by Anne M. Carpenter, Ph.D.
As I was reading David Russell Mosley’s Liturgical Entanglements, a collection of poems that carve a path through the Christian liturgical year and beyond it into cognate Christian, especially Roman Catholic, practices and themes, I kept wondering: what sort of person are these poems asking me to be? Mosley’s poems often address the reader, embracing them with a “we.” If I am a creature who is also liturgically entangled in the “spiral” of the repeating years, just like Mosley, then his poems offer ways to think about this entanglement that we share. And I think Mosley wants me to be a Christian who asks what it means to be always caught up in divine redemption. It is hard to ask questions. So that is Mosley’s gift: poems that ask about liturgy and life so that I can ask about them, too.
Liturgical entanglement is explicitly redemptive: Mosley’s rhythm, dictated by his sources, is a reminder of a redemption both finished and underway. But his rhythm is also, of course, temporal, and so the passage of time receives the same sort of legibility: as redemptive. “With the whole of Christ,” says one poem, “we are wholly fed.”
Poetry can be difficult to relate to in the ways liturgy can be difficult: it is always busy being in the middle of a conversation already underway, with a wealth of references it doesn’t bother to cue us in on. What strikes me, then, is the simplicity of Mosley’s language. This is actually quite hard to do in poetry, especially poetry with rhyme schemes and meters, like Mosley’s. To make everything fit the structure, poets often splice and elide words, invert word order, deploy archaisms. The results can be remarkable or — more often — painful. But Mosley’s poems for the most part “speak” plainly, however complex the running theme or allusion. This plain speech welcomes readers in. For poetry whose cosmic references are often medieval, there is a remarkable lack of explicit artifice in the way, which to my mind serves as Mosley’s nod to contemporary poetry, whose speech is often similarly plain.
The poems in Liturgical Entanglements are didactic in their basic strategy. Christian liturgy is almost never didactic, but Mosley’s poems are. This I take to be something like the spiritual fruit of the poems, which invite of readers, not so much explorations of themselves, but exploration of liturgy. I take this liturgical invitation to be, also, the central source of Mosley’s remarkable sincerity. It is a Catholicism not much interested in its own artifice, and not at all interested in building high castle walls between itself and other Christian communities.
Taken as a whole, Mosley’s poems remind me very much of a genre of Anglophone poetry that was common in the 16th and 17th centuries: confessional poetry, as best exemplified by George Herbert and John Donne. Their didactic content and sincere form of address resonate in Mosley’s work. And here I might highlight Liturgical Entanglements’ Marian themes most (some favorites of mine, all of which appear in the rosary section: “Coronation,” “Annunciation,” “Nativity”). I highlight them because they allow a way toward the Virgin, but also because Mosley shows himself willing to imagine her historically, which marks him actually rather apart from the English confessional poems that form his basic genre. I found this refreshing.
If a review and a reviewer must include a requisite critique, it is with reluctance that I do so. I admire this work, after all. So allow me instead to conclude by wondering where else Mosley might go in the wide poetic future that awaits him.
I wonder, for example, whether Mosley will be able to borrow some of the music of G. M. Hopkins. I do not mean his rhythm, not exactly, but something like his rich use of sounds: alliteration, assonance, near-rhyme, internal rhyme. How, then, might Mosley’s lines sing?
I wonder if Mosley might borrow something of the rush of motion and the collision of contraries that so characterizes the poetry of St. John of the Cross. His poems breathe the dark and light of mystic Denys. But so also is there movement: a wound is but a beginning, followed by a breathless chase. How, then, might Mosley think movement?
If I remain with Spanish poets: I wonder, if Mosley’s interest in the cosmic continues to unfold, how the work of that brilliant Mexican poet, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, might expand his vision and require that vision’s condensing at the same time. Such is her Baroque style: compacted, precise, vivid. A perfect diamond. What geometric shapes might Mosley make?
These things I wonder, and ardently hope to see, from a poet so clearly devoted to the wide tradition of Christian poets and their poetry.
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Anne Carpenter, poet and theologian, is Associate Professor of Theology at Saint Mary’s College of California She is the author of Theopoetics: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Risk of Art and Being and Nothing Gained is Eternal: A Theology of Tradition. Two of her poems, “Hymn to the God I Love Contrarily” and “Lyric at a Dule-Tree” were recently published in the online magazine Macrina.
David Russell Mosley is the Headmaster of the Chesterton Academy of Notre Dame. His first book of poetry, The Green Man, was published last year. He is also the author of Being Deified: Poetry and Fantasy on the Path to God.