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Departures: A Collection of Poems

Departures: A Collection of Poems
by Philip C. Kolin
Mobile, AL: Negative Capability Press, 2014
120 pages
Reviewed by Sister Lou Ella Hickman, IWBS

If you are looking for a special tool for your spiritual direction toolbox, consider Philip Kolin’s new volume of poetry. The title suggests a leaving—perhaps a loss or the shadow side of life. Yet readers will discover a shimmering in the darkness. When I received the book, I began reading the poems at the end of the book. This is where I encountered Sister Bertha—the main character in “A Date with God’s Cousin.” I mused, I hope I get to meet more people like her in this book!

The book itself is divided into five sections, a progression of growing up with various losses at each stage. Kolin often employs the words shadow or shadows. They are apt words for spiritual direction, with its journey of seeking God where God is most often overlooked.

A number of poems could be offered for prayerful reflection as well as for teaching. For example, “The Prayer Lady” could help heal someone’s painful choice of placing an elderly family member in a nursing home. I wish I had read this poem while I was offering spiritual direction to a spiritual directee in that situation. Even though “Emergency Lovers” deals with hospital stays and dying, it shows how “in sickness and in health” is lived out and that death does not have the final word. In the poem “The Air Has Left Our House Dry,” the reader is confronted with the shadow of family grief. It ends, “She decided to wear / Sunglasses after sunset.” A spiritual direction question becomes:“Does her decision help her to move on? Where is God when her children ask about their inheritance; especially when that is all they seem to be interested in?”

There is another side to letting go or a “departure.” Old wounds are healed when one allows oneself to be embraced in love. Such is the idea in “Kenny’s Chill Pills.” However, a spiritual directee could ask, “Is it worth the risk?” If used well, the poem could be especially helpful for someone who feels betrayed by her or his religious institution, God, or both. Finally, my favorite is “A Eulogy for the Buffalo”. Kolin gives voice to the invisible in our society: the Native Americans. How might this poem speak to someone who has a difficult time fitting in spiritually or elsewhere? In what way or ways could a person who struggles to survive include this poem as prayerful refection?

Philip C. Kolin is the University Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Southern Mississippi, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA. He is the editor of the Southern Quarterly and has published six books of poetry as well as nearly forty books on people such as Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, William Shakespeare, Adrienne Kennedy, and Suzan-Lori Parks. His textbook, Successful Writing at Work, is now in its tenth edition.

Sister Lou Ella Hickman, IWBS, is a poet, freelance writer, and spiritual director living in Corpus Christi, Texas, USA.

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