Guernsey, a practicing poet who is former editor of the Spoon River Poetry Review and has taught creative writing at Eastern Illinois University for twenty-five years, describes himself as a “lapsed Catholic.”
Guernsey first began to see hints of a certain Catholic sensibility in the poetry of one of his students. “There were no obvious references to the Pope or Holy Communion, but the writing had a certain kind of sensibility . . .” This “deeply imbedded Catholic sensibility arose spectre-like again and again . . .”
For Guernsey, the very writing of poetry is Catholic. The freedom within structure:
I can be most anybody in a poem . . . But the patterning and shaping, the writing in syllables, in sounds—these I can’t get away from. The rise and fall of the priest’s chanting, the repetitions of prayer, the standing, the kneeling, the sitting down: going to Church was a physical experience, visceral and enduring.
And the very words of the liturgy and the sacraments are poetry:
“My last confession was a week ago,” its perfect iambic pentameter a subtle mnemonic device, like a line from Shakespeare, the rise and fall of the beating heart, mine then in my spondaic throat.
The imagery, memory, colors, the smells, the Latin he inhaled like incense: “Buried below the troubled institution of the Church lie archetypes as deeply human as those of the crib.”
“Although I haven’t been to Mass regularly in years,” he says, “my senses remain tuned to its sounds and symbols when I read a poem or when I try to write one.”—to which his readers respond, “Come back. We’ll wait for you.” “Agreed. Come back. You get it more than most who never left.”