Superabundantly Alive

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Thomas Merton's Dance with the Feminine

J.S Porter Susan McCaslin

240 | 6" x 9"
ISBN: 9781773430355

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Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine is a unique, unified, multi-genre work that includes dialogue, imaginary letters, poems, and reflective essays by two established Canadian poets. Taking cues from Merton himself, Susan and John establish a playful, jazzy, tone — superabundantly alive. This book invites participation for those who already know Merton’s work and for those who are meeting this whole and broken, prophetic, whimsical, paradoxical prophet and visionary for the first time.

Robert Lax once described Merton’s poetry and the man himself as “superabundantly alive.” McCaslin and Porter prove the truth of this description in their enchanting account of the writer-mystic who now comes into his second century of stature and significance, in the words of Boris Pasternak, “[a]live and burning to the end.

J.S Porter, Author

J.S. PORTER was born in Belfast in the north of Ireland and educated at McMaster University (MA in English literature) in Hamilton, Ontario. He has been reading, thinking about, speaking about, and writing about Thomas Merton for 40 years. He has made six contributions to The Merton Seasonal, two to The Merton Annual, and three to The Merton Journal along with articles on Merton in Brick, The Antigonish Review, and other journals. Presently culture critic for The Nancy Duffy Show, he is a columnist for Dialogue Magazine and a frequent contributor to the online journal Hamilton Arts and Letters. His books include The Thomas Merton Poems (Moonstone), an imaginative re-creation of Merton for our time; Spirit Book Word: An Inquiry into Literature and Spirituality (Novalis), with a chapter on Merton; Thomas Merton: Hermit at the Heart of Things (Novalis); and Lightness and Soul: Musings on Eight Jewish Writers (Seraphim Editions), with a chapter on Robert Lax. Porter is acknowledged for his literary contributions in the Canadian Who’s Who. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, with his wife, Cheryl.

Susan McCaslin, Author

Susan McCaslin is a Canadian poet and Thomas Merton scholar who has published 15 volumes of poetry, including several long sequences on Thomas Merton. Susan is a Wood Lake author of a volume of essays titled Arousing the Spirit: Provocative Writings (Wood Lake Books, 2011). Her most recent volume of poetry is Into the Open: Poems New and Selected (Inanna Publications, 2017). Previous volumes include Painter, Poet, Mountain: After Cézanne (Quattro Books, 2016) and Demeter Goes Skydiving (University of Alberta Press, 2011)The latter was short-listed for the BC Book Prize (Dorothy Livesay Award) and the first-place winner of the Alberta Book Publishing Award (Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award). McCaslin has published critical essays on Merton in The Merton Seasonal, The Merton Annual, Thomas Merton: Monk on the Edge (The Thomas Merton Society of Canada), Merton and Hesychasm (Fons Vitae), and We Are Already One: Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope; Reflections to Honour His Centenary (1915–2015). Her recent memoir is Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga (Inanna, 2014). She resides in Fort Langley, British Columbia with her husband, Mark, where she initiated the Han Shan Poetry Project as part of a successful campaign to save an endangered rainforest along the Fraser River.

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Media Reviews

Co-editor, The Merton Annual

Deborah Pope Kehoe

In Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine, Susan McCaslin and J. S. Porter combine their expansive resources of Mertoniana, theology, and third-eye poetics to compile a volume that is at once erudite, conversational, and spiritual. The work of seasoned poets who know how to direct and release the power of language with masterful economy and creativity, the book offers a diverse readership an impressive variety of tone and format, including scholarly analysis, confessional reflection, evocative shaped verse, lively authorial dialogue, and letters to influential women in Merton’s life.

               At the book’s vital core is a thorough exploration of the role of feminine wisdom in the life and works of Thomas Merton. With apt sensitivity to the delicate aspects of their subject matter, McCaslin and Porter pursue their central purpose from multiple angles, plumbing its depths through scholarship, imagination, and personal experience accrued from a lifelong engagement with the many facets of Thomas Merton. This unique publication is a fitting commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Merton’s death as well as a valuable contribution to Merton Studies for generations to come.

Ross Labrie

Professor Emeritus - University of British Columbia

This is a bright and spirited homage to Thomas Merton’s life and writings by two Canadian authors, Susan McCaslin and J.S. Porter. In comparison with the usual biographical analysis, we see these two writers lifting their wings as it were, held aloft by Merton’s powerful current. In this, they join significant figures in Merton’s life, such as those immortalized in McCaslin’s poetic “Grotto of Sophia Ikons.” One admires these authors’ inventiveness as in J.S. Porter’s transposition of Merton into the “paved desert” of Las Vegas where the scene is altogether similar to the consumer culture that Merton presciently depicted. Above all, one sees the legacy of Merton’s devotion to language, which at times assumes a hybrid shape reflecting minds filled with Merton’s speech. The book is given its thematic direction by Merton’s enlarged awareness of woman in the 1960s following his romantic episode with a nurse, Margie, in what turned out to be the final years of his life. In particular, McCaslin argues that in the prose poem, “Hagia Sophia,” Merton, who had lived in a community of men for most of his life, came to link the recovery of the feminine to the “world’s salvation.” With a balanced eye, the writers of this book do not hesitate to query Merton posthumously, with McCaslin questioning Margie regarding the relationship with Merton. “Did you ask yourself if he “loved the idea of falling in love more than the act of loving?” Accompanying the feminist theme is the pervasive suggestion that Merton’s life was a commitment to growth, to an always “surging, expanding process.” Well said.