Tuesday, May 23, 2017
SEEKING THE HOLY DARK
I finally located my copies of Seek the Holy Dark by Clare Martin after shuffling household goods following my move to Sewanee, Tennessee where I spend six months of every year. I had read through the book once before leaving New Iberia, Louisiana and knew that the poems in this volume were deep explorations of themes of loss and darkness and would require more attention than a cursory reading.
I was standing in the pulpit at St. Mary’s Convent on The Mountain at Sewanee Sunday delivering a homily and had just commented on an article by The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor that appeared inTime magazine several years ago: “The Rev. Taylor speaks of finding God in darkness and delivered lectures on this theme for the Dubose Lectures here on The Mountain,” I said. “She says that she prays these days to the Holy Spirit which she sees as both the universally divine and the hardest to understand and says her job is to trust its movement…” Although I was focused on the delivery of the homily, what suddenly came to mind was the title of Martin’s latest book Seek the Holy Dark. On Monday, Martin's book turned up. Synchronicity?/!
Seek the Holy Dark is reminiscent of another female poet, Anne Sexton, whose last book was entitled The Awful Rowing Toward God; one in which Sexton confronts the idea of God and is defeated in her quest to adhere to a belief in the Omnipotent. Like Sexton, Martin explores the darkness that accompanies depression, telling her story as an attempt to experience catharsis. She joins the roster of female poets who have sought to legitimize depression by allowing themselves to participate in life, including depressive episodes, to honor those dark nights of the soul and to write mercilessly about the “holy dark.”
In “Mourning,” Martin writes that “it is simple to relinquish the will to do anything to be a stone within a stone within a stone…over and over, though no cycle rules her, she rebirths herself. Empties her lungs, rises.” It seems that the poet is letting herself into the darkness and allowing her soul to become intact, “stone within a stone within a stone” so she can move on and experience rebirth… no easy answer to the darkness.
I don’t think that Martin intended her poetry to be a means of legitimizing depression but to form a link among creativity, spirituality, and her emotional struggles in darkness, seeking transformation and restoration. Her experiences are not neat, self-help examples of welcoming darkness and emerging with superficial answers. In “Dream of Sudden Water,” she speaks of “a harrowing thought/deep on my petrified bones — wash me savior/ we drop through this world/into dark awakening/we, the strong hearted.”
In poem after poem, Martin explores her captivity in depression, and at the end of Seek the Holy Dark, she speaks to the human condition with a vision that duplicates the ideas of John Moriarty in Nostos: “If nature can handle the destruction and reconstruction of a caterpillar into a butterfly, why shouldn’t I surrender and trust that it can handle what is happening to me?” Martin's version: “Beloved dead and living/voices surround me/a word/a handwritten note/subatomic change/of being/even spittle spurs/butterfly/to typhoon/to newborn star.”
Seek the Holy Dark is an Intense confessional of a gifted woman who sometimes crosses into the surreal, drawing poems from the depths of herself and seeking transformation while embracing the holy dark. A courageous contribution to the canon of feminist poetry.
Clare L. Martin, a native of south Louisiana, is author of Eating the Heart First, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Dzan Books’ Best of the Web, Best New Poets, and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net.. She is founding publisher and editor of MockingHeart Review. Seek the Holy Dark is available on amazon.com and through Yellow Flag Press, 2275 Bascom Ave. #702, Campbell CA 95008.