The Book of Trees

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A Year in Reading: Nick Ripatrazone

I carried Katie Ford’s If You Have to Go with me for much of this year—the book lingers, and is as fine a work of longing as I have ever read. Ford is a poet of unique and deep emotion, and she is also a student of theology, and that union fills a need that I share with many readers. A space for wonder and doubt.
In my interview with Ford for The Millions, she felt that “readers are tired of ironic renderings of faith and doubt. I think people want to believe the author is sincere.” The poets who I am drawn to the most in this particular moment—Ford, Ada Limón, Jericho Brown, Traci Brimhall—encounter faith and doubt with refreshing sincerity. I have my own beliefs; I don’t look to poets for that. I look to poets for a language for a weary soul. I want to see how others envision the absence or presence of God, and I find poets particularly gifted in that practice.

Add to that list a book that I discovered this year: The Book of Trees by Sean M. Conrey. An interpretation of the life and hymns of Saint Columba, Conrey’s book brings us to the Druidic and Catholic traditions of Ireland. It is an otherworldly book; sincere in its own way, and admirable in its project.
What I like most about poetry is the second lap: the return, months and years later, to pages and sections. I suspect that I will return again and again to pieces like “Apple”: “On the days the winds blow ill I enter them, / and on the days they lift the world, too—.”
And “Vine”: “Weave the words into the world, / vines threaded through the trellis— / the cordon reaching out / like a brother’s call across the field, / clusters and tendrils, the occasional spur— / the Father is the gardener.”

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