Saint Sinatra and Other Poems
Hannan, Maryanne, Anglican Theological Review
Saint Sinatra and Other Poems. By Angela Alaimo O'Donnell. Cincinnati, Ohio: Word Press, 2011. 100 pp. $19.00 (paper).
In a recent review of William A. Dyrness s Poetic Theology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life in the ATR's Winter 2012 issue, the reviewer wrote: "Different forms of theohgia poetica take seriously the idea that the symbolic spaces created by various forms of cultural expression reflect the unspoken and sometimes unspeakable longings in which lie the hidden collective and individual symbols for people's lives." Angela Alaimo O'Donnell's Saint Sinatra and Other Poems fully inhabits this space. O'Donnell takes at face value the Catholic doctrine of communio sanctorum, the communion of saints, which includes both holy persons, living and dead, and holy things, signs and symbols of the divine. Her worldview is fully incarnational; the poems question sacred-profane dichotomies. The sonnet "St. Vincent" uses, as epigram, a quote from Van Gogh's letters, "The best way to love God is to love many things" (p. 60). Poetry itself can be holy: "And every poem speaks a sacrament, / blood of blessing, bread of the word" ("St. Seamus," p. 48).
We, in the persons of Thomas Merton and Czeslaw Milosz, are "hungry for food that feeds / holy the imperishable heart" ("The Conversation," p. 41). Using distinctive quotations from both men as a framework to their conversation, this poem embodies deep respect for individual strivings without undue regard for traditional notions. That respect is the energy behind the entire collection: "He made me Milosz, you Merton, / and neither of us home / and sent on a pilgrimage to find it" (p. 43).
O'Donnell entertains cultural icons of every sort: the eponymous Sinatra, Springsteen's saxophonist, artists Van Gogh, J. M. W. Turner, Marge Crisp, John Collier, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville. These figures play so familiarly in the landscape of the poems that boundaries collapse: after hearing Clarence Clemons's sax solo, "your story our own, / being and blood, player and played . . . god-longing / heard and sung" ("St. Clarence," p. 51). Living or dead, these people are hers.
If Sinatra is the "Sicilian Saint of Song" ("Saint Sinatra," p. 13), Catherine of Siena is "St. Kate." The narrator addresses God directly, using bits of Catherines biography to charge: "All she wanted was You. / What she got was / Every One" ("St. …