WelCom April 2020:
Syrian Boy and other poems
By Jim Consedine
Published by Ploughshares Publications
Reviewed by Michael Fitzsimons
The great American poet, Mary Oliver once said when it comes to writing poetry the idea comes first. Form follows. And indeed when it comes to Jim Consedine’s poetry, the idea is always front and centre.
Jim Consedine is a priest whose ministry over five decades has taken him to the margins of society, working as a prison chaplain for 23 years at the five Christchurch prisons and helping to run houses of hospitality for the homeless, the addicted and the inner-city poor.
Unsurprisingly, the ‘idea’ that sits at the centre of many poems in this collection is the identification between Christ and the suffering poor. And implicitly a question is posed about our response to that reality.
‘with no room at the inn
he sits, cap extended
the face of Christ at South City’
– the cap
‘face taunt, razor thin
pale in the fading light
she sits across the table
devouring a pie
warm only now
washed down with coffee
four o’clock her first meal of
– living with poverty
The writing is direct and powerful, paying attention to the ‘outsider, the dishevelled Christ’, to ‘the margins/where Christ prowls’, the very places our society likes to ignore. There are personal poems honouring his brothers, the prophetic priest Daniel Berrigan and a few swipes along the way at ‘clerical dieback’ and the ‘purpled wolves’ who circle ‘Francis the free’.
In contrasting tone, the collection concludes with a series of poems acutely observing the beautiful natural world where ‘the universe is held together by divine glue’.
Paying attention is the secret to good writing and good living. There’s plenty of good writing in these poems, as well as provocation to think about whether as Christians we are living by what we say we believe in. A bracing, stimulating read.
Syrian Boy and other poems can be purchased from the publisher: Jim Consedine, Ploughshares Publications, PO Box 33135, Christchurch 8244. Price $20 (includes postage).