Monday, August 1, 2022

Guilty Prayer

Steve Henn is reading for the library in September, so I am starting off the Sealey Challenge with two of his chapbooks from Main Street Rag: Guilty Prayer (2021) and American Male (2022). Don't worry, the latter is more a critique of "toxic masculinity" than any kind of celebration. I do hope I can keep up with the Sealey Challenge, and read a book of poems a day in August, but I am in a busy time of life, just off a week-long family gathering, just starting a board presidency, and re-situating myself, so we'll see! I have certainly enjoyed the Sealey Challenge in the past, and love the chance to read poetry sitting in a lawn chair in the back yard. Aha! I am already quoting from "American Male," making it a Random Coinciday, as well as a Poetry Someday in the blog:

     Isn't it true I'd rather sit out back
     in a cheap lawn chair reading poems
     than do the edge trimming
     or admire a full wall display
     of oppressively shiny tools?

So Steve Henn is exactly the right guy to start off with, and I've got to love a man who asks the question, "Why / do I always feel a surge of anxiety / stepping into a hardware store?" Meanwhile, guys are using power saws in the back yard that backs up to mine, and my husband is using one intermittently in the garage, so the plan may change and, since the heat has arrived, involve a ceiling fan.

Also, again from American Male, I've got to love a guy that starts a poem ("Hail Mary," after Frank O'Hara and for Anne Henn), "Mothers of America! / Take your boys to the library!" These poems are honest, bold, tender, and sad. They contain grief, suicide, treatment for mental illness, alcoholism, sobriety, teenagers, high school classrooms, dear, dear friends, and real, deep questions. Here's one, from "Columbia, Misery" in Guilty Prayer; "What is it the addicted are really addicted to?" and the possible, quite reasonable answer: "Feeling better?" Along with the confusing reality: "If I felt okay continuously / I wouldn't know how to take it." And here's another, related, question, this one from "It Goes All the Way Back to 7th Grade" in American Male: "what kind of deluded perfectionist thinks / he has a right to feel good all the time?" I am that kind, or have been. What am I now? These are the kinds of poems that encourage you to ask...

Henn's poems challenge us to face, and stop, gun violence. In "Role-Playing Games," in Guilty Prayer, we live through/imagine school trainings, for adults and kids, and it's awful. "Admit / that this is what we have become." But on the very next page, "In the classroom," we are reading a poem by Ada Limon, in touching togetherness--literally touching, one boy touching another on the arm "in a gesture of comfort." So lovely to see! 

Guilty Prayer is "for Zeb"--a good friend who appears in several poems--and "in memory of Lydia F. Henn, 1980-2013, American artist" and the mother of the poet's children, the terrible loss, the grief we feel throughout. A suffering that provokes compassion and care. I'm glad we get to see those kids growing up loved and feeling safe, as safe as anyone can feel/be these days, with their dad. And I'm glad their dad, in American Male, has a sense of humor as well as a sense of responsibility, so he'll help them get through. Enough of a sense of humor to say, about himself:

     because isn't it just like a man to require
     reassurance when pretty much the only problem is

     he's being an idiot?

Yep, gotta love him. Can't wait to hear him read. 

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