Category Archives: Book Reviews

“When the Heart Waits” by Sue Monk Kidd

When The Heart WaitsWhen the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions
By Sue Monk Kidd
ISBN-13: 978-0061144899
$10.21 Paperback

More than simply relaying Kidd’s personal journey through the mid-life experience, this engaging piece of non-fiction work takes a closer look at the art of waiting. Rather than avoiding or rushing life experiences Kidd suggests entering and experiencing changes as we are faced with them, even and especially when it is uncomfortable or painful to do so.

Kidd draws on myriad biblical parables and familiar childhood fairy tales and fables to illustrate her well-placed points. Additionally, she builds on philosophies developed by the likes of Jung, Erickson, Campbell and Eckhart and the theology of Merton, St. Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen. The book’s overarching metaphor is that of the metamorphosis of the butterfly, particularly the cocoon stage. More than any other symbol, the cocoon best illustrates the act of waiting while changing, all the while suspended in darkness – a position that requires neither foresight nor action.

In the first of four parts, Entering the Question, Kidd defines midlife as a transitional period between morning, when we develop our relationships with the outer world through ego, and afternoon, when we investigate the inner world. The midlife experience is likened to a time of reinvention and reflection. But regardless of the relative discomfort these realizations may bring, Kidd invites us to view this developmental stage not as a time of burnout, but as a summoning to enter a spiritually deeper life; a difficult choice given our compulsion to keep up with society’s accelerated pace.

In Passage of Separation, the book’s second, and perhaps most important section, Kidd introduces the idea of “diapause,” a concept she discovered while researching metamorphosis of butterflies. She learned that “…caterpillars don’t yield themselves to the cocoon at the same rate. When the moment to spin the chrysalis arrives, some of the actually resist and cling to their larval life. They put off entering the cocoon until the following spring, postponing their transformation a year or more. This state of clinging has a name; it’s called the “diapause.” There’s a natural diapause in the human journey of transformation – a time when we hold onto the self we know. It seems that at the moment of our greatest possibility, a desperate clinging rises up in us. We make a valiant attempt to “save” our old life.

Section three, Transformation, explores the question, “How do we fashion an environment in which we become stripped and stilled, in which the ego patterns of a lifetime begin to move away from the center and our innermost spiritual life is [rebuilt]?” Kidd suggests we look to God by looking within and “weaving an environment of prayer.”

The fourth and concluding section, Passage of Emergence marks the moment when the newly metamorphosed butterfly emerges from its cocoon; when the cocooned soul begins to attempt flight with new wings. Kidd advises that because this is a time of adjustment, continued patience with ourselves during this stage is crucial.

Midlife is a waiting process and features three distinct phases: separation, transformation and emergence. The life of the soul evolves and grows as we move through these three cycles and, as Kidd points out so eloquently, life is full of cocoons. “We die and are reborn again and again. By repeatedly entering the spiral of separation, transformation, and emergence, we’re brought closer each time to wholeness and the True Self.”

Because of varying perceptions on life, no book can entirely capture a midlife experience or provide a definitive guide to any developmental stage of life. Yet I found in Kidd’s writing a kindred soul and found if not answers to, at least comfort in, some of my own burning questions regarding the meaning of life. I especially appreciate Kidd’s constant reminder that both God and the Christ life are within us and her consistent reminders that revealing our True Self is neither instant nor easy. Certainly Kidd’s midlife experience is filtered by some distance and the objectiveness that arrives with writing about such an experience and I suspect that, if her experience was anything like mine is shaping up to be, there are at least a few ugly scenes that have been polished or left out of her book entirely, giving some passages a feeling of romanticism. Still, I recommend her book to anyone experiencing a developmental life-stage or any form of crisis or turmoil. More than a just a helpful guide, Kidd’s book is a worthy companion.

Rick Mulkey’s “Ravenous” Book Launch, Hub City Book Store

Ravenous CoverOn Thursday, August 28 at 7:00 PM, Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, S.C. hosted a book launch for poet Rick Mulkey’s newest collection of poems, Ravenous: New and Selected Poems. On hand to read poems from the collection and celebrate Mulkey’s fifth publication were literary friends and notable poets Tom Johnson, Angela Kelly, and Claire Bateman as well as composer Scott Robbins and award-winning fiction writer Susan Teculve. Light refreshments of soft cheese, hummus, table crackers and a variety of wines were provided for guests attending the standing-room only event.

Hub City Executive Director, Betsy Teter, offered a warm, heartfelt introduction to the evening’s event and expressed gratitude for Mulkey’s considerable contributions to Spartanburg’s literary community. In addition to writing poetry, Mulkey happens to be the director of the Converse College Creative Writing MFA program, also in Spartanburg, and participates in writing groups as well as promotes writers, publishers, and artists in the area. After a generous and deserving applause, audience members settled into their seats just as the setting sun cast an ambient glow through the plate glass window.

Mulkey took the microphone first to thank everyone for coming and explained that the evening’s guest readers had been asked to read their favorite poems from the collection. A happy challenge, according to the readers, who each admitted to having had a difficult time narrowing their choices down to just one poem.

