Doreen Gildroy on the Wholly Other

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pshares622.1.jpgDoreen Gildroy’s poem “Celestial Room” appears in our Spring 2010 issue.


Excerpt from “Celestial Room”:

I remember when I was four
a book seemed from heaven
and then, when I was eight,
it seemed a field.


It continues to explore and reflect upon the obsessive, captivating power of voice–be it the book’s or the speaker’s. Here, Gildroy explains how a moment can change a work ethic, and how this poem leads into a larger project:


When my daughter was seven months old she had neurosurgery to untether her spinal cord. The doctor ordered a twin bed sent to her hospital room so I could lie next to her, nurse her, watch over her. I did this for days and nights without, essentially, ever leaving that bed. Undergoing that experience made me acutely aware of how the mind moves, how the eye–and what one is attending to. It transformed me and it also transformed my idea of work.

“Celestial Room” is the title poem of a manuscript that is a book length sequence of poems, really one long poem. It is a book about happiness, but also about terror, and what emerges to reveal the self, the beloved, and the “wholly other.” I see the poem (the book) as a mapping, with a view to the alterations that take place in a soul which move it away from the received and into the experience of what the mind turns to spontaneously. The emotional landscape was, for me, always in the foreground. Dramatic details were a backdrop.

I hope the poems render the experience of inquiry in its non-rational aspect, toward the object “of search and desire and yearning,” to what Rudolf Otto, in The Idea of the Holy, calls the “feeling of the numinous.” John Harvey writes in the preface: “Our ‘feeling’ in these cases is not merely an emotion engendered or stimulated in the mind but also a recognition of something in the objective situation awaiting discovery and acknowledgment… Otto’s emphasis is always upon the objective reference, and upon subjective feelings only as the indispensable clues to this.”

Doreen Gildroy is the author of The Little Field of Self (University of Chicago Press, 2009), winner of the John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares, and Human Love (University of Chicago Press, 2005). Her poems have also appeared in The American Poetry Review, Slate, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. Read her poem “Viva Vox,” from the Winter 2005-06 issue, at Poetry Daily.