In poems inspired by and sometimes borrowing their forms from the novena, a nine-day Catholic prayer addressing and seeking intercession from the Virgin Mary, Jacques J. Rancourt explores the complexities of faith, desire, beauty, and justice. Novena is a collection that invites prayer not to symbols of dogmatic perfection but to those who are outcast or maligned, LGBTQ people, people in prison, people who resist, people who suffer and whose suffering has not been redeemed. In Novena, the Virgin Mary is recast as a drag queen, religious icons are merged with those who are abolished, and spiritual isolation is scrutinized in a queer pastoral.
PRAISE FOR NOVENA
Raw. Restless. Elegant. Shimmering. Jacques J. Rancourt’s Novena charts the unions and ruins of desire, of love and its many discontents, in vivid landscapes of sonic beauty. These sensual, daring poems explode the confessional mode as they search for the Self and for the father who share the same name. Generations divide and blur like a gorgeous, heaving novel by García Márquez, surreal and delightful and bent, where mythological sirens are made male and lusted after by Odysseus, “their bodies exposed like oysters.” What is worthy of worship, holy, god-like, these poems boldly ask? Young boys dancing in nightgowns while singing Whitney Houston, a mythical Deerman who shows the speaker how to love the bodies of men, or Our Lady of Dreadlocks whose stubble returns “like spring grass”? This timeless, boundless speaker warns us, seduces us: “we are alive//only a short time. What is the purpose/of a field if not to lie in it?” You will want to read this glorious first book again and again: “This rapture hallelujah,/this inferno goddamn.”
In his astonishing debut collection, Novena, Jacques J. Rancourt writes, “I gave to winter what belonged / to winter. The rest I cut free with a knife.” These are poems both numinous and steely, transgressive yet worshipful, the body and the landscape it inhabits on full display. “Hand of insurrection that resurrects the hem,/ return my self to myself.” This is a poetry that reminds us through its unabashed lyricism that adoration, i.e. love, requires humility. Novena burns with insight.
Jacques J. Rancourt is a votary of desire and a faithful disciple to memory. At the edge of winter, upon the dark stairways and icy precipices of longing, this devotional poet finds affirming comfort even in breakage, fire and storm. This is a holy book, a pilgrim’s progress of erotic, mystical and terrifying beauty.
– D. A. Powell