Annette Spaulding-Convy’s first full length collection, In Broken Latin, is a spiritual journey. Influenced by the poet’s personal life, the collection intertwines the contemporary world of a Catholic nun with lyrical musings about spirituality and faith.
From the start of this book, we see the narrator struggling with her role in the spiritual life she has chosen. In “In the Convent We Become Clouds” the narrator explains, “I lived with women who didn’t move/their hips//but slid like mist/through hallways and chapels.” She herself wonders why she “hasn’t learn to float”. While the physical discomfort is very real, the uneasiness the narrator feels with her body symbolizes other apprehension as well. For instance, there’s the discomfort with sexuality. In “There Were No Rules About Underwear” the narrator explains that her order was progressive when it came to underwear: “red satin,cut/to show the hip, a midnight blue Wonderbra//hidden under my habit.” The poem turns to narrative, announcing that during, a fireman breaks into her room while she sleeps in the nude: “I pulled the sheet around my body/as he looked at the black lace on the floor//I need to feel your walls to see if they’re hot.”
Still, while the body plays a prominent part in this collection, it’s the narrator’s spiritual quest that takes center stage in many of the works. Indeed, several poems find the narrator pondering her place in this world by also paying tribute to important women in the Catholic faith. Saint Agatha, often considered the Patron Saint of Breast Cancer and Victims of Sexual Assault, pays a visit to the narrator in the poem, “Midnight Snack with Saint Agatha.” In “Virgin Martyrs’ Chiffon Dessert” the narrator references Sister Dorothy Stang, a Dominican nun and environmentalist murdered in Brazil. And in “You Died Before I Sent a Card” the poet dedicates the poem to a Sister Samuel, saying “You always warned me/about procrastination” and imagining her former teacher in another place: “You flirt with the man making cotton candy/feel the pocket of your denim capris for a dime/while he swirls sugar in a perfect circle/You wonder, Is he God?”
Spaulding-Convy herself was a nun, and thus, readers can assume that much of this book is at semi-autobiographical. According to her website, she spent five years as a nun in the San Francisco area. Furthermore, in her acknowledgments page, she thanks many of the sisters who appear in her book, saying “I’m not sure you would have approved of my poetry, but know that I am forever grateful for the love of ideas, literature and art you shared in your classrooms.” It’s apparent, that through her collection, Spaulding-Convy is passing this love along.
I’ve read In Broken Latin, twice, already, and I can’t help but think of a book I read a few years ago titled The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong. In many ways, Spaulding-Convy’s collection is a perfect poetic companion piece to Armstrong’s words.