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Sunday, December 19, 2010

12 Readings in Advent: Carrie Jerrell

Yesterday I received a new book, After the Revival, and today’s reading is from its seductive pages. The poem here is simply plucked from my last-read page, but I like many elements of it: the black womb of the earth that produces not white vernix but black; the search for coal-fire songs; the pitchy night that is pitch-high and pitch-dark and pitch-of-song; the unclean mortal hands that may yet handle the pour of sky-high light. High-pitched in dream, radiant revelation offers blinding sight, “blazing light,” music that is a sustaining “air” to breathe, and transformation that lends wings—that batters the screen between the dark and light.

for Matthew

Twenty-two, come from the underground,
you’re through with the mine’s night shift and wear coal dust
like vernix while playing Clair de Lune. Moths crowd
the porch-lit screen door, and you’ve come to trust

your ear for every chord. Dark note by note,
how many hours you’ve searched for songs that burn
like lustrous rock—your damp neck creased with soot,
your hands unclean—only to be spurned

by stars repeating, Time, Time, Time.
My brother, in the pitch of sleep, may hymns
Resolve for you. May dreams be more than ash.

May you climb to a house of blazing light and blind
Yourself at its windows, breathe its music in,
And beat your wings like prayers against the mesh.

I don’t know a lot about Carrie Jerrell, but so far I like her poems. I am glad to hear her spunky voice, spilling over with vim and verve. Her book, After the Revival, won The Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize of Waywiser Press (UK). The judge was Alan Shapiro, a poet I like and respect.

Shapiro writes, “While pain of one kind or another informs nearly all her poems, there is nothing but radiant energy to be found on every page of this marvelous book. Jerrell brings a wild exuberance to the world and everything in it, an exuberance ‘that’s two parts sex and one part scripture, / that wears work boots to wardrobe / on opening night and when handed pink chiffon / says, Baby, you know I don’t do delicate.’” He praises her “distinctive genius” and bringing-together of “a heterogeneous mix of worlds and influences—to be open to everything formal and informal, profane and seacred, foreign and home grown.”


  1. Well, I esp. like "how many hours you’ve searched for songs that burn
    like lustrous rock—your damp neck creased with soot,
    your hands unclean—only to be spurned

    by stars repeating, Time, Time, Time."

    But what the heck is vernix?

  2. Mary Bullington,

    You skipped having children! Babies come coated or partly coated like a piece of fruit--a sort of waxy white substance (or maybe a sort of cheesey substance?)is slicked across the skin here and there...

    How do you get back? You can't. Never again. Nevermore. You and Poe. Together. Evermore.

  3. Hi Mary Bullington! Come visit my blog sometime. It's Robbi. Remember me? What IS vernix? Hell if I remembered, till Marly reminded me, and I HAD a kid.

  4. By the way, my blog is at

  5. Robbi,

    Go friend Mary on facebook and you can see her paintings because now she is a painter first and poet second...

  6. Robbi! Wee just saw each other not more than 24 years ago at I.U.!Of course I remember you--good for you, teaching in California! Friend me, please, forthwith!



Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.