The Foley Poets: An Encomium

Once more the Foley poetry contest has run its course. Entries came streaming in, not just from faraway places—Austria, India, Australia, Ireland, Kenya—but from American towns quite unfamiliar, such as Dripping Springs, Tex. These contemplations, memories and musings arrived as a welcome change of pace while America’s poetry editor was cribbed in a jury box for most of Lent.

A striking number of submissions came from women religious. Piety does not automatically make for fine poetry, but when artistry enhances life experience it certainly can. Rose Marie Quilter, R.S.C.J., speaks of the Incarnation as one of God’s games, specifically Hide and Seek. She writes: “One fine day, the Holy One,/ (incorrigibly scheming)/ leapt into our own clay.” Marie Vianney Bilgrien, S.S.N.D, in the rooms of Saint Ignatius in Rome, is surprised by a marker: “The bust is at the height of Ignatius of Loyola.” Five foot two herself, she finds her eyes even with his. You don’t have to be tall to be a saint! Sister Rafael Tilton, O.S.F., pictures the Radon Mines in Montana, “raining uranium,” as a basilisk portending doom to the whole county around.

Advertisement

William Matthews, a New York City poet recently deceased, once wrote “a short but comprehensive summary” of all the subjects for lyric poetry. It starts: “I went out into the woods today and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious.” The Foley poems that are set in the natural world hold their own gamely against this urban sarcasm. I enjoyed, for example, these opening lines of “Mother Earth,” by Christina Ward:

The soil is my flesh,

The trees and plants are my hair.

The rocks are my bones,

My breath is the air.

In many of the poems received, what stands out may be simply a phrase or a line. Robbie Robinson writes from his confinement: “Prison is like a dream eater.” Katelynn Campbell claims, in “Books,” “If I can’t read/ I will scream” and quips, “Maybe I’ll be/ a librarian.” Jeffrey Starbuck muses, “There is a secret Wind which/ breathes us all.” Francis McGarry, in his “Litany of the Catechumens,” includes the “balding bureaucrat/ who eats laxatives for a snack.” And the Rev. Richard Rento, in “Oceans of Life,” comes up with a wonderful phrase for our restlessness: “that fluid mass of determined agitation.”

How can a poem go wrong that opens and concludes thus: “My Beautiful Old Mysterious God” (“You,” by Carol Donohue)? Another gem is in Emily Loretta Robinson’s “Encomium”: “There is so much music/ In the air of New Orleans/ You can hold up a trumpet/ And it will play itself.” A few poems proposed a humorous or distinctive list—“The Junk Drawer,” by Shelia Kinneer Pook, Michael Kubiak’s account of all that has slipped through his pockets and Sandra Murpy’s spirited survey of the vegetables alive in her garden.

Kenneth Koch, in Wishes, Lies and Dreams, his genial book about how to get children writing poetry, mentions “I wish” as the earliest and most elementary category to stimulate them. Here is an adult “I wish” by Marianne Jones of Thunder Bay, Ontario:

i wish i was floating in a painting by Chagall

my hair weightless as clouds,

waving my white angel feet at the trees

below

The Foley poetry contest this year, for the first time in its history, has a Jesuit as the winner. His poem earned that distinction; the judges, however subject to fallibility, found it simply the best. The three runners up will appear in later issues of America.

Listen to an interview with Foley winner Michael Suarez, S.J.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Pro-life advocates participate in the annual March for Life in Washington January 2017. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Describing abortion as a “key social evil” in the United States, the Jesuits say: “The most fundamental building block of a just social order is respect for human life.”
America StaffJanuary 19, 2018
Men carry a replica of Peru's most revered religious icon, the "Lord of Miracles," during an Oct. 18, 2017 procession in Lima. Each year thousands of Catholics gather to commemorate the image's survival in a 17th-century earthquake that destroyed Lima. (CNS photo/Mariana Bazo, Reuters)
Father Ernesto Cavassa was provincial of the Jesuits in Peru from 1998 to 2004, and president of the Conference of Latin American Jesuit Provincials from 2005 to 2012.
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 18, 2018
For over 45 years, Feminists for Life has been committed to ending the practice and legality of abortion and promoting the feminism of Susan B. Anthony.
Serrin M. FosterJanuary 18, 2018
A President Donald Trump supporter is see seen at the annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 27. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
During their tenure in office, President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush all addressed the march via telephone or a radio hookup from the Oval Office.
Catholic News ServiceJanuary 18, 2018