Steven Charleston: Poems That Draw Out the Poison

I am so grateful to Steven Charleston, Episcopal bishop and Choctaw elder for his review of my collection, Bending the Arch: Poems. His serious wrestling with my work is a gift beyond compare. Please consider reading The Four Vision Quests of Jesus by Charleston as part of learning to be followers on the Jesus Road on Turtle Island.

Bishop Steven Charleston

Steven Charleston:

ROSE MARIE BERGER doesn’t know it yet, but through her tour-de-force poems in Bending the Arch, she has become a holy woman of many nations. Among my own people, she would be called one of the alikchi, a sacred healer, a doctor of the people, a woman who can restore balance to lives that have been shattered. She does this through the strong medicine of words.

Berger, poetry editor and a columnist for Sojourners, describes Bending the Arch as “ethnopoetic documentary poetry.” “Ethno” because it speaks with the accents of a dozen different cultures: European settlers, Chinese miners, Native American leaders. “Poetic” because it uses a cat’s cradle of language from different moments, people, and realities. “Documentary” because it covers a vast scope of America’s manifest destiny history, symbolized by the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which is depicted on its cover. All these are contained in layers of history, one on top of another, until the spiritual sediment of Berger’s meaning begins to become clear.

Consequently, you don’t read her poetry, you engage it. Bending the Arch is an encounter that requires something of the reader. It provokes. It reveals. It imagines. It asks for full attention, deep reflection, and emotional response. This poetry does not leave you alone but pulls you in, looking for more and more understanding as the layers of meaning begin to coalesce into a narrative of human triumph and tragedy. You cannot remain neutral to this experience: You must walk away or confront the reality. … — Steven Charleston

Read the full review in Sojourners (January 2020).

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