When Poems Speak Love, So Says Shann Ray

When Poems Speak Love, So Says Shann Ray March 1, 2019

Well friends, I’ve got a treat for you today! Shann Ray is a friend, a poet, a systems psychologist, an award-winning novelist, a dad and a husband. And y’all, after spending a week together at Collegeville Institute, not only did I know he was the real deal, but I knew I wanted to host him in this space. So, cozy up and read about him and his new book of poetry, Sweetclover, then leave a comment at the end for a chance to win a copy! 

Tell us a bit about yourself, will you? I grew up in Montana, spent summers on my grandparents’ ranch, hiked the mountains and fished the rivers with my father, and listened to gospel music from the Imperials with my mom.  I love my wife, Jennifer, and have loved her for the last 33 years!  She is my friend, my beloved, and the one my soul loves.  She also leads a large multinational sports company and is the electrifying, hilarious, deeply intuitive, and deeply intelligent mother of our three daughters, Natalya, Ariana, and Isabella.  The love I receive from all four of them is the essence of God in my life.  They speak the mystery into me, they embody grace and power, they are life-giving, and they humble me.  I can hardly believe the gift I’ve been given to be loved by them!

I pray to see the world with a poet’s eyes, and value how the great poets give us peace and lead us deeper into ourselves and closer to each other.  I spent part of my childhood on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeast Montana, and as a forgiveness researcher I’ve had the honor to serve as a visiting scholar in North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. I am the author of the novel American Copper, winner of the Foreword Readers Choice Book of the Year Award and the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America; American Masculine, which received the American Book Award and the Bakeless Prize; a work of political theory, Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity, an Amazon Top Ten Hot New Selection in War and Peace in Current Events; and Balefire, a poetry collection that was granted the High Plains Book Award in poetry. My work has been honored with a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and featured in EsquirePoetryMcSweeney’sMontana QuarterlyNarrative, and Salon.  A systems psychologist focusing on the psychology of men, I now live in Spokane, Washington, teaching leadership and forgiveness studies at Gonzaga University.

Let’s talk about your book: what, in a nutshell, is your book about anyway? Sweetclover is a book about the marriage bed beyond nihilism.  I find that pairing not only necessary for good marriage, but hilarious in it’s philosophical irony.

Do tell, what was the inspiration behind it? A couple of years ago I witnessed a play featuring modern dance in which the dancers interpreted Rilke’s Book of Hours through individual and collective interpretations of the body in movement, silent, vocal, ethereal, muscular, transcendent.  This struck me as so unique and raw and beautiful, it sent me seeking to write a book of poems that would not see God as distant, unreachable, or voiceless, but rather as intimate, closer than a sister or brother, and speaking with an elegant  physical music.  In the Latin, the soul of Christ, the Anima Christi, takes the feminine form.  My wife lives in such a way that I see and feel the soul of Christ, revealed in her everyday life toward me.

I wanted to write a book about wilderness, in Montana, in the lands that surround us on every continent, and also about the wilderness so often found in the heart of marriage.  Sweetclover came from that impulse.  Sweetclover is a book of poems that speaks of the marriage bed in which two unite to become one, through all desolations, shadows, and internal or external threats, being made whole through a sacred, if winnowing, process over the many years and seasons of marriage.  We all experience fracture.  I hope these poems embrace that fracture, and respond by asking forgiveness, making atonement with one another, and looking with both bodily and spiritual desire into what my wife and I see see as the sacrament of marriage.  This intimacy, found in the kind of marital love I’ve experienced as healing my wounds, healing our brokenness, and leading us home hand in hand, forms the central poetry sequence of the book, from which the other poems spiral and move outward into the borderlands of the collection.

How do you hope readers will be changed by your words?  I think love changes us.  Poems can embody or speak love.  That’s the hope.  

Lest we forget to ask, how have YOU been changed by writing the book? I’ve found that people who desire communion with one another in a beloved community, and communion with God, often feel great despair over the failure of relationships, especially marriage relationships.  Certainly, it is part of the great mystery to consider, desire, and purposefully develop wholeness in marriage, emotionally, in friendship, intellectually, sexually, and spiritually.  This book helped me contemplate the beauty of the wife in oneness with the beauty of the husband.  Because of the journey with these poems, I feel more humbled, more grateful, and more in tune with the body of marriage, which I see as a graceful if elusive essence of God in the world.  

How and where can we find you on the internet? You can find me through this website, www.shannray.com or by email at ferch@gonzaga.edu.  I’m so grateful for the community of artists, readers, writers, dancers, painters, sculptors, musicians, and beloved others I’ve been given to know and learn from.  Love to hear from you!

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m eager to get my hands on this book. I got to preview a couple of the poems, and friends, they’re delectable. So, leave a comment below for your chance to win! 

*Post contains LOTS of Amazon links. Obviously.

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