Lay Studies by Steven Toussaint was launched on the 9th of July, 2019 at Unity Books in Wellington. John Dennison composed this poem for the launch.
Kia ora koutou and good evening everyone –
I’m John Dennison, fellow poet and, fittingly perhaps, a lay chaplain. It’s my honor and joy to launch, to bless, and to call forth readers of these, Steven Toussaint’s Lay Studies.
Just so we’re clear,
As Steve begins here,
The final poem is praise, but
let the first word on this singular poetics risk a secular embarrassment also and (Hallelujah!) begin in praise,
because the richness here of what rises to trouble the imagination is
strong-wristed and open-mouthed, is inward stressed and vaulted aural, is blood and carmine and rose; be warned: Lay Studiesis a live coal. It will not rest easy in easy hands.
Easiest, perhaps, then, to bless first the anger of this book, which in part is to name the importance of Steve’s work here and now. Anger in poetry here and now we are familiar enough with; we have become clever as self-declaring contortionists. Our contemporary anger bends breath-takingly back through itself, saying its own name over and over.
But the anger of Lay Studiesis at points edgy with grief, like a person who looks at a field left wasted after a dig for the treasure that should be there; or it is infused with mercy (contemporary St Francis sparing the earth his tears). It is anger umbilical to love, and so, compelling and stringent in its evident belief. Anger, ground through poetry to a clarifying lens.
So we bless also that most rich of embarrassments, the belief of this bird-bedecked book, the devastating fact that a book of Lay Studies(of learned, singing words) should be so clear that it ‘transmits a light it doesn’t own’ (‘The Nuptial Yes’). Which is to say our poet understands that what is at stake is this worshipping life: that life can be bent on absorbing this or that thing, on the augmentation of spiritual poverty, or on the devotion to some vague and terrible greatness. Or it might turn and turn again in a light that we may call friendship with God; which is to say, the mystery of God’s grace.
Do not make the mistake, then, that this is spiritual or religious poetry, if by that we mean ‘inward’, a folded and obscured gaze, the poet regarding profound irrelevancies refracted from a defunct cosmology. Better to slate his spirituality outright, than patronize it with such benign relegations!
Instead, hallelujah! Trust the trust of the work, and let it lower you, like the paralytic in Mark’s Gospel, through the busted roof of your understanding, into this book; because sometimes in this book, belief takes shape in language, like a man who, kneels heedless in a busy bookstore, as one by one, bright birds fly from his mouth.
And thus, these poems sing, nest in your inner ear like a holy buzz, and leave you murmuring out loud on the train, at the dinner table, into your pillow, into the bicycle wind. These, Toussaint’s lines:
That the cadmium bolt from the anther.
One note too many
and the nosegay
will tear your face away.
the wind is animal with cannabis
Now drizzle caught
in oily pockets loads the fleece
God bless the aching ear that by this book threads through the strange wounds of English upon English: may it abide more and more tritone! It will have learned from Lay Studiesthat the music of our speaking is not accidental or merely excessive, a fripperous ornament to meaning.
In its wonderful, often strange, unembarrassed song, Steve’s work hones in on the truer, much frayed, end of this art, which is delight, wisdom, and praise.
Readers, friends, I invite you to charge your glasses and join me in a simple blessing and toast:
May these poems have many readers!
May they have even some believers!
May they be praised for being good making and good speaking
and be reached for again and again
in quiet and timely moments.
May the poet be free to relinquish his poems to the world,
and bring forth new and different making!
Hallelujah! Lay Studies!