John F. Deane

A Faith & Poetry Memoir

This is a faith and poetry memoir, in which you are never allowed to forget, for a moment, the faith aspect. I don’t think there is a single page without a reference to God which, if you are not that way inclined, is frustrating, because, technically, Deane is a very good poet.

And I had hoped, one could almost say prayed, that, admiration aside for his skill as a writer, I would fine some solace, even empathy, after 229 pages of soul searching, in his evolution from young Achill Island priest in the making to the poet who, alongside Roger Bly, made Tomas Transtromer, accessible in English.

But, tethered thus by the ankle, Deane can’t leave his faith alone for a minute, which is a pity, because when he escapes into the realms of poetic explication, such as his epiphany encountering Transtromer and Denise Levertov, he is enlightening, and like a two year old with his brother’s toy. The tragic death of his first wife, from Lupus, a serious illness most of his readers would be unaware of and would therefore have an interest in, is brushed aside. Why?

But God, as we know, is omnipresent, to those who seek him, and so it proves, page after page, in this handsomely produced memoir. He writes, after twinning the necessity of hatching meaningful poetry ‘ for our time’ with coming closer to Jesus Christ, that he is irritated when ‘atheists are basically encouraged to announce their atheism with a certain panache…but a Christian writer draws some opprobrium.’

Therefore, emerging from a walk almost in a state of prayer in a Californian forest of tall redwoods, described as steeple tall and akin to a vast Gothic cathedral, is a golden moment, because he had dipped his fingers into a sacred font and was fortified by sacrament. It sounds beautiful, but the word seems alien to the poet. An owl is compared to Methuselah, whom I was educated by wikipedia, lived the longest in the Hebrew Bible. I won’t forget that in a hurry.

Deane admits that he was brought up in the Catholic Church to be impermeable to the things of the world and that his focus should be heaven, but by the time he revisits what Levertov refers to as the awareness of poetry to the mystery of being, I was way beyond the point of rescue. A pity really, but then, perhaps not. I tried to finish The Deer’s Cry, in which God is mentioned ten times and Christ sixteen, and failed abjectly.



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