Readings from the Book of Exile by Pádraig O Tuama

(Canterbury Press Norwich; London, 2012)

It may seem out of order to write about Readings from the Book of Exile after promoting events with Pádraig in Melbourne for the last month, but Pádraig is best as a performance poet, so listening to the poems brings them to life in a way that reading perhaps cannot and I now have more to say! Having said that, I still think you should go out and buy this little book, together with a new release of poems which is due out in August called Sorry for your Troubles, which is birthed out of his reconciliation work.

One of my favourite poems of all times is in this collection: ‘Dominic and Jenny’s Sex Life’.  When I first heard it, I felt like I’d been hit by a hot wind.  When I last heard it, I cried from longing to become one with the poem.  Dominic and Jenny are dancing together at a party: not slow dancing, but fun, romp-a-stomp, full-of-life dancing!  The rhythm of the words pulsates under my skin like the loud thud-thud of way-too-loud party music.  Here’s a snippet from the middle of the poem:

With rhythm in his tender boots

and she exulting in the love that she is living

the life that she is loving.

Oh, I give you all my rage and my affection

my love and resurrection dreams.

I fling my hands up in the air

I have no cares upon me now

I dance around your body

and we are made here in this space,

born again to our own worlds,

hurled upon this

Dance Floor Centre Stage.

I recently heard Les Murry suggest that there were three elements to poetic communication: daylight consciousness, dreaming, and the body (it’s breath, rhythm and dance).  If this is the case, then I can say about myself that I receive a poet’s message through the body first; it is my particular starting point with words.  Perhaps that is why I love Pádraig’s words: they have a vibrant rhythm to them that carries me up into the story of the words where I can know whatever it is the story has to teach me with a deep, sensory knowing.

The older I get, the more I value reading theology through the poetic form: somehow it is better able to capture the subtlety of things – the fact that we can know God without ever really knowing God.  There is a freedom in speaking about God this way, a freedom from the expectation that our words are capable of containment, that God will always be bigger, better and beyond our wildest dreams.  With gratitude then, do I read seven ‘readings from the book of exile’ which form the structure of the book’s corpus, and the many other poems which address faith and the human spirit.  I am thankful for my Irish brother Pádraig, for living the life he has been given in order to write these words which now accompany me in mine.

(There are a number of youtube clips, etc where you can see/hear Pádraig speak but he’s a poet – he needs us to buy his books so he can eat!)

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