Unquiet Vigil: New and Selected Poems by Paul Quenon, OCSO
This new collection of new and selected poems called Unquiet Vigil by Paul Quenon is remarkable in their clarity and vision. Included in the book are poems from 1996 all the up to new ones. The What-not poems are Paul’s wrestling with writer’s block and coming out to describe the process on the other end. Paul writes in the opening lines of the book that “These poems are a circling around silence to see and watch what is heard, a use of words to fin in hearing what is not quite seen. Writing has been for me, in a broad sense, a way of vigil-keeping, of making the watch something more of my own (5).” Yet, as the title indicates, there is profound sense of restlessness involved with vigil-keeping.
In the second part of the first poem, Gone Missing, Paul brings us to the time when writer’s block hit him in the gut. He writes,
“Words eluded me like tall
White tails of winter-grey deer,
ghosts in flight through trees (13).”
You might get a small glimpse of word here or there, but the words were beyond grasping, leaving one’s sight like deer running through a forest. In Little Rascal, Paul begs the question how it is that “birds who come in plain jackets sing so extravagantly (20)?” The appearances of the bird don’t give the impression that the bird would sing so sweetly, but the diamond notes must have come from on High. The description that Paul gives us lights up the natural landscape of forests, birds, larks, and figures.
What I found quite amazing about Paul’s poetry is the way he uses very familiar stories we all have heard and imbues them with comedy. In That Time At Cana, he tells of Jesus at the wedding of Cana by peering on what the people around him would have thought. He writes,
“But the boys and I got to laughing
- We couldn’t help it –
And went ahead and just did whatever he told us (135).”
They thought it was a wicked joke, but instead it was true, the water would be turned into wine, even the choicest wine. Peering over the shoulders into the story, Paul brings out the amusement of the whole situation and the miraculous nature of the story. They were expecting the worst and instead they got the good stuff.
I really enjoyed these poems from Paul Quenon and know you will also.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.