Mary Karr disrupted the poetry scene, with her 1991 essay “Against Decoration”, by insisting that content is more important than poetic style. She is known for her essays and memoirs — particularly the best-selling The Liar’s Club — but still sees herself primarily as a poet. After years as an agnostic alcoholic, she came to embrace Catholic Christianity; although she admits to having a cafeteria approach, she seeks to follow the spiritual exercises of Ignatius.
Her 2010 address at the Festival of Faith & Writing (Grand Rapids, Michigan) was entitled, “Spiritual Revelations from a Black-Belt Sinner”; there she encouraged her audience in the discipline of prayer, and seeking God’s presence through gratitude. Two years earlier, at the same conference, she shared a stage with her friend Franz Wright. The two poets have followed a similar path, turning from alcoholism and depression, to faith in Christ. They each read a favourite poem from each other’s work.
The following poem is from her 2006 collection Sinners Welcome.
For a Dying Tomcat Who's Relinquished
His Former Hissing and Predatory Nature
I remember the long orange carp you once scooped
from the neighbor’s pond, bounding beyond
her swung broom, across summer lawns
to lay the fish on my stoop. Thanks
for that. I’m not one to whom offerings
often get made. You let me feel
how Christ might when I kneel,
weeping in the dark
over the usual maladies: love and its lack.
Only in tears do I speak
directly to him and with such
conviction. And only once you grew frail
did you finally slacken into me,
dozing against my ribs like a child.
You gave up the predatory flinch
that snapped the necks of so many
birds and slow-moving rodents.
Now your once powerful jaw
is malformed by black malignancies.
It hurts to eat. So you surrender in the way
I pray for: Lord, before my own death,
let me learn from this animal’s deep release
into my arms. Let me cease to fear
the embrace that seeks to still me.
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Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca