This is a voice in poetry you may not yet know. It is her third book, but the first two were self-published — resulting in sales successes that got the attention of a mainstream publisher.
I first heard of Chelan Harkin and her poems from a liberal rabbi friend. We met for coffee one day and he pulled out his phone, saying, “I want to show you this poem I read online. It is so amazing.” At the other end of the religious and spiritual spectrum, I know that Harkin has appeared on podcasts with big names in the body-mind-spirit world.
What comes across most clearly in her poems is a deeply personal and real feeling of relationship and communication with God (or whatever name for God makes you most comfortable). Harkin uses the name “God” quite often still.
In the stanzas of the poem, “If God Is Anything,” God is feminine and a lover of science, a wild painter, an eccentric inventor, and a child “that has not for an instant / been interested in wrath.”
All of Harkin’s poems give readers permission to ask questions, express doubts, and express their feelings. “Permission to Say Anything” is one poem. “God’s Tasting Room” and “Luscious Darkness” are two others. I appreciated these and many others, including “Be a Heretic” which begins with the lines: “Shed the skins / of every old God / in your mind.”
Wise teaching and psychological insight are on display here. The title poem, “Wild Grace,” includes this long stanza, a gorgeous, life-giving reframing of personal failure:
“Let me gather the great bundle
of my every mistake and shortcoming
into my arms like a vast bouquet
and thank it for making
a gentler and more honest place
out of my heart.”
These are poems of grace and gratitude.
Go Deeper: Watch an "Off the Page conversation with Cheryl Harkin: