Book Review: Between Heaven and Earth by Kelly Chripczuk

"The Center"

You don’t hold

the center,

it holds you.

Do you see

the difference?

It’s not your job

to grasp and cling.

Yours is to rest,

aware.

Each sorrow,

each joy, is a

passing breeze

swaying the

hammock

that holds you.

(From Between Heaven and Earth, used by permission of Kelly Chripczuk)

Kelly Chripczuk never set out to write poetry. Rather, it “would just happen, particularly when there were intense happenings that I couldn’t understand. I might spend 45 minutes trying to write about something unclear and then need to set the piece of writing aside. Then, clarity would come through in the form of a poem.”

If you’ve ever written a poem before, you’ll likely relate to Kelly’s belief that poetry can truly get to the heart of emotional events. In her new book of poetry, Between Heaven and Earth, she divides the selected poems about heart-felt events (written between 2012 and 2017) into three sections: Heaven, Between and Earth. The poems in the Heaven section are based on passages from the Bible and were often written as part of Kelly’s sermon preparation process. In the Earth section, poems are written about “concrete experiences of daily life . . . loosely arranged around the season in which they were written.”

The middle section, Between, may be the most intriguing section of all, with “poems that explore the more ambiguous intersections of heaven and earth. In this space of convergence, often filled with darkness and mystery, true identity is both held and formed.” The poem reprinted at the top of this post comes from the Between section.

As Kelly wrote these poems, she published many of them on her own website and kept track of them in a spreadsheet. But, even with the spreadsheet, she admits that she “couldn’t figure out how to organize them or make sense of them” in a way that was logical for a book. In the summer of 2017, she created the cover and, since she liked the cover, that helped to provide some momentum for the book.

It wasn’t until she printed the poems out, though, that the book began to coalesce. Being a practical, waste-not-want-not mom, she printed her poems haphazardly on the backs of her children’s old school papers. “Some pages were therefore pink, others blue and so forth,” she recalls. “As I put the poems into piles based on their random color scheme, I realized that poems just don’t fit into Excel. Instead, they want to go on the floor and play!”

After being stuck so long in the organizational stage of this book, she was relived when the tactile experience of sorting colored pieces of paper into piles moved the project ahead. “Poems,” she says, “apparently don’t like being printed on white pieces of paper. Once I moved them to the right color-sorted spots, it was almost as if they were waiting for me there.”

Kelly then published the book and provided advance copies to friends. Positive feedback that she appreciated includes how people who don’t normally read poetry found her book to be accessible and enjoyable. And, although Kelly acknowledges that sharing her poetry with others can sometimes make her feel vulnerable, this experience didn’t. “I think it’s because most of these poems sat for a while,” she says, “so they already feel pretty removed from me. The freshness of sharing a poem just written, I think, is what creates that sense of vulnerability.”

When comparing writing poetry to writing prose, she notes how poetry seems to somehow exist outside of the poet. “When the words and rhythm of the poem come to you, you write them down,” she says, “but there is still mystery to the poem and it’s still not wholly yours. In general, writing in prose can be like venting, whereas writing poetry involves the process of listening.”

This collection of poems achieves a difficult balance, offering genuine insights while still being written in a down-to-earth fashion that makes it approachable, relatable. This book would make an excellent gift, perhaps for high school or college graduation, a wedding shower or anniversary, as well as a marvelous book to own. Between Heaven and Earth is available on Amazon.

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