Christine Valters Paintner's "Dreaming of Stones”
Paraclete Press www.paracletepress.com
ISBN: 9781640601086 96pp $18
“Dreaming of Stones” is split into six sections, Hours, The Time of Our Lives, Possibilities, Wild Places, Love and Monks and Mystics, and comes with an introduction and afterword by the author. There are 108 pages of poems and each feels like a meditation or prayer with Christine Valters Paintner’s faith a huge influence and source of inspiration. “This is not a Poem”, immediately after the introduction, sets the tone and ends,
“This is not a poem, but me taking off my clothes
and stepping eagerly into the cold mid-December sea.
This is the silence between breaths and in that stillness
this is me saying yes and yes and yes.”
Three is symbolic, in Christian faith it represents the Holy Trinity, but the last line does feel exaggerated and a bit too close to a line from Meg Ryan in "Harry Met Sally" where she's demonstrating a act she claims is faked. The atmosphere captured in the poem evokes the sense of calm space for being and creating. Another frequent motif is the moon, in “Compline”
in the violet darkness,
all the midnight wanderers
- cat and wolf, owl and bat –
roam night’s trails
ears attuned to another voice.
Step through the doorway
into silence and dream time"
The moon here is a nurturer of creativity and her darkened realm is not only one of dreams but one when restricted sight can lead to artists being forced to sense their environment differently. I think the aim of "cat and wolf" is to imply harmony but cats are crepuscular rather than midnight seekers. In “Pendulum”, the moon offers wealth,
“A silver coin sails across
the black sky making everyone
who sees it rich.
I know too what it is to feel
my poverty when the bowl
of night rolls down over me
with its ceramic thunk.
Some days I am swollen with
possibility, a ripe peach,
fingers sticky with sweetness,
while others I am hollowed out,"
These are sensual images. The harder consonants in the middle quoted stanza echo the sense of a heavy bowl whereas the rhythm grows lighter in the third stanza where optimism returns. Although Christine Valters Paintner's faith is of utmost importance to her, most of these poems are not directly engaged with her faith. An exception is “Please can I have a God” which includes the stanza,
“Please can I have a God
whose voice is the sound of a girl, long silent from abuse,
now speaking her first word,
who is not sweetness or light, but the fierce sound of
‘no’ in all the places where love has been extinguished.”
It's a faith that includes doubt and courage through adversity rather than one of absolutes and certainties. A similar note is achieved in “There is no time for love to be born,”
“There is no time for love to be born
in a world flailing under fear,
trampled by terror, crushed by callousness.
There is no room for love to be born
under the heft of pressing grief,
no open portals in the perpetual busyness
or the list of endless tasks minted newly each morning,
where ‘to do’ never seems to include ‘love more.’”
However, there's also a feeling it's written for those who already agree the world is a terrible place. It aims for a note of optimism to end on, "when all else nudges use further toward despair,// suddenly we feel the wild impulse arising,/ to say yes." which echoes back to "This is not a poem" that starts this collection.
The final section is a series looking at monks and mystics. “St Dearbhla’s Eyes” is inspired by the myth where, when her betrothed says he loves her eyes, she takes them out and gives them to him only for him to flee. She washes her face and her sight is restored,
“She looked at the world
as if for the first time,
she could finally see
how her God was always
on the side of freedom,
how everything glistens,
and how we must risk everything,
trust we were meant
for this, as if telling
the truth for the first time,
as if our hearts
had been plucked out too
and set ablaze
for all the world to see.”
It seems she was better off without her betrothed and in her freedom found the courage and willingness to see the world properly without bias or prejudice. The strive for clarity and strength to open up is a theme throughout.
“Dreaming of Stones” is a long collection and whilst a lot of care and attention has gone into crafting and polishing each poem, the voice behind the poems didn’t vary much. It’s one to read in small chunks rather than a sustained reading of the whole collection. That said, it’s calm voice had a seductive feel to it.