Reading Marilyn McEntrye’s writing feels like conversing with a long-lost friend, the ebb and flow of conversation full of moments of both levity and gravity. Whether writing poetry or prose, McEntyre chooses her words deliberately and carefully, with the result a gracious invitation to the reader to pause, listen, digest, and grow.
In McEntyre’s latest book, Occasions (Resource Publications, 2018), the reader is immersed in poetry filled with the same grace and depth that echoes from her other works. This little book of poems was a delight to read; it made me laugh out loud and it made me cry. Mostly, it made me reflect on life’s moments, big and small, profound and seemingly inconsequential, and find the meaning and mystery in each.
The book is divided into five sections:
I. Occasions of Grace
II. What Is Lost, What Is Found
IV. Moments of Being
V. Where the Spirit Speaks
In the brief introduction, McEntyre tells us that “the poems in this collection were all written for ‘occasions,’ some more explicit about the nature of the occasion than others. Like all poems, they are acts of attention, invitation, celebration of language, and reflection on what to make of what is given” (xi).
With Valentine’s Day upon us, I was touched by these words from “Renewal of Vows”:
All I do has your heartbeat
behind it. The descant to every
daily occupation is the echo
of your voice in the deep places
where dreams begin. (9)
In “Celebrating in a Dark Season,” McEntyre writes, “Death has come, and come again, and keeps coming. // In its wake, in its spite, we celebrate. In its palpable / presence we dwell, safe, in the shadow / of wider wings” (10).
This seems particularly poignant with the short days of winter upon us here in North America, and particularly in the Midwest, a blanket of ice coating the barren ground.
In “A Lesson Before You Leave,” a poem for a graduating class, McEntyre ends with these profound lines, “Love calls us into the world to learn what only the world / can teach. It is the light we live by. It is the lesson we came for” (16).
From birthday celebrations to honoring a dearly departed friend, from rediscovering self in the midst of loss to sitting with grief, and from wedding bells to making a home, each poem is a chapter in life, condensed down to its essentials and captured here on the page in a delicate beauty.
There are comfort in these pages, solace in these words. McEntyre gives voice to the occasions in life that leave us speechless, the breath escaped our lungs, only to find all we wished to say right here.
In “On Campus,” McEntyre writes, “Words scatter like seed; / the Spirit blows where it will. / Who knows what takes root?” and I feel taking root within myself an appreciation for the occasions of my life, and a new sense of wonder at what life has wrought and what it has yet to reveal.
A Book Review of “Word by Word” by Marilyn McEntyre
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org
Image courtesy of Resource Publications.
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