Growing up Catholic, not by willful choice but by inheritance, I have found that the poems of Presence help me to see how people engage with religious belief in their daily lives. In Felicia Mitchell’s “Bristlecone Pine, Colorado,” the speaker goes on a walk and reflects upon a form in the bark of a tree that resembles Jesus or a womb. By reading this poem, my mind was opened up to a whole new view of the intersection of poetry and religion. Poetry can show us where and in what moment we think of God. These contemporary poems are intriguing to me because they show me that I have only been listening to one point of view. I am fascinated by how they differ from many poems written in the past, and yet they form a continuum with the past as well.
Laughter is a sign of humbleness and absolute dependence upon God. It descends like rain falling on a dried up heart. It is also a sign of our sense of a merciful God and praises God because it harkens to our final state in heaven when we will experience an abundance of joy--eternally. Many of the poems in Presence engage readers in laughter amidst the struggles of daily life and encourage us to be on good terms with our faith.
The poems in Presence allow readers to hear the voice of God speaking to them through the words of the poems so that the poems become instruments of God’s grace. An awareness arises of both God’s immanence and transcendence. Readers can find God’s presence or the need for it through this journal.
In the aptly named Presence, the poems examine complex relationships between physical and spiritual realities and engage readers in forming their own individual relationship with them.
Presence introduced to me, a musician, a Catholic art form that is not stained-glass windows or music at Mass. These poems display Christianity through their unique forms and language in a way that respects all religious backgrounds.
The poems of Presence make the reader feel spiritually full by encouraging us to feel what the writer feels, feel the emotion behind the words. The poems cause those who struggle with their faith to start to question, “how is it possible for God not to exist?” when so many writers feel God’s presence or feel God’s absence too.
The poems in Presence help us see that we can believe by reading the experiences of others, even if we have not experienced our faith in exactly the same way—no matter the century in which we live.
The poems in Presence can help younger Christians become more engaged in their faith. Many may enjoy reading these poems because they are short and use contemporary language and contemporary situations, like the poem in Presence 2018 by Phyllis Hemann, “Talking to God in the Drive-Thru.” Biblical allusions in the poems may even cause young readers to read the Bible after reading these poems to understand better the connection that the poets are making between the Bible and contemporary life. My hope is that these poems will aid in deepening readers’ experiences with their religion and beliefs.
Presence allows readers to use the gift of poetry to submerge themselves in the presence of God--see Him, hear Him, feel Him, and taste life through Him. May this journal help readers enter into a conversation with themselves in which they achieve wisdom.
Being Catholic, I enjoy how I am able to explore my faith more through these poems and truly see how God is always present. We just have to open our eyes to seeing the world in different ways. Mark S. Burrow’s poem, “First Listening,” in Presence 2017, helped me to see that the natural world itself can give voice to the joy of God’s creation.
--Rose Anna Dragonetti
Regardless of the poet’s belief system, the poems of Presence are capable of making a profound impression because they are, above all, aware of the reader’s presence in the poem.
As a musician, I appreciate Presence’s mission to bring forth new and non-mainstream art because what is readily available is not always the best. I like how the book reviews serve as a type of road-map to continue exploring contemporary Catholic writing.
--Louis Del Virginia
In his article, “Faith in Fiction” (First Things), Randy Boyagoda defends literature, despite its limitations: “Insofar as it can reveal the fullness and wholeness of human experience, insofar as it can reveal ourselves in our inner lives and experiences of time and event as being created by and for love, literature doesn’t lie. It testifies to the ultimate truth of human experience: We are not, in the end, alone.” Through the accessibility of its poems, Presence seeks to create a community of readers who are not alone in their pursuit of the ultimate truths of human experience.
Growing up Catholic, I find that my faith helped shaped my perspective, so it is interesting to see how the faith of the poets in Presence shaped their work. Many of the poems in the 2017 issue appear to be preoccupied with humanity’s fallen state, in the vein of Flannery O’Connor, who writes: “The universe of the Catholic fiction writer is one that is founded on the theological truths of faith, but particularly on three of them, which are basic—the Fall, the Redemption, and the Judgment.”
Renowned Catholic fiction writer, Flannery O’Connor once stated that “an identity is not to be found on the surface.” Poets need not be so literal about their Catholic identity, but rather write in their authentic voices, confronting their demons head-on with bravery and, thereby, serving as instruments of grace and truth.
Even a short lyric poem has a central action to it. Poems in Presence will make it possible to identify the source of this action as God’s grace moving within our lives.
The personae in the poems of Presence may be surprised by either finding God’s interaction in their lives or finding their own need for it.
Humans have always worked toward a way to unite by finding common paths, such as art, religion, and language. It is my hope that Presence will provide a pathway for transcending cultural barriers revealing the presence of God in all of human life.
Catholic art should reflect life. It should not be modeled as a self-help or how-to guide on achieving salvation. Instead it should awaken the imagination that grows from and even creates shared experience between believer and skeptic, traditionalist and modernist, even tragedian and comedian.
It is the test of the believer to maintain his faith in a higher being during times of distress; it is the gift of the poet to be able to make this pain and struggle beautiful.
So often, religion is viewed as an untouchable entity, something people observe or adhere to, but not something we may interact with or integrate into daily human experience. I hope the poems in Presence will make faith palpable as a living, breathing organism and invite us to think more about how we interact with mercy, grace, suffering, sacrifice, and belief.
Poems with strong images and metaphors help readers see, feel, hear, and even taste the presence of God in human lives.
Only poems that reflect the points of view of particular social classes and genders can affect the souls of everyone universally with inspiration, joy, and healing.
Poems that allude to other great works from the Catholic tradition, such as Dante’s Inferno, show the relevance of past experiences in the contemporary world and a long history of faith and its struggles.
1 Peter 2:2 states, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Presence can be that “spiritual milk” flowing through writer into reader.
Whether the reader is a believer or not, it is important for the poems in Presence to evoke a personal response from the reader. Our relationship with the divine is most fundamentally a personal one.