6.1 poet Jill Reid found community in words, and now she is working on a Holy Spirit building one word at a time.
As a writer, I can’t get away from words, and most of the time I am glad of it. I like the feel of a good word in my pen or on my tongue the same way I like the crunch of my grandmother’s homemade biscuits. I consider both—the biscuits and the words—gifts that savor, that satisfy.
I am a child of the Deep South, a place some associate with worldly ignorance, pat answers, and religious clichés. However, the South I know is rich place, blooming with story and rooted in a tough and enduring faith. I am deeply grateful for the region I live in, the red dirt roads, even the hot and sprawling summers, and especially the sweet, old ladies who held my face between their crooked fingers and “God bless”-ed me every Sunday of my childhood. But while I owe my initial grounding in the Christian faith to my parents, to the little red- brick church filled with neighbors and family who more than demonstrated the unconditional love of God, I also have sometimes felt the hollow isolation that comes from wandering around in search of a place, a community where strong craft and strong faith not only co-exist but also thrive in relationship to one another.
I owe to C.S. Lewis my sense of belonging, the knowledge that writing is not merely “academic,” that faith is not merely “spiritual,” that God inhabits both aspects of my identity in a way that unites my calling to faith and calling to writing. Over time, I have begun to embrace the mysterious and interesting ways I find my faith come alive when inked it into words that often say absolutely nothing explicitly about the God I love but who has a way of showing up in all that I write or read, even when his name doesn’t. As a human artist, I attempt to use the gift of language, of craft, and all that I can glean from insight and imagination to transcend the limits of my humanity, to trace the outline of God. I understand that tracing to happen in both the light and the shadows, among doubt and belief, or in moments that only trace the longing for or seeming absence of God. Discovering a journal like Relief has helped me feel less isolated, less alone in a world that seems bent on drawing a hard line between the sacred and the secular. I love being a part of a writing community that erases that line one good story or poem at a time.
My two poems in Relief 6.1, “Of Yellow” and “To Jochebed,” are offerings of that combination of craft and faith. “Of Yellow” utilizes the image and texture of the color yellow. Throughout my life, yellow has been tied to my associations with God—like a scent that blossoms in places where God is near. Unlike most of my poems which are patched together with revisions, “Of Yellow” came to me as a tender gift during an agonizing time. The morning of the day a divorce I couldn’t fathom became final, the poem came, and it came from a place deeper than my poetic sensibilities could reach. I treasure that poem not so much for its literary merit but for the way an unforeseen grace threaded itself through both my grief and imagination.
“To Jochebed” is a poem born out of admiration. As a young mother myself, I became fascinated with Jochebed’s story, her resilience in hiding the baby Moses from Pharaoh only to send him down the river toward a future she could only imagine. The poem also was born from a moment of realization I experienced with my own child. In the midst of a toddler tantrum, my daughter reminded me . . . of me. Yikes. Suddenly, I was facing down my own worst qualities inside the skin of my three-year old. And, like Jochebed, I will still have to send her down the river and into the hard world. I will also have to sit on my hands and pray her through outward and inward obstacles over which I have no control. Dealing with a topic so charged with raw emotion required a lot of revision, a lot of sitting on my own hands in order to let the emotion charging the poem compress and the truth of it declare itself.
Jill A. Reid lives among the pines and bayous of central Louisiana with her four year old daughter, Ellie. She teaches English at Louisiana College and recently began an MFA in poetry at Seattle Pacific University’s low residency program. Her poetry has appeared in journals like Ruminate, The Fourth River, Big Muddy, and The Penwood Review.