the voices less. To let them glow. That is my practice. To that desire I profess.
This is to make a long story short. Every book has its unique origin story. Reunion began, of course, forty, fifty years ago in my childhood. The kindling was long there, hungry for the spark, the focused breath to urge the flame. I don’t know if/when the winged words will descend again, to lift me up. Roethke wrote, “A lively understandable spirit/ Once entertained you./ It will come again./ Be still./ Wait.” As I shall.
Deanna Young reads "Holy Ghost" from Reunion
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Deanna Young’s latest book of poetry is Reunion, published by Brick Books in 2018. Her previous book, House Dreams, was nominated for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, the Ottawa Book Award, the Archibald Lampman Award, and the ReLit Award.Originally from southwestern Ontario, she lives in Ottawa, where she works as an editor and teaches poetry privately.
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Thanks to Deanna for sharing Reunion with us, and to Kitty Lewis at Brick Books for making the connection. For more Poetry in Motion, click
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