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The Darkened Temple (Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry) Paperback – September 1, 2008
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Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry
Here's my reading: The theme of the book is the experience of facing up to what Jung called our Shadow self (or selves?), and the actuating event is a mother that goes missing, and death. There is a lot to work with there, and the poet handles it with stunning grace and elan. L'Esperance relates her version of a Chapel Perilous journey in a poetic style whose music reminded me of Robert Hass and Mary Oliver in places. Throughout she juxtaposes lapidary images of the natural world with garish, almost heavy-metal/Edward Gorey/Poe images and macabre tonalities. At times the book is so wonderfully fantastic I got the odd feeling I was reading the poetic representation of a Japanese graphic novel, without explicit drawings. Her manipulation of the poetic technique of what Ezra Pound called phanopoeia - the ability to cast images onto the mind's eye - is almost cinematic.
This exploration of L'Esperance's dark places seems at once so courageous and gut wrenching that I marveled. Am I as willing to explore my Shadow in as starkly penetrating a manner as she did? I seriously doubt it, to tell the truth. And that's part of the marvel of this book. (To think she not only went "through it" but was able to write about it with such poetic clarity is a tremendous achievement; one can't help but marvel.)
The occult (meaning "hidden")world felt oddly present to me while reading these - mostly short, one-page - poems. And that's a trick, because I ordinarily do not _feel_ the presence of the dead. L'Esperance clearly does, but hers is not a woo-woo sideshow act: through her considerable poetic powers, she moves (enchants?)the reader's mind subtly into dream-worlds, then memories, then a dream-reality again - or the interstices of memories and dreams - and then what seems a collected reflection (in what ways are these phenomenal dimensions real?) ...until I felt the presence of my own dead, including _my_ own dead mother. This is magick in every sense of the word, and its purpose, I believe, after a second reading, is to invite the reader to consider the Life that might be gained if one is to embark on this version of a hero-journey. It's horrifying to think of it, but if Jung and L'Esperance are right, most of us are not fully in touch with ourselves; we don't - perhaps can't - know ourselves unless we engage with this Dark part of ourselves. "White Hydrangeas as a Way Back To the Self" seems fairly explicit along these lines; "The Night Garden" seems almost a taunt or bold dare to the reader: We will not find "it" in "our sun-drenched fields of your edited childhood;" rather we must get down into the wet gooey muck of our garden, down by the slime of slugs and spores from ferns:
"It is here that it dwells, under spotted fungi with their skirts of poison, among the cast-off husks of the dead..."
Whether the reader is prepared to come to grips with their Shadow, I feel that books like this sensitize ourselves to the sufferings of others and foster empathy, and are part of a true moral education.
But I hasten to add the book's not a downer. She made it out of Chapel Perilous, wiser, skinned-up, and quite sobered. In the writing of the book I can't help feeling the presence of a self-made sorceress. (Or at least a midwife of souls?) It reminded me over and over of Robert Graves's idea about the original function of poetry: magick.
And finally, if we are not ready to face our Shadow selves, stuff happens and we may be forced into an Ordeal anyway. In the meantime, The Darkened Temple prepares us; in a way it is a "trip report," like mushroom and LSD users would write for each other, an idea that perhaps goes as far back as any of the oldest Books of the Dead. The Darkened Temple is a species of that sort. A doozy, too!