The first of Mulkey’s literary friends to read was poet and visual artist, Tom Johnson, who read “Blind-Sided.” A discursive narrative weaving memoir-like reflections triggered by the poem’s epigraph about the only known incident of a person being hit by a meteorite, “Blind-Sided” presents scenes in which the speaker or other characters of the poem are taken unaware, or literally “Blind-Sided” by the kinds of bizarre events the universe and its inhabitants have a way of throwing at individuals. Both corporeal in its acknowledgement of the pure weirdness of being human and existential in its incorporation of heavenly bodies (such as meteorites), “Blind-Sided” is as satisfying in its lyrical story-telling when read aloud as when read silently. It’s easy to understand Tom’s choice and his flawless recitation was appreciated. As an aside, Johnson has a book of poems just out with 96 Press and an exhibit of his visual art, “A World of Readers,” is on display from September 6 through November 13 at the Pickens County Museum of Art & History in Pickens, S.C.

Next, poet and author of Voodoo for the Other Woman, Angela Kelly, read “Outlaws,” a short poem that she said appealed to her for its subject matter – moonshine. It begins “My father ran moonshine, corn whiskey, / white lightning, Devil’s Rum, from Bramwell / through Bluefield to Bland” (1-3) and contemplates how possessing an “outlaw” gene might nuance the speaker’s life. Kelly’s spunky reading suggests her appreciation for self-sufficiency and her selection provided another facet through which to view Mulkey’s style.

Poet Claire Bateman chose the poem “Music Theory,” one of Mulkey’s newer poems. This persona poems marvels at a son’s ability to play the bass “with so much passion the framed family portraits / in the room beneath his grind against walls” (1-2) and suggests that, on his journey out of the underworld, “Orpheus didn’t look back in doubt, but in amazement, / that…one tuned string…/ could make us believe all would be right” (12-14). Bateman’s soft, lyrical voice had the added benefit of making audience members sit very still as they leaned forward to listen with anticipation.

Scott Robbins, a bit of a rule breaker, read two selections: “The Well-Tempered Clavier” and “Sontagmusick,” from Mulkey’s quartet of poems about Fanny Mendelssohn titled “The Invisible Life.” Robbins began by apologizing in advance should he start singing his selection as he previously set the entire quartet to music so remembers them as song. The first poem of the quartet, written from Fanny’s perspective, evokes a youthful confusion over what she wishes to be versus what she is expected to be: “As father said,” the poet writes, “femininity alone is becoming in a woman. / Yet this morning I woke to write a lied, and last week / finished another” (6-7).  Robbins’ second selection, and fourth section of the quartet, depicts Franny as a successful composer within the salon concert culture, or “Sontagmusick” (despite her father’s avid discouragement). This section contemplates things overlooked, including “the Prussian peasant, the exiled virtuoso, / the swallow’s cry” (6-7) and asks “What story aches behind the tongue?” (10). The entire quartet is a haunting and empathetic study into the fleeting nature of creativity and life, and as apt as Robbins’ rendition was, justice for the entire poem would be hard to capture on such occasion, causing this review to insist readers of this blog read the poem for themselves. While at it, they should explore Robbins’ compositional work of Blue Ridge A Capella.

Fifth to share their reading talent was Mulkey’s biggest fan, and wife, Susan Tekulve, who began by humorously admitting to liking Mulkey’s poems about herself most. As an act of resistance to her preferences, she chose to read “Hummingbird,” which begins “Imagine each liqueur-soaked rose as a potential love affair / on this capricious tour of blossom-scented air” (1-2) and evokes a plethora of sensuous images throughout, illustrating yet another facet of Mulkey’s poetry; and if it were not already clear to anyone who knows Rick and Susan, Teculve’s fondness for her husband and his poetry certainly came through her reading of this poem.

At last, Mulkey returned to the microphone and once again thanked his audience and literary guests before bringing denouement to the event in the very best way possible: by reading his poetry. Included in his selection where “What Superman Feared Most,” which contemplates the daily worries of the average American, “Cheese,” celebrating the working class, and “Earning a Living,” an unflinching look at mediocrity. Concluding his “set” was the deeply touching “Why I Believe in Angels,” a poem that simply has to be among Susan’s favorites.

Ravenous is described as a collection of stylistic variety and deep concerns. This reviewer would add that within these pages readers will also find empathy and irreverence, contemplation and assessment, lyric moments and engaging narrative, prompting me to wonder why you are still sitting there – go buy a copy now! In the meantime, here’s a selection of Rick Mulkey’s poems for your reading enjoyment:

Insomina, at Verse Daily

Betrayal, at Serving House Journal

Connecting the Dots  at Valparaiso Poetry Review

Bluefield Breakdown,  at The Writer’s Almanac

Ravenous: New and Selected Poem
Rick Mulkey
Serving House Books (June 24, 2014)
ISBN-13:
978-0991328147
$12.00

Available at Barnes and Noble.com