Friday, June 09, 2006

Becoming Fire: Spiritual Writing From Rising Generations. Edited by Alexander Levering Kern. (Andover Newton Publications, Newton Centre, Mass.) $13.

Alex Levering Kern writes in his introduction to “Becoming Fire: Spiritual Writing From Rising Generations:”

“The book project began with an awareness of absence on several levels. In my years of living and working with young adults I have been astonished by the creative and distinctive ways, in which rising generations inherit their faith, form vibrant communities of their own, practice spirituality and activism, construct theology, and make meaning of their lives…. in the literary market place younger spiritual voices are woefully underrepresented…. this collection offers a vision of creative and engaged faith and a testimony to the diverse gifts and callings of rising generations. In this spirit, Becoming Free, extends radical hospitality to voices that are frequently relegated to the margins of mainstream spiritual writing and theological discourse on the basis of age, race, sexual orientation, or religious identity.”

This anthology showcases the spiritual voices of General X and Y, and the Hip Hop generation, along with selected works of older writers. What the book proves, and proves resoundingly is that the under 40 crowd is not a bunch of Paris Hilton ciphers, obsessed with navel gazing. The poets and writers in this collection have a deep interest in the nature of being, and seem to have actively engaged in an ongoing search for their own spirituality, be it through organized religion, or through their own personal quests.

The lead poem, and appropriately so, is by the accomplished poet Sophie Wadsworth, titled “Lost.” Wadsworth using the state of being lost in the woods, as a touchstone for finding oneself in spite of the incessant chatter of a frenetic inner and outer world:

“If you’ve taken stock—
food, knife, matches,
fuel—if you backtracked
and map checked and every tree
looks alike, the mind may start
its manic talk of broken ankles
and electrical storms.

Try to still that voice.
Listen for the ripple of birdsong,
Synchronizing your breath
With the canopy’s rise and fall. “

I loved Ian Thal’s Whitmanesque romp through Brooklyn (“A Child’s Trip Through The Underworld”) on the A-Train—bringing the high holy to the everyday:

“Hail to the A-Train
circa nineteen-seventy eight
cars clanking proudly illuminated
in fuchsia, sky, black, and gold spray paint
graffitied with esoteric writing few can read…
(at any speed) ….

holy are the drivers who drive
holy are the couplings that link
holy are the riders who ride
holy are the turnstiles leapt
holy are the lights that blind…”

So often people associate religion, spiritualism, as either dry dogma or facile New Age claptrap. These poets bring a lush and engaging lyricism in a quest we are all involved in, whether we now it or not.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ Somerville, Mass./ June 2006


  1. Anonymous3:46 PM

    > Ian Thal’s Whitmanesque romp through Brooklyn

    Thanks, Doug, for reminding me that I really should read Whitman-- that shall be placed on my "to-do" list.

    My father is native to Brooklyn, though the memories that inspire the piece happen to be of a ride under the west side of Manhattan. Of course, the A-Train does stretch to Brooklyn: all the way to Rockaway Beach-- but also to Harlem (alluded to by way of a Billy Strayhorn melody.)

    Ian Thal