Book Review: PRAY, PRAY, PRAY by E. Kristin Anderson
E. Kristin Anderson’s chapbook, PRAY, PRAY, PRAY captures the poignancy of the pre-dawn hour prayer. As Anderson writes in “Pray, pray, pray”
I shout curse words at no one. I have been told
that I am not weak. In last night’s dark I wrote
This is an ode to the struggle of modernity, the struggle to find and create meaning amidst loneliness, lonely fellow artists, and the conflicts inherent to the modern stalwarts against loneliness: medications, partying, taking comfort in domestic rituals, sunglasses, and Prince’s haunting music and personality.
Here I am to haunt my own future,
that falsehood that I still cannot endorse.
(“Anchored in small town beauty and city heat”)
Anderson’s weaving in and out of despair, and the sheer willful act of discovering hope, strives to endorse the empty space that is uncontainable, un-falsified, and ultimately un-endorsable. The narrator, feeling into the space between artists and between depressed and fulfilled self, examines what fills the space of daily life. The empty space becomes a prayer to find hope for tomorrow, for art, for the American way of life. When the speaker fully connects with Prince, we are invited to share in that ineffable sensation of hope in the face of a human heart so in pain that death becomes an option. She describes the magic of Prince’s music in “Another Lover:”
We ladies swoon and suffer.
You breathe song into our air,
Give it weight, make it bearable.
But it is not simply receiving another’s invigorating art but the act of an artist in the process of creation. Anderson discusses the struggle of her own poems as well as the simple act of creation that is a human life in “I’m probably dying tomorrow:”
…And the most amazing thing
is how our bodies move. How we trip and we fall and
we dance. Hips and ankles damned to Hell, we move.
These poems dance with despair: with Prince’s music, with Prince as an artist, with efforts to live a functional city life, with tribulations as a creator of art and of things, with American urban identity, and with drug use, words, and sounds to cope. Never resting on a conclusion or one emotional state, Anderson choreographs the emotional effort to come to grips with the self in the 21st century. And, like most prayers through the course of human history, hers is answered through connection—to artists such as Prince, to readers, friends, as well as to the body. But the most powerful connection built throughout the chapbook is the sense of intimate connection to agency, richly embodied in the last poem, “Every Salted Breath:” “There are creatures there, our future selves, waiting / in the water. Pray. Beg. Love. Taste every salted breath.”
Anderson charts a path through the weight of the modern life—dancing with what is and resting on our individual ability to act, create, and appreciate beauty.
Amanda Hemmingsen, a Kansas native, has been consuming and creating poetry for quite some time now. Currently serving as the Poetry Editor for Ad Astra.