LYRIC PERFORMANCES Rachel Mann “Fides Quaerens”

Am I required to believe / In the uncorruption of saints,/ The Mother’s timeless womb? / / There is limit, even if limit / Is never drawn (I cannot/ Give an instance of every rule.)/ / I don’t know what ‘believe in’ means / In the vast majority of cases,/ Which is to say I think it enough// To acknowledge the glamour of words— / Relic, body, bone— I think / Mystery is laid in syllables, syntax, // Miracles a kind of grammar, / Milk to train the tongue.
from NEW POETRIES 7 edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet 2020)

FRAME OF REFERENCE Idiot wisdom: knowing and unknowing, in a willingness that returns us to the primal porosity and the elemental ontological receptivity and thankfulness for the gift of being at all. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, 113.

So much going on here. I’ve modified the banner of this blog to reflect more accurately what it’s about. How we perform a lyric, make it real. Item: the core energy of Fidens Quaerens (seeking faith, as in Augustine for starts) is the energy between the words grammar and glamour. (Look them up.) It’s a gift.

In matters of faith, the most pressing matters of belief, modern reason breaks down, equivocity counts. Rules bewitch us.

Poet Rachel Mann is an Anglican parish priest. She has published four books, including a memoir and a historical study. She has issues with beliefs commonly held by her parishioners and issues with beliefs commonly held by fellow poets. Fides Quaerens raises these issues in honest English and superbly controlled vernacular, conversational (for a distinguished priest) style.

But the argument is somewhat vertiginous. It’s a great ride. Following the lyric itinerary in its Augustinian version — outer to inner, lower to higher (acknowledging the paradox of holy poverty)— it turns, after considering, with finesse, certain questions of belief, into the cloudy sunlit horizons of acknowledgment. One might say confession.

Logic and conceptual certainty give way to ways of thinking rooted in contemplation. These ways are grounded in the figure of figures, analogy. You have to think things through on patterns of diagonal comparisons that exhaust description. Assymetric symmetries. Performing a poem this good refreshes your mindfulness. Mystery is laid in syntax, syllables. That is, mystery is rule bound by grammar in the largest sense. Mann draws on sources shared by poets and thinkers, Geoffrey Hill and Wittgenstein among countless others, time immemorial. The sources confirm the role of practice, performance, in shaping the faces of belief. Performing this poem allows for selving of the better selves.

The poem has its stylistic reserves. Think Bach or the grace of a double play. As I say, the poem isn’t over until it acknowledges beyond sweet persuasion the finite other of the chiastic agapeic flesh: Milk to train the tongue.

Now read the FRAME OF REFERENCE. Put it away for reference. FIDES QUAERENS illustrates the profit of regular attention to matters of faith, and not only for priests. The issues are rooted in our practice of lyric, grammar, and our openness to the glamour of what exceeds thought.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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