A Gathering of Larks

A Gathering of Larks

by Guest Blogger October 26, 2017

Review by Kathryn Schuyler
From Eerdmans, 2017

Before picking up a copy of Abigail Carroll’s poetry collection A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim, I knew little of Saint Francis of Assisi but for one sepia-tinged photo in my family’s photo album. It was my childhood dog, McCauley, looking somewhat sheepish and decidedly uncomfortable as a beaming priest, with one hand on McCauley’s furry head, blessed him in front of the Episcopal church. On the back it says, “Saint Francis Day.”

It’s an odd thing to learn as a kid: that there is a special day—amidst all the priestly garb and organ-song—to bring your dog to church. And yet through Carroll’s writings, as I got to know Saint Francis in all of his quirks, nothing seemed to encapsulate his love for animals, his theatricality and absurdity, his fondness for a laugh, and his commitment to humble impropriety so much as a Springer Spaniel sitting in the third pew.

Through a collection of poems composed as letters to the Saint, Abigail Carroll intertwines his extraordinary journey of faith with her own, linking arms with her readers and bringing us along on the barefoot walk in pursuit. As Carroll parses through tales and myths, she speaks to Francis only as much as she listens to his example and asks his guidance. She imbues his long-ago figure with a fresh sense of relevance, ushering in his wisdom when it comes to her list of chores, her internet browsing, her quiet walks, and her affinity for gelato. As she writes, “What good is someone who is not actually there?” But to Carroll, and to her readers, Francis is as true a friend and constant a companion as my McCauley; the poem continues, “but how grateful I am that you are beyond a doubt / for real—not my lonely mind’s madcap invention.” 

The true gift of A Gathering of Larks is Carroll’s skill for connectedness. She harnesses the power of words to connect people to one another across miles, experiences, and in this case, centuries. Toward the end of her book, she tells the story of Francis hearing of an argument between friends, penning an extra verse to his hymn, and sending a friar to sing it to them; his words reconcile their friendship. Carroll writes of this story, “You sewed a handful of words to a tune and changed the world with a song.”

Carroll too, sews handfuls of words together, and by doing so, threads together entire worlds and personhoods. Remarkably, Carroll presses into Francis’ very character, the person between the stories, who experiences pain and indecision and loneliness just as we do. She searches for him as a singular, complicated individual emerging from the mismatched narratives and centuries thick with tradition. And this practice of searching mimics that of Francis himself, reading through the stories of Christ, and pursuing a life of poverty patterned after the man of the Scriptures.

Contemplative and amusing, Abigail Carroll’s A Gathering of Larks is an invitation to listen and to take delight in what one hears. It is an invitation to birdsong, to jokes and performances, to rustling leaves, and to one’s own voice asking questions into the world. But most of all, it is an invitation to friendship of a new kind, one unlimited by temporal proximity. As the story goes, at Francis’ death, the larks gathered in the sky above his body, in union with his gentle spirit across even species and language. One must wonder whether Carroll’s title isn’t more of a call to gather us into a flock, into a transcendent communion with a man whose connection to nature and commitment to the divine knew no limits.

-------

Kathryn Schuyler is a digital marketer and lunch-break poet, in addition to being the editorial director for Mazing magazine. She enjoys living in sunny San Diego and eating California burritos on a regular basis.

PS: beautiful poetry from Ruminate contributors here and here

 

(Photo by Will van Wingerden on Unsplash)

 

Ruminate is a part of the Amazon Affiliate Program, which means that we receive a percentage of sales from every book you buy using the link we provide in each post. For a little non-profit literary magazine, every small contribution helps keep the magazine and blog alive.




Guest Blogger
Guest Blogger

Author



Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up. We don't allow comments that are disrespectful or personally attack our blog writers.


Also in Ruminate Blog

Fluorescent by Jessica Yuan
Fluorescent by Jessica Yuan

by Ruminate Magazine February 21, 2018

Jessica Yuan's poem "Fluorescent" appears in Issue No. 46: A Way Through

It took years to arrive and your eyes 

became accustomed to light at all hours,

Read More

Researchers Find the Birth of Civilization in a Nutshell
Researchers Find the Birth of Civilization in a Nutshell

by Guest Blogger February 20, 2018

In Orion, ionized clouds larger than cities and planets billow into space. Stars swarm and explode in a glorious million-year dance. The scientists and reporters say all of life’s ingredients are there. Before I knew of science, my eyes taught me the ways of the cosmos. I could look up at the night and feel at home. 

Read More

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Guest Blogger February 15, 2018 2 Comments

At the moment, the assumption to question is that we humans have a right to be on earth and that it will indefinitely support us. When the very ground is taken from beneath our feet, where can we stand? What is left to us, when the familiar forms of our physical existence are taken away? Nothing, perhaps—yet I wonder.

Read More