by Antoinette Voute Roeder
Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 2010
Reviewed by Spiritual Directors International
Antoinette Voûte Roeder, a spiritual director and retreat leader, is a poet with a voice that will awaken and nourish our inner and outer landscapes. Her second book of poems, Still Breathing, invites the reader to recognize truth in relationships, creativity, nature, and the simplicity of the present moment. Readers of Spiritual Directors International publications will recognize Roeder; her poems have appeared in Presence journal and Listen: A Seeker's Resource for Spiritual Direction.
Offering a contemplative, vivid voice, with more than one hundred poems to choose from,Still Breathing is comprised of six broad sections: “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” “Up Close and Personal.” “Still Breathing,” “The Poem That Awaits,” “Birds I Have Known,” and “Epilogue.” Each time I open Still Breathing, a different poem greets and speaks to me. In the brief section, “To the Reader,” Roeder explains why: “Poetry is a process of exploration and discovery. We find ourselves seeking meaning and relevance at one time, beauty and contentment at another, comfort, or the expression of our anger and impotence” (13).
Whether it is writing about rain, kisses, a cup of tea, birds, God, prayer, Thomas Merton, the sea, clouds, hoarfrost, a beanpot, or aging, Roeder will captivate. In “Deep Rain” she writes, “I will not overwhelm you, / see? Slowly, carefully, I part / the grass, the bushes, / softening soil and only then / penetrate your roots / that you may take me in, / absorb me as much / as you can for now. (24). We learn about prayer in “My Sister, the Contemplative” when she writes, “She has no words. / She has no training, / has not read tomes / on meditation, / does not sit zazen, / and her limbs are not / inclined to lotus / but she sits / looks up / and sighs. (65). In “The Path” spiritual directors will recognize this experience: “When you have followed the map which is not a map / and created the path with every step / you will traverse the in-ferno, / meet the dragons and find them / tame.” (128).
In addition to accompanying my own poetic sensibilities and sense of belonging, I appreciate well written poems. Thus, I foresee sharing Roeder’s poems with spiritual directees, and when I lead retreats and workshops. Spiritual directors will recognize the deep listening and quality of presence that Roeder brings to the reader. Her poems will greet you with a kernel of something you may not know you wanted to hear or see. My favorites keep shifting, and I appreciate the surprise of encountering something new. Roeder writes, “…poetry starts with the breath, as in meditation. It is punctuated breath, colored breath, textured breath. And, when it is, it may land you right in the middle of this inordinately rich, beautiful, and painful world” (14). This is where my contemplative practice takes me, and this is where her poems guide as well—to the heart of the rich experience of life.
Consequently, if you appreciate poetry, and it brings you to prayer, add Still Breathing to your collection. The concluding poem, “Eternal,” offers, “If this is all there is, / you know, when this / magical body folds and / its shine slowly creeps / away, if this is all / there is, it may very well / be fine.” (173). After you discover delight in Still Breathing, make sure to open Roeder’s first book of poetry, Weaving The Wind (2006).