The Book of Trees
Author: Sean M. Conrey
Number Of Pages: 106
Publisher: Saint Julian Press, Inc.
Release Date: 2017-11-20
"The outcome of spiritual contemplation is not beauty, certainly not worldly beauty, neither is the outcome worldly comfort. And yet our contemplation occurs necessarily in the world and is of the world. This is the paradox one must accept if the spiritual life is to be deepened and extended. As this absorbing book makes clear, we have nature and language to house this paradox, indeed, to give it life, that we may grasp it and live with it. An ancient world is fully alive in these poems, tended by a devoted hand. This is a rich and satisfying book, a transport and a safe return at once. One may conclude that serious contemplation is never solitary—it is, like art, an act of fellowship."
Maurice Manning, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize: author of The Gone and the Going Away (2013), and One Man’s Dark (2016).
"Both elegiac and radical, Sean M. Conrey’s fascinating The Book of Trees imagines and recreates the voice of Saint Columba, the 6th century Irish priest and scholar once known as Columcille. Melding ekphrasis (inspired by the Ogham alphabet) and dramatic monologue, Conrey’s thickly intertextual poems deftly find the seam between the Catholic and Druidic legacies of Ireland. Through the voice of one who partook in the erasure of pagan wisdom, Conrey works to recover what we might have lost in the triumph of Catholicism, to discover what Fanny Howe calls the “God behind God.”
Philip Metres, author of Sand Opera
"In the opening lines of “Willow,” a poem in Sean M. Conrey’s latest, The Book of Trees, Saint Columba imagines Christ in a rainless desert, a landscape he knows only through books. The poem ends with a vignette about a monk who perches on Columba’s shoulders to repair a thatched roof in the midst of a downpour—“I’ll admit, it’s a constant struggle to love/the mud on my shoulders where he stood.” With the cadence of prayer, Conrey’s poems conjure the wisdom of a land that hasn’t “forgot to speak for itself” at the very moment when that wisdom begins to be forgotten. A briny and true collection."
Jennifer Glancy, Professor of Religious Studies at Le Moyne College and author of Corporal Knowledge: Early Christian Bodies
"In Sean M. Conrey’s stunning second book of poems, he explores the voice of Saint Columba, the Irish missionary who, among other achievements, brought Christianity to Scotland and founded the abbey at Iona. Using the ogham script as his organizing principle, and starting from histories, scripture, original texts, and the Gnostic gospels, Conrey’s chiseled lines give us stories of both the physical and spiritual labors of Columba and his fellow monks— men who might spend a hungry winter carving buttons from the bones of their dead livestock, or who might launch themselves into the sea, for penance, aboard a boat with no oars. This is not a romantic tale of glory, however. In Conrey’s retelling, Columba recognizes that it is “A danger of history, / to purify the saints and mistake / Christ’s forgiveness / for never having sinned.” Doubt is a frequent guest to this narrator, who laments that he sees “far, but not far enough,” and who recognizes frequently the impact his men make upon the natural world: “The wind is warming,” Columba muses in one poem, “Have mercy on those who made it so.” The Book of Trees is full of striking moments such as this, in which the current and ancient seem nearly contemporaneous, and in which we can, through the struggles of a man fifteen centuries past, perhaps recognize a brother."
Philip Memmer, author of The Storehouses of the Snow: Psalms, Parables, and Dreams
Ogham is the earliest written form of Primitive Irish, the oldest of the Gaelic languages. Ogham was first used in Ireland and parts of England, Scotland and Wales between the 2nd and 6th centuries. Though its actual origins remain a mystery today, it is believed the Celts desired a cryptic alphabet that could not be deciphered by Roman Britain.
Represented as a series of perpendicular and intersecting lines, this ancient script is thought to be influenced by the Latin alphabet using 20 characters. It is most commonly written vertically and is read from bottom to top. When presented horizontally, it is read from left to right.