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.




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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


"Holy Ghost"


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


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

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 here.


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