Something… Holy…?

I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like Holy Things by Jay Rafferty.

It’s compelling and funny, and irreverent. Literally. Rafferty has a self-reflective yet cynical voice when referencing the church and it’s quite intriguing, to say the least.

(Oh, and before I forget, here’s a link to my vlog… and, in case you missed it, here’s an author interview of Rafferty!)

Clocking in at just over thirty pages, this collection is a short one, but it’s one to mull over. Anyone who has grown up with faith, specifically Catholicism (regardless of whether or not you still practice) is almost sure to relate to some degree, and perhaps recoil to another. In a way, it almost reminds me of some of the cynical jokes comedians make about religion after having left it—I can’t tell if Rafferty has, and perhaps that’s why I kept thinking about this collection all week.

The collection starts off with a few poems about sex. They’re gritty and evocative, there’s some imagery there, some abstraction…and then the third poem starts a series of what I’m going to call non-contiguous poems. This series is called “The Seven Sacraments of Love” (one may think “that checks out, the first two were just about sex, or ‘love making’ as some call it”—we’re also going to call this series SSL) and it’s non-contiguous because other poems are sprinkled throughout. Now you may think that the non-SSL poems would be disrupted, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the flow very enjoyable, even with these brief interruptions.

So. The SSL programs follow the basic seven sacraments of Catholicism/Christianity. On one hand, the labels totally make sense—for example, the baptismal poem has the narrator “baptizing” their lover; it’s the beginning of the relationship. On the other hand, there’s a certain air of wit. Self awareness, cynicism, and even criticism of the structure around the sacraments. Stylistically, I thought it was an incredibly interesting choice because the subjects of each poem—largely having to do with love, the self, and even to some extent society/community—are related to the sacrament but there’s a certain degree of deviation.

For example, in the confession poem, I loved how Rafferty flipped the narrative. Instead of confessing to a “higher authority,” the narrator is confessing to his/her lover. “Forgive me love/these mentioned/unmentionables.” Isn’t that such a brilliant line? Because our sins (or whatever you want to call them) are often unmentioned, whether we mean to omit them from public/polite conversation or not. Even if they’re deemed serious or not—like when the narrator admits, almost in a #sorrynotsorry (but actually kind of sorry because they want to support their person and share some interests) tone, but Hamilton just isn’t they’re jam, no matter how often they are played that one song their person loves.

Isn’t that just so relatable?

I think religion is often seen as this ethereal, mysterious thing that is entirely in its own realm. It’s completely separate from science (“The hill I will die on” even kind of references this separation), and as such, nonsensical. I don’t know if it was Rafferty’s intention or not, but I feel as though some of these poems almost made aspects of Catholicism more relatable… by putting them in these person-to-person contexts, like the Hamilton comment.

I dunno, those little bits of explanation—intentional or not—and especially the bits of criticism stuck with me. Made me ponder the piece… and isn’t that the point of poetry? To make you feel things, think things, and to stay with you?

I did really enjoy the collection, as I said, it was short and an amusing read. I think it’s a collection best for people who don’t take their faith (or absence of faith) too seriously because I could see where some religious people might be a little uptight about it.

That’s all I’ve got for now! Next week I’ll be reviewing Echoes by Alan Parry.

Happy Reading!


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