For Those Who Have Died At Birth

What do they say, the souls of the newborn dead

When, lolling about in the long afternoons of heaven,

The conversation turns to reminiscing — "Remember how it was . . . The feel of silk The taste of strawberries The smell of a mother's hair?"

Her perspective can be reduced to a few words, Hickman says: "the ultimate triumph of love." To convey that, she imagines lazy afternoons in heaven (setting) in which images associated with touch, taste and smell — important senses to newborns — are recalled in easy talk (device). As you can see, to compose good extranatural poems, you do not have to design complex, flowery or ornate methods.

If Hickman's method intrigues you, ask yourself these questions to understand your perspective:

• What figures from holy books of my faith most intrigue me?

• What aspects of or incidents from their lives still have meaning today?

• What concept of my religion is symbolized in this figure or associated with a certain aspect of his or her life, and how can I tap this to express my own beliefs?

Once you have the answers, consider taking an approach that grounds your perspective with vivid or sensory images. As Hickman's poems show, those images don't necessarily have to come from the Bible or other holy book. That's where your intuition, faith or fantasy comes into play.

"It's sometimes difficult to separate what we've come to call 'reli-

gious poetry' from other kinds," says David Citino, author of several collections. Citino notes that the poet is often concerned with "the reality behind appearances, with the shimmer of the nonmaterial, with the pristine other (perhaps even spiritual) world, with ethics, with first things and last things, with miracles." Citino adds that anyone who reads the Bible, for whatever reason, realizes that certain aspects of religious experience —prophesy, heroic stories, songs and psalms — "seem to require poetry in their expression."

Verse, he says, is the natural vehicle to convey the extranatural. "It is a heightened, pure, vatic mode of speech and writing whereby the poet attempts to express his or her sense of the inexpressible." At the same time, he adds, religious poetry, which uses religious metaphors and themes, "can entertain, enliven, make us laugh, or suppose, or conjecture, or even pretend."

That comment best describes a device that Citino created to express some of his best extranatural poetry. He created a complex character: Sister Mary Appassionata, a comic, wise and sometimes tragic figure who dominates a few of his books. Citino's approach is simple; typically, the good sister delivers a lecture or sermon, as in this example:

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