Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Lawrence Kessenich

( Lawrence Kessenich)

Pearl is a series of poems in the voice of Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne, protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, based on occurrences in the novel and later imagined events in her adult life in England, with “interlude” prose poems in the voice of Hawthorne, loosely based on biographical information about him.

Lawrence Kessenich won the 2010 Strokestown International Poetry Prize. His poetry has been published in Sewanee Review, Atlanta Review, Poetry Ireland Review and many other magazines. He has two poetry chapbooks, Pearl and Strange News, and two full-length poetry books, Before Whose Glory and Age of Wonders. Three of is poems were nominated for Pushcart Prizes and three read on Writer’s Almanac. Kessenich has also published essays, including one read on NPR’s This I Believe, and had short plays produced at festivals in Boston, New York and Durango, Colorado. His first novel, Cinnamon Girl, was published in September 2016. 

Pearl and Kessenich’s other books are available on his website:

The Scarlet Letter    
“She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast that it sent forth a
 cry; [the child] turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter…”

They scoff when I claim to remember it, my being
only three months in the world then, but I swear
I can feel my mother’s hands crushing me against
her bosom on the scaffold, feel the suffocating
pressure of the wild embroidered letter on my face.

God knows, that fiery A towered over my youth
like an image of Satan straddling the gates of hell
in a child’s cautionary book. It marked me as
the devil’s spawn, encouraged all manner of trite
and spiteful epithets meant to keep me in my place.

But I was a fighter, like Chillingsworth, who would have
been my father, had his right not been usurped, who
survived a shipwreck to return and drive his usurper
mad with guilt. When my taunters tossed their pathetic
pebbles at me, I fired back sharp-edged brickbats.

The scarlet letter set me apart, saved me from the stifling
cloak of conformity, but also robbed me of companions,
save mother and those I conjured from my inner world—
faeries, goblins, wizards, witches, knights on horseback
(no pale, trembling preachers were allowed to court me).

Some say there is a wounding that is also a gift. The scarlet A
seared my heart like fire and brimstone, but also shone
like a beacon from my mother’s breast, illuminating the path
less traveled, the path of joy, imagination, and love—
a path my Puritan brethren still fear to tread today.