Review — An Outcast Age

Clinton Collister and Dan Rattelle, eds. An Outcast Age. Little Gidding Press, 2022, 54 pp, £11.95 paperback.

Cover for An Outcast Age

As the second anthology of Christian verse edited by Clinton Collister and Dan Rattelle, the poems of An Outcast Age draw on historical figures or events to illuminate those who have been outcast throughout the ages. The title of the collection refers to Jonathan Swifts Ode to Dr William Sancroft, a poem set within the tumultuous life of Archbishop Sancroft in the seventeenth century. Its final lines are both paean and defense: Let not the outcasts of this outcast age / Provoke the honour of my Muses rage.1

Best described by the editors themselves as poems that see the fullness of reality, contemplating the storm clouds and radiance of experience’,2 the thirty-one poems of this anthology skilfully and intricately delve into the nature and reality of creation.

Alluding to one of the earliest historical settings, Travis Wrights Ode to Paniscos is based on an ancient contract of sale of a sandbank within Egypt. He meditates on hardship behind the fragments, castaways on the bank.3 Set far later, in 1940 and 2001, Catherine Savage Brosmans Compiègne acts as one of the starkest and most recent reminders of an ‘outcast’ age.4

The poems of An Outcast Age invite the reader to see and experience the fullness of reality in diversely different ways. As Wright and Brosman highlight above, common humanity is one aspect of this fullness. Another aspect of the fullness of reality, perhaps more unexpected, is that which outcastsin different times have sometimes had in common. For example, in Cædmon, Jane Blanchard reminds the reader that, though the earliest-known poet of Old-English, Caedmon was first a shepherd who was Ashamed to be without a song to share /With men more talented apparently.5 Sarah Laws Alfred Hope Patten echoes this closely.6

In the preface, Paul J. Pastor encourages the reader to hold closely the very word outcast, for ‘[y]ou may be rewarded for asking questions of each piece that relate to place, to voice, & to change or even conflict.7 I would add that it is not only rewarding to ask questions of each poem, but also that without such questions we would miss many dimensions of each one.

In this vein, Sally Thomas’s The Hermit Prays the Liturgy of the Hours develops another dimension of being ‘outcast’, that of physical separation, one that reveals no less radiance of experience.8

Betsy K. Browns Basilique du Sacré Cœur assimilates physical and social aspects of being cast out with material features of holiness. The steps of the Basilique act, at times, as a metaphor for divine clothing,billow[ing] down the hill like a robe, with a hem’, and have stone skirts.9 And, like a calligram, the shape of the lines are close to the steps themselves. Though the poem intimates the mercy of God holding those who are outcast (here at this place are three’), it also points to a deeper, underlying brokenness.

Other poems probe what it means to be outcast spiritually within a fallen world.10  One of the brightest examples of this is Pañuelos by Sarah Collister. Opening with the haunting line,I hear the song echoing in the Subte halls,11 the poem interweaves many of the themes touched on above. The third and final verse unites what it means to be outcast in a fallen world with – a striking note – the blessedness of children, the only ones passing who care’. Sunken Island by Daniel Gustafson uses the island to represent the dire state were in’, urging us to learn againhow to withstand as one the surge and flak, to hold our own and others’ backs.12

But as the title to which An Outcast Age also alludes—Isaiah 11—the poems delve into faith and creation joyfully by assemblingwhat might initially seem scattered. In The Back Porch, Daniel Sheehan divides three different sections of the poem into Garden’,Nest’, and Birdsong. Like The Hermit Prays the Liturgy of the Hours, the garden, in itself simile, richly parallels nature and faith: Magnolia or willow/The leaves of common prayer.13 It is the gardener, a central thread running through the verses, that allows another aspect of what might be considered outto be approached differently.

The second of Sarah Collisters poems, Whitsunday, is centred around the will and spirit of God throughout and within, raising a different question concerning outcast. Namely, what should be cast out? The idea of outcast is inverted in the dwelling of the Spirit: But a violent wind as it takes the roof / Off of our house and enters every room.14

All rich and all abundant, many other poems – too many to do justice here—also transform the idea of ‘outcast’. Malcolm Guite concludes the anthology with Dominus Illuminati, a poem responding to Psalm 27. In thirst for spiritual vision, he directs the reader towards the eternal participation of God in all creation, his bountiful/Presence shimmering behind the dim/Veil of things.15 Guite voices the call of this presence.

A form of vision in themselves, every poem in this collection has something new, true and beautiful to contribute – just as Swifts Ode opens with the lines,Truth is eternal, and the Son of Heavn / Bright effluence of thimmortal ray’. Particularly apposite, for me Sam Cross’s Soul in the City summarises this anthology in two lines: Come, it calls. Come and see / Christ dwells within.16

 


Jonathan Swift, ‘Ode to Dr William Sancroft’, The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift, vol. 18, arranged by Thomas Sheridan (London: Luke Hansard, 1801), 395.

2 Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister, ‘Book description of An Outcast Age’, Amazon.co.uk. Accessed 1 June 2023. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outcast-Age-Clinton-Collister/dp/B0BF361WBV/ref=sr_1_1?crid=17H6H6ZKKE24D&keywords=an+outcast+age&qid=1684587840&sprefix=an+outcast+age%2Caps%2C372&sr=8-1.

3 Travis Wright, ‘Ode to Paniscos’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 34.

4 Catharine Savage Brosman, ‘Compiègne’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 25.

5 Jane Blanchard, ‘Cædmon’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 35.

6 Sarah Law, ‘Alfred Hope Patten’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 39.

7  Paul J. Pastor, ‘Preface’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), viii.

8 Sally Thomas, ‘The Hermit Prays the Liturgy of the Hours’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 11.

9 Betsy  K. Brown, ‘Basilique du Sacré Cœur’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 48.

10 Doug Taylor-Weiss, ‘Ekphrasis on Tree Growing from Adams Grave’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 32.

11 Sarah Collister, ‘Pañuelos’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 46.

12 Daniel Gustafson, ‘Sunken Island’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 33.

13 Daniel Sheehan, ‘The Back Porch’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 20.

14 Sarah Collister, ‘Whitsunday’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 47.

15 Malcolm Guite, ‘Dominus Illuminatio’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 53.

16 Sam Cross, ‘Soul in the City’, An Outcast Age, eds. Dan Rattelle and Clinton Collister (Little Gidding Press, 2022), 41.

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