Such a quiet book. Such a strong voice.

Is your life out of control? Do you want to simplify?

Take Eileen Kinch as your teacher.

I met Eileen at the Mennonite(s) Writing VI conference last spring, 2012.

She struck me as wise beyond her years and willing to stand for something contrary and beautiful in this hectic world.

The author in her conservative Quaker garb

Of course, those of you who know my story know that it’s easy for me to see Eileen as an alter ego, a girl who maintained a commitment to plain-ness even in secular environments. I think of poet-farmer Wendell Berry when I read Eileen’s verse. I remember the long silences in our conversation when I had the privilege of hosting him years ago.

Those same silences occur in Eileen’s work. They wash over the reader. We become aware of how loud the world is outside us and of all the buzz in our brains. We slow down. We breathe deeply. We read these words:

After worship, we spread our tables thick

with loaves and fishes, soups and salads.

We pause to give thanks, the hush so deep

we sometimes feel it take on flesh,

standing among us.

–from “Conservative Quakers” (p.4)

Or this one:

The rows are straight, yet curving with

the contours of the land —

a part in a woman’s hair —

a quiet, well-ordered life.

–from “Fields” (p. 22)

If you too seek a quiet, well-ordered life, you could do well to go to this website and do what I did: order the book!

My New Beginning today? I’m going to do a guest blog post for Jane Friedman’s blog. I’m going to give myself some white space around the writing. Eileen’s voice is still in my head.

And you? Don’t forget to log your New Beginning. One of these days I’m going to pluck off a group of these and share the inspiration, the honor, of seeing so many others who seek a simpler, better life for themselves and others.

This little bit of "woods" fits Eileen as well as Thoreau. 55 Days Until Blush Launches.

 

Shirley Showalter

7 Comments

  1. Eileen R. Kinch on July 20, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful review, Shirley!

    I find it ironic that I felt I needed to write poems about (“to talk about”) silence. Julia Spicher Kasdorf also picked up on this irony in her book endorsement, that my book “claims space for silence by way of utterance.” But somehow my need to articulate silence came from a feeling that even silence has a voice–and has a testimony.

    I’ve given readings from _Gathering the Silence_ at two Quaker venues: one at a Friends meeting and the other at a Friends retreat center outside of Philadelphia. At both places, I noticed Friends close their eyes, and some bowed their heads. They understood, correctly, that I was inviting them to worship. Friends understand waiting in silence before God as a kind of yieldedness (or Gelassenheit, as Anabaptists might say). Speaking out of that silence requires a clear leading from God.

    I notice that you refer to silence in my book as an invitation to slow down, to de-clutter, to simplify, to create quiet or white space. Silence definitely does invite us to do those things! For me, silence is a spiritual discipline, as well as something restful and restorative. I would be curious to know what role silence plays in your own life. Also, was silence a part of your growing up? Do you write about it in _Blush_?

  2. Marian Beaman on July 20, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Eileen, silence was a part of my growing up as a Mennonite girl in Lancaster County. After lunch, Grandma Longenecker would stretch out on the day bed or prop her feet up in a chair and let her “soul catch up to her body,” as she put it. I have images of her reading the Bible quietly in the kitchen and working peacefully in the garden early in the morning.

    Also, I remember my mother observing a 3-hour period of silence on Good Friday, corresponding to the time of Christ on the cross.

    Recalling these quiet moments, I can cancel out some of the buzz in my brain without head-phone silencers! I loved your lines: The part in a woman’s hair – a quiet, well-ordered life.

    • shirleyhs on July 20, 2013 at 9:58 am

      Marian, I love that expression of your grandma’s. We should use that one often in front of our grandchildren!

      Also, I remember observing silence on Good Friday, though not as faithfully as three hours, perhaps. And I did see my mother reading the Bible and my parents kneeling in prayer beside their bed.

      You prompted some new memories. Thanks.

      This work of extracting wisdom from experience is really community work. So glad to have you in my online version.

  3. shirleyhs on July 20, 2013 at 9:53 am

    I’m afraid my short post did not do justice to your fine book and barely qualifies as a review, Eileen, but I hope that it helps a few more readers find you.

    Yes, it’s paradoxical to “talk” about silence, but the subject is actually at the heart of the matter, both in poetry and in life. Quakers and Buddhists share a deep knowledge about this. Mennonites less so, I think, but still there is stillness. Rural people know stillness. Hunters. Fishers. Farmers. Nature teaches it if religion neglects it.

    Do you know this essay? http://poems.com/special_features/prose/essay_lee.php “You use the voice to make the silence present.”

    Thanks for turning the question back to me. And for preparing me to think about how my own book readings can invite silence, awe, a larger subject than the self, worship. My official launch will be at Lititz Mennonite Church, and I hope that I can create some of the kind of atmosphere of which you speak, Eileen.

    I wrote about my Grandpa Hershey’s silent prayers here:http://www.shirleyshowalter.com/2013/06/11/returning-thanks-an-annoying-duty-to-a-child-a-profound-memory-for-the-adult/

    There are natural silences when children spend hours of unstructured time in wide open space. Exploring streams, wildflowers, reading books and then imagining the characters come to life were ways I knew silence.

    Church services were filled with words and songs. No overt times of silence. But there was a kind of silence between the words, reverence, even if babies were crying.

    Thanks for your presence here this morning, Eileen.

  4. April Yamasaki on July 20, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    I’m very glad to meet you, Eileen, and to hear about your book that I look forward to reading. Yes, how ironic to put silence into words, yet between the words of poetry, between the words of speech, there is also silence that lends its rhythm. Thank you.

  5. shirleyhs on July 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Hi, April, thanks for stopping by. I was hoping you would because you remind me of Eileen and vice versa. Eileen, you can learn about April here: http://www.shirleyshowalter.com/2013/01/31/who-else-wants-simplicity-april-yamasakis-sacred-pauses-offers-a-way/

    Sacred Pauses are one way to Gather Silence.

    May both of you continue to explore the mysteries of words and silence and help others do the same.

  6. […] You may remember Eileen. She’s the young poet whose book on silence I featured in a previous post. […]

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