Saint Monica by Mary Biddinger
A chapbook of poems
Black Lawrence Press (2011)
Recent reviews of Saint Monica:
From The Rumpus: "Biddinger’s repeated returns to haptic perception as a legitimized approach to the divine, or a sense of peace or benediction, amounts to an aesthetic necessity, alongside the necessity of putting iconicity and holy writ in relationship with narrative, reality, and the arbitrary nature of violence, accident, and error." --Virginia Konchan
From Midwest Book Review: "Dropped into the temptations of the modern world, it can be difficult to find a way. 'Saint Monica' is a collection of poetry from Mary Biddinger, speaking of the spirit of abuse victims who yearn to take control of their own life once more. With a powerful message, "Saint Monica" speaks of real issues and the lives that so many dismiss as statistics."
From HTML GIANT: "
It is a testament to Biddinger’s skill as a manipulator of words and images that it is difficult to write summary of these poems, and not because they resist the reader’s attempt to understand them or to fall into them–Clarity is one of their virtues–but, rather, because once she begins to set everything into motion, the literal surfaces spin a web of attachment that causes the reader to understand many things at once..." --Kyle Minor
From The National Poetry Review: “Monica’s is that most epic and ordinary of tales, and like a series of images on a reel, the poems show us fragments of her life, woven together in a story that is both arbitrary and of universal, archetypal importance, a poetic reminder of who we are and who we were, and how to stay our course.” –Melissa Studdard
From Rain Taxi: “Far from the holy matron described in saints’ books, this Monica is just as confused, angry, and turned on as the rest of us. Biddinger’s tight and vividly detailed narrative poems speak to timeless themes of adolescence, regret, and desire, enlivening a historical figure and religious icon while painting a nuanced portrait of a character who is every bit as imperfect and fallible as everyone else.” –Roxanne Halpine Ward
Saint Monica on Verse Daily.
Saint Monica at The Fine Delight: Catholicisim in Literature
Nick Ripatrazone on Saint Monica
Interview with Mary Biddinger
Praise for Saint Monica:
Equally familiar and strange in her wonderment, Mary Biddinger’s Saint Monica rises above the water towers and smokestacks of the midwest, a saint transfigured into a modern girl with a persistent craving for muscle cars and tattooed love boys. Yet this Saint Monica does more than want; her yearnings are feral, carnal, and unflinchingly honest. She does not ask for God to take her walls away so much as figure out how to kick them down herself. The result: her escape route is illuminated by a slender and elegant beam of longing and melancholy in poems that make clear the clandestine nature of what we desire most.
--Steve Kistulentz, author of The Luckless Age and Little Black Daydream
Mary Biddinger evokes the patron saint of female abuse victims in narrating the adolescence of a latter day Saint Monica. Ironic humor illuminates the poems, as in “Saint Monica Stays the Course,” a hilarious catechism of teeth-gritting endurance. Biddinger crisply narrates these memorable tales that entwine horror and sensual discovery, using deft rhythms, head-snapping line breaks, and highly original imagery.
--Rachel Dacus, author of Femme au Chapeau and Earth Lessons
Saint Monica is available at Amazon and other retailers.
Educators, check out the book at Perseus Academic.
About Saint Monica:
Saint Monica reinvents the patron saint of wives in bad marriages as an everyday girl coming of age in the Rust Belt Midwest. Monica appears in both dense prose poems and spare lyrics, as she stands in line for Communion or lingers near a ravine on the edge of town. While she may serve as an Everywoman for the Catholic schoolgirl crowd, Monica is much more than a set of knobby knees under a plaid skirt.
Saint Monica is the patron saint of patience, married women, homemakers and housewives, mothers, wives, widows, alcoholics, difficult marriages, disappointing children, victims of adultery or unfaithfulness, and victims of (verbal) abuse. The Mother of St. Augustine, Monica was proud of her son's success as a scholar and teacher, yet deeply ashamed by his debauchery. She prayed relentlessly that her son would be convinced of his errors, remaining steadfast even when intervening religious leaders were unable to get through to Augustine. "It cannot be that the son of these tears should perish," one Bishop said to her after having met with Augustine. Her devotion was rewarded when, at age 33, Augustine converted and was baptized. Monica died shortly thereafter.
Biddinger’s Saint Monica poems explore the intersection between everyday life and saintly inclination, departing from the hagiography in order to situate the character in a world of county fairs and awkward school dances, uncanny clairvoyance and unmitigated longing.
Selected poems online:
"Saint Monica Burns it Down" at Valparaiso Poetry Review
(follow this link to read an analysis of this poem at Night Stream Journey)
"Saint Monica of the Gauze" at Wicked Alice
"Saint Monica of the Thaw" at Caffeine Destiny