Synopses & Reviews
Mary Karr describes herself as a black-belt sinner, and this her fourth collection of poems traces her improbable journey from the inferno of a tormented childhood into a resolutely irreverent Catholicism. Not since Saint Augustine wrote "Give me chastity, Lord but not yet!" has anyone brought such smart-assed hilarity to a conversion story.
Karr's battle is grounded in common loss (a bitter romance, friends' deaths, a teenage son's leaving home) as well as in elegies for a complicated mother. The poems disarm with the arresting humor familiar to readers of her memoirs, The Liars' Club and Cherry. An illuminating cycle of spiritual poems have roots in Karr's eight-month tutelage in Jesuit prayer practice, and as an afterword, her celebrated essay on faith weaves the tale of how the language of poetry, which relieved her suffering so young, eventually became the language of prayer. Those of us who fret that poetry denies consolation will find clear-eyed joy in this collection.
"The author of the memoirs The Liars' Club and Cherry began as a poet; this first collection of verse since 1995's Viper Rum alternates between a familiar, unsparing autobiographical vein and a new commitment to Christian belief. Karr, a recovering alcoholic and a temperamental skeptic, entered the Catholic church in 1996, and poems about God, Christ and Christian rituals may draw most readers' attention: 'Disgraceland' describes 'my first communion at 40,' and tries to blend Karr's characteristic acerbity with her interest in religious compassion: 'You are loved, someone said. Take that and eat it.' Some of the strongest of Karr's clean, direct free-verse efforts have less to do with religion than with her friends, children, parents, vexing early life. When she writes of 'the winter Mother's ashes came in a Ziploc bag,' fans of her prose will relate." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This book, like anything Karr writes, is full of colorful characters....Karr may be down on her knees praying, but she hasn't lost her sense of humor....Whether writing poetry or prose, she's a master of comedic tone and timing." San Francisco Chronicle
"While not for the unquestioning devout, this book should stand beside works by writers like Thomas Merton or William Everson (a.k.a. Brother Antonitus) in both poetry and spiritual collections." Library Journal
"While her honesty is admirable, Karr's tendency to name-drop all the famous poets she ever met can be annoying....Karr's prose often shines more brilliantly than her poems, but at her best her poetry can exert an energy and power worth our attention." San Antonio Express-News
"This new collection retains the earmarks of Karr's earlier work, prose and poetry intelligence, lucidity, candor and an affection for slangy riffs that harks back to her roots in blue-collar Port Arthur." Houston Chronicle
About the Author
Mary Karr was a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry in 2005 and has won Pushcart prizes for both her poetry and her essays. She has also published two bestselling memoirs: The Liars' Club, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, and Cherry. She has received the Whiting Award and the Bunting Fellowship from Radcliffe College. Her poetry appears frequently in the New Yorker. She is the Peck Professor of English Literature at Syracuse University.
Review A Day
"It may be that all lyric poetry aspires to prayer. What gives Sinners Welcome
its sharp edge is the poet's eloquently passionate struggle at the junction of doubt and devotion." Judith Kitchen, The Washington Post Book World
(read the entire Washington Post Book World review