In his review of The Short List of Certainties, published in the 2018 issue of Presence, David Craig's writes that the book is "an extraordinarily powerful and charming book....Roma-Deeley gets with tender absurdity her fallenness, but that does not keep her from confronting and feeling intense outrage at injustice--even to the point of insisting on the right to acutely imagine the pain she is not privy to. She does so because she gets the importance of particulars....It's hard to read this book without appreciating both the work and the worker. The poems are beautifully wrought, as the poet kneads and kneads the good soil of her soul."
Praise for The Short List of Certainties
It’s been a long time since a collection has so affected me. Whether she is writing of our twisted relational lives (see for instance the heartbreaking “In the Middle of the Morning a Wish Rises”), of her own seemingly innate sense that something’s wrong, Roma-Deeley writes with that curious blend of authority and self-doubt that marks our best poets. Ultimately, and reassuringly, she finds the affirmation that sustains her through it all; as her title poem urges, “having courage, let us write a word or phrase on the short list of certainties something that sounds very much like praise.” Which is just what she does in this tour de force.
~Sydney Lea, author of twelve collections of poetry, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, former Vermont Poet Laureate.
The Big Dipper points somewhere/I just might have to go writes poet Lois Roma-Deeley, early in her new collection of poems, and not only the narrator, but all readers are, quite suddenly, on their way to many somewheres, many geographies and states of mind and heart. Certainties in this book: there’s a price we pay for being alive, for staying awake, for noticing pain and suffering and damage wherever we might find it. Certainties in this book: we must pay attention to key relationships, we must judge ourselves as ruthlessly as we judge others. Certainties in this book: beauty matters, love matters, sisters matter, paying attention to the world, its tragedies and kindnesses, matters. Read The Short List of Certainties and consider the riches these poems have to offer.
~Deborah Keenan, author of eleven collections of poetry, and from tiger to prayer, a collection of writing ideas from broadcraft press.
In her award-winning new book, Lois Roma-Deeley brings us to the threshold of difficult questions: what can we do in a world that seems increasingly bereft, in a world where supplication does not seem to bring relief or grace? The poems in The Short List of Certainties do not promise glib or easy answers. What they do is take readers deep into a necessary interior journey— one which requires the attention of all the senses as well as the willingness to enter the country of vulnerability. Here we are asked to let go of rigid notions of what it means to be human. We are invited to “[walk as if] into the wind, uphill, without a map.” In these honest poems, poetry can be seen to “[work] without pity,/ peeling back the thin skin/of …tender flesh,/ cracking the bone, pounding the breast.” But for all that, the poet never once leaves us. She accompanies us every step of the way, reassuring us that this work of deep questing is the only way back to insight and understanding—thereby affirming that “the human heart is plain but it is not simple.” ~ Luisa A. Igloria, author of Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (2014 May Swenson Prize)
Reader’s Guide Discussion Questions
The Short List of Certainties
by Lois Roma-Deeley
Paperback: 104 pages , $14.95
Publisher: Franciscan University Press (June 29, 2017)
1) The Short List of Certainties opens with the prologue poem, “Snow Blind,” in which the speaker is watching a glacier calve and then experiences a temporary loss of vision.
Define “blindness” in terms of fear. In terms of faith. How are they similar? Dissimilar? Give examples of each drawn from your own life.
How would you explain the phrase “the blind what-if?”
2) There are two epigraphs attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo and Pascal which introduce the book:
Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.
–St. Augustine of Hippo
You must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked.
a) According to St. Augustine, one of Hope’s beautiful daughters is Anger. Throughout history and in individual lives, “righteous anger” has been used as a justification for change and, in some cases, physical violence. Find an example from current events. What are the tangible effects of this anger? In your opinion, is the use of this anger justified?
b) Do you agree or disagree that there may be other forms of violence which are not physical? Explain.
c) Within the book the twin daughters of Hope--Anger and Courage-- struggle within themselves, argue with each other, and rage at the world as they fight against work-a-day violence, social injustices, and even Hope itself. How are the emotions of anger and courage a product of hope? How and why are they at odds with each other?
d) What are three ways in which the structure of the book is shaped by the feelings or interactions of the twin daughters?
e) Define the “wager” to which Pascal refers in the epigraph. What does it mean to be “embarked”? What does it mean that the gamble or bet is “not optional”?
3) In what ways does the structure of this book follow the idea of the hero’s journey as being one of adventure and transformation? In what ways does the book depart from this notion?
4) Time, memory and “the journey” all are key elements in this book. For example, the first lines of the poem, “Nearby Is the Country,” state: “The past moves inside me/as water from a swollen river makes its inevitable way/to the sea.” How are time and memory like moving water? Who do you believe could be the “bloody blind one” standing on the rooftop waiting to be recused? Who or what do you think could be the rescuer?
5) The poem “Dematerializing” draw heavily on the tale of “The Ring of Gyges,” as set forth in Plato’s Republic, which explores the idea of human virtue. What would you do if you knew there would be no consequences to your actions? Does your answer match your core beliefs about who you want to be?
7) The poems “A Banjo Strums Itself to Sleep” and “The Mirage of Saints Confess Their Unholy Thoughts” employ the editorial strike-out function (as in strike-out) as a way of creating juxtaposition among images to produce a poem that can be read and experienced at different levels. Choose one of the poems and analyze the different meanings found when reading it with and without the struck-out text. Which way feels more authentic to you and why? Do you believe this technique causes the poem to be more effective or less effective?
8) The signature poem “Two Daughters” ends with the lines: “burn a path through this world/or move on to the next.” In what ways can a person “burn a path” through the world?
9) In section three, many of the speakers are presented as imperfect human beings. In what ways do these personas serve the themes of this book?
10) What might your friends and family say are on your own “short list of certainties?” Explain why they would or would not be correct in their assumptions? Is there something you might add to your list that others might not know about?