THE BOOK: A Welcome Shore
PUBLISHED IN: 2010
THE AUTHOR: Suzanne Underwood Rhodes.
THE PUBLISHER: Canon Press, located in Moscow, Idaho and founded in 1988. “At Canon Press, we create and provide products that sketch a vision of a whole life—a whole culture: A life full of beauty, tradition, education, community, laughter, and celebration—unashamed of Christ, and sharply at odds with the values of modernity; a mature culture with the church at the center—living out the good life one family at a time.”
SUMMARY: A Welcome Shore is a collection of lyrical prose reflections and prose poems written as a companion piece to the earlier Sketches of Home, also published by Canon Press. Subjects range from the most ordinary events, like being chilled by the skin of a collapsed tent or cooking chermoula, to those more sensational, like a suicide or neo-Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell or seeing a whale in Costa Rica.
THE BACK STORY: The book evolved from journaling and journeying over a period of several years. It reflects my new life by the shore in southeastern Virginia, as Sketches of Home was written during the many years I lived in the mountains of east Tennessee. In the mountains I learned strength. By the sea I found freedom. I left Tennessee after a destructive marriage followed by divorce. I found love and happiness in a new relationship with the man I married, Wayne Rhodes. For me, lyrical prose is the ideal outlet for blending the literary discipline I love to honor and observe with the heart’s deep rivulets formed by pain and joy.
WHY THIS TITLE?: Because the shore was welcoming, liberating—not only its compelling physical aspect of ocean tides, sea life, and weather, but its figurative meaning as well. The shore’s expanse and plasticity as shaped by an ocean which seemed infinite to my eye—these mirrored, in a sense, my growing ability to let down my guard, my survival instincts, and breathe freely, because my love proved himself gentle, trustworthy, protective. But on an even deeper level, I was learning about God in a new way. A “frowning Providence” was becoming a loving and accepting smile.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? My book is unique because it avoids cliché, sentimentality, and evangelical jargon, preferring fresh, poetic language as a way of discovering spiritual meaning. I like to think it’s a brave book, confronting enigmatic and painful experience, and a delightful book, too, celebrating natural beauty, the joy of romance and the pleasures of God. I believe it appeals to both secular and Christian audiences, but primarily people who enjoy literary nonfiction with spiritual insight.
1. From Steve West in Out Walking: One of the kindest books I read this past Summer was A Welcome Shore, by Suzanne Underwood Rhodes. I say “kind” because to read the short narratives of this book is like having a friend take you by the arm for a walk and a long conversation, one that covers the little tragedies and comedies of life, one punctuated by the rejuvenating sound and air of the ocean. It is, in short, a good and insightful walk in words, guided by a gifted wordsmith.
She begins in the fragile aftermath of divorce, of deep brokenness, and yet as her meditations on faith and life unfold, it is evident that the author’s feet are on the solid ground of grace. She draws vivid metaphors, like this one comparing her former weather-ravaged house to her dying marriage:
My house was the mirror of a dying marriage. Ivy twisted through cracks in the cinderblock, and cave crickets like frog-sized horrors sprang out of the basement’s dark. During storms, rain gushed in at ground level, and there was always a kind of seepage at the heart of the house that put me on edge, a damp uncertainty as I tended soup or made the bed or went upstairs to soothe a child’s fretting.
A house, a town, the natural world around her — this is someone who knows the importance of place, the deep rootedness of life and the importance of our relationship to the immediate world around us. She says that “Geography, the spaces on this ‘pale blue dot,’ cannot be understood apart from each of us in relation to the place where we have been set down, for the world was made the home of man and woman.” This particularity, this attention to place, extends not just to the natural world of birds, starfish, butterfly shells, and sea glass but also to the names and faces she encounters, people like Grandmother Lillian, Claire Evelyn, O.D and Ruth, and Delmas Jones, as if we have come upon them on our walk and, after making our greeting, are given given me the “backstory” on each of them.
In deep faith, she is a kindred spirit of Luci Shaw (who wrote the Forward for the book); in her keen observation, she recalls the seaside observations of Mary Oliver. And yet the voice is uniquely her own, like her memories of houses in which she once lived, high school, visits with old friends, or moments with her husband. There is a wonderful ordinariness about her stories. If we haven’t traveled her exact path, we can at least draw our parallels and nod knowingly at her tentative conclusions.
