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The Liturgy of Listening | 7.1 Poet Kerri Snell

Trevor Sutton

7.1 Poet Kerri Snell tells about the importance of listening for writing poetry.

listenA poem that “works” for an audience is at once both personal and universal. It is still a mystery to me how some of my poems transcend ambiguity and self-consciousness and become living works. I write to understand, and yet my poetry usually provides me with more questions than answers about God, about Nature, about relationships.

Why do I write poetry? I think it is because reading and writing poetry comforts me in a mothering sort of way. I can bed down with my own lack of knowledge and feel that through creation of a poem, I can accept, as I believe God accepts, my glaring limitations. Poetry is for me an experience of Grace.

I have immersed myself in the poetry of Maurice Manning of late, stunned to discover the form he has mastered in capturing old ways and old voices. His poems are linguistic artifacts described through one of the purest voices I have encountered. Like Manning, I write from a distinct geographical landscape. His is Kentucky and mine is Oklahoma. Nurturing my poetic landscape is my personal window into the heterocosm of a poem and it is for me worship. My landscape requests certain liturgical activities more in keeping with Emily Dickinson’s concept of the Sabbath than with the Evangelical Church.

In order to enjoy a successful day of writing, I must get outside every day, usually for a walk or a run. I have to engage in some form of physical exertion in order to slow down my thought processes so that I can record them. Creating on optimal environment for poetry to happen is integral to my success as a writer. I seek light, open, minimally-cluttered space, and of course, solitude. My writing process involves engaging the works of other poets, remembering old hymns, reading the Bible, reading a ton of nonfiction, and then writing, writing, writing. It is remembering loved ones. It is reading history. It is contemplating the future. Mostly, it is prayerfully working to respect the perspectives of others. Poetry requires courage, as does faith. In the midst of doubt, we must create a fluid knowing.  When we begin to see everything as a possible prayer, we begin to learn to listen. Listening is the pivotal liturgical act of poetry.

Kerri Vinson Snell's poems ""Freedom", "The Well", and "Bride"" appear in issue 7.1 of Relief.