Welcome to the blog tour stop for Amber Koneval's collection of poetry 'Drunk Dialling the Divine'. For the tour she has written a guest post about 'Paradise Lost' (which I consider to be the greatest story ever told) entitled 'The Mind is Not its Own Place':
The Mind is Not its Own Place
by Amber Koneval
There are few titles that I am assigned year after year to read in my English classes that I can honestly say that I enjoy. Paradise Lost happens to be one of those few. As Michael as already put forth a post regarding Milton’s epic, I felt inclined to weigh in on the title from a different perspective- from that of a similarly religious poet. Now, I’m not saying that I could ever put something out into publication that would even be half so theologically sound and complete as Paradise Lost, but I can sympathize with Milton when he desires to “justify the ways of God to Man”.
My first collection of poetry, Drunk Dialing the Divine, is an attempt to deal with the anger that I have felt towards God, for events that I felt like I had no answer for. Yet I burned for the answer. I wanted someone to explain to me why sin and death were so prevalent in my life and in the lives of those I love. I wanted to know how God could allow such suffering in the world. I wanted, like Adam, to cry out and curse God for creating me, to blame Him for everything wrong that had gone on in my life. I wanted to put the blame on other people, as Adam and Eve did to each other. I wanted, secretly, to hate God for not showing only me favor, as Lucifer did.
But the biggest thing that I believe is highlighted in Paradise Lost is the ability to reclaim one’s own responsibility for life. Though Lucifer is touted as the great anti-hero, what with his epic journey from Pandemonium through the gates of his children and up to the world of Man, he is brought to heel by the end. Though he consistently brings to bear new considerations for his own glorifications (most notably the line about it being better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven), he is eventually returned to Hell in the form of a serpent. Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden after being told about the horrible fate that awaits them- and yet, Adam seems full of hope. He knows that he is being given the opportunity to fully claim his own life, and use that power for the building up of humanity (rather than the destruction of it, as Lucifer would have wanted).
For me, the most important quote from Paradise Lost would be “The mind is its own place/ and in it self can make a heaven of hell/ a hell of a heaven”. When Lucifer claims this, he is pretending that he can make anything of any situation. However, he soon comes to realize that he brings Hell with him everywhere, and that his actions have a farther reach and call to consequence than he originally thought. For me, this is especially important to remember when I myself come up against struggle in my own personal faith life. Oftentimes, my first response would be to think myself out of it, on my own. I basically just write myself out of the equation. But what seems to be helpful is at its roots destructive- by trying to isolate my responses to evil and the struggles of myself and the world around me, I’m doing nothing but denying my responsibility to Creation as an individual who is a part of Creation. I divorce myself from the suffering of others, from the historical, economic, political, emotional and spiritual conflicts that cause the suffering; I turn inwards and claim for myself a suffering that is not mine alone to claim. I refuse to allow myself to heal because I cut myself off from the source of the hurt and have no way back to solve it.
If I were to be asked what the practical application of Paradise Lost is for me today (and I do believe that every work of literature, to be worth its salt, should have some applicable message or moral), it would be that right there. The admission that yes, the temptation of isolation is something that, for some reason, is inherent to all of Creation- from the weakest human to some of the mightiest of angels. But in all cases, it is not the answer. Isolation may seem attractive, but it offers little to no actual room for growth in the individual- you are left with only yourself to learn from, only yourself to criticize yourself, only yourself to look to the future… which is self-aggrandizement at best. You miss out on the wealth of knowledge and compassion and love that the world has to offer.
Which is why I write religious poetry today. I could keep my prayers, processes and revelations completely and entirely to myself. I could write for myself, and never face the critical eye of the community around me. But I would learn nothing, and I would teach nothing, if I were to behave that way. In part, I am a religious poet because of the example of such greats as Milton (whom I could never even hope to emulate). He took his own theological questions and formulated them into a medium that could be understood through the imagination. Taking his own advice, he realized that he wasn’t just a mind in its own place.
You can follow Amber on her blog: http://amberkoneval.wordpress.com/
How would you respond when a friend drunk-dials you to make a prayer request? What do you say when you are furious with God, but aren't willing to part with Him? How do you vent your frustrations to your Creator? When is it okay to be angry with God?
Drunk Dialing the Divine is an attempt to capture a glimmer of the darker side of the emotional struggle of the deeply faithful. Though each poem begins in a negative space, they resist both the angry and the naively optimistic ending--instead finding a ray of hope in the maxim "Things are because God is."
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