When it comes to faith, she has a provocative way of defamiliarizing the familiar. For example, she says “prayer is pheasant-like,” a phrase that sends me wondering to the encyclopedia to find out more about these birds. Or “prayer is an embryo: unspoken, understood.” It is not Sunday morning language. It’s like being given a piece of treasured sea glass to hold, to enjoy, to wonder from where it came.
And that’s how it goes. A walk through the shoreline, tributaries, channels, and tide pools of her life. . . and ours, as we see in her experiences our own.
Near the end, there is this prayer: “Lord, keep me from the poverty of habitual sight.” Yes, Lord help us all. But while you wait on the Lord, start here, with this kind book, this walk with someone who tends to see things new. Read A Welcome Shore. It’s 117 pages of pure pleasure, a needed walk in Word and World.
2. Dana Gioia, California Poet Laureate
“I am generally of two minds about prose poems since they so often lack the virtues I most prize in both media. But Suzanne Underwood Rhodes’ new collection combines the evocation and intensity of poetry with the psychological acuity and narrative force of prose. These interlocked personal meditations create a book worth pondering.”
3. Luci Shaw, Christian poet
“It is an ongoing wonder when a writer is able to infuse her prose with such poetic quality and tenderness that each piece becomes a poem in itself. Suzanne Rhodes has this magical facility of seeing to the heart of things . . . To retain the precision of the moment, one has to be there to experience it. Suzanne is a friend who takes my hand and says “Look!” or “Listen!” or just “Stay here with me while the meaning of this beauty unfolds.” It’s in that particularity and specificity of Rhodes’ seeing and speaking that a comparison with Mary Oliver’s writing becomes consistent in my mind. Both have eyes wide open for beauty and the significance of earthy things like shorelines and sedges, shells and what Suzanne calls “the slow simmer of time.” Her subjects include things like the miracle of the human hand, the tang of a marinade, how improvisational prayer is, a horse-shoe crab, or the weight of wetness on a morning tent. And much, much more-each sample a small slice of a life lived well, in which we are invited to join, powerfully moved, weeping or rejoicing with the writer.”
AUTHOR PROFILE: Like everyone, I live on different planes. First comes the private meeting in my library with Jesus Christ, to fix my gaze on eternity, to praise, to beg, to question, to soak in his Words. Daily, it’s copywriting and editing to earn a living. I like to work on my deck so I can watch the birds at the near-by feeder and feel I’m part of their community because I sing back to them, study their behaviors and songs—and it’s where I observe the trees coming alive in the babyhood of green, the locusts chanting in summer, the gold and copper tones of fall leaves. I love hiking with my husband, a landscape photographer, watching movies with him, cooking from scratch (how pungent the herbs and garlic, the richness of sauce and tang of lemon), laughing at the ridiculous. And then there’s the creative dimension. Entering there, everything is left behind as I plunge into the well of memory and sensation, listen for the words and images to come, hear the music that feels right–the companionable or severe sounds. I’ve been writing poems since I was six and still have those childhood poems in a book. Another plane of living is books that have shaped my thought, my writing, my feeling, books like King Lear, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Great Gatsby, Wind in the Willows, and of course the Bible (New King James especially)—too many favorites to name! Finally, there’s my grandson, Marcus, the reason I moved from Virginia Beach to Northwest Arkansas. I’m his playmate, friend, partner in art projects and silliness, and hopefully a wise guide when I need to be.
I have a new book, my second full collection of poems, coming out in 2020 by Paraclete Press. It’s called Flying Yellow. The title, derived from a poem by that name, illuminates the timeless riddle which is the book’s theme: how to keep faith when we are constantly “slipping on scree.”
The voices that speak throughout vary widely in response to this question. Some are in despair. A few celebrate the view from the top. Most struggle mightily for a foothold and find redemption in the good strife.
Other poetry books are the chapbooks Hungry Foxes (Aldrich Press) and Weather of the House (Sow’s Ear Press) and What a Light Thing, This Stone (Sow’s Ear Press). I have recent poems in Image, Christian Century, Poetry East, Town Creek Poetry, and Spiritus.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I wish for A Welcome Shore to be an invitation for readers to look beyond surfaces, perhaps recognize themselves and their own experience through its pages, and be enlarged and inspired by the sounds, images, and words they find on this shore.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: Sample the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Welcome-Shore-Suzanne-Underwood-Rhodes/dp/1591280745.
WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Canon Press.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: I welcome correspondence from readers. My email address is SuzanneLRhodes@gmail.com. I’m on Facebook as Suzanne Underwood Rhodes.