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To Sing You Must Exhale
illustrated by Victor KyNam
Morrisville, NC: Lulu, 2004
Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur
As Marty Barrack states in the Foreward of To Sing You Must Exhale, "poems bypass the intellect and write directly upon our hearts." Kathryn Mulderink's poetry is beautiful, meant to be read, savored, re-read, and pondered in the heart and soul. Mulderink describes herself as a "thirtysomething homeschooling mother of seven" who offers this slim book of verse composed over the course of twenty years as a gift to all who receive it. In her poetry, she explores the soul's reaching out for God and God's response.
To Sing You Must Exhale is divided into three parts: "From Hearts of Stone," "Leaping with the Heart," and finally, "The Beating Heart of God." Each section corresponds to a stage on our spiritual journey as we search for union with God. In Part One, "A Song of Sky and Sinking in Fives and Sixes" explores a child's reaching for God as she grows to adulthood at the ages of five, six, ten, twelve, twenty, twenty-four, and thirty. While in her younger years, she longs for God with pure unadulterated desire, by the age of thirty she realizes:
You recognize the God-given right of every heart to beat,
sense the song only you can sing,
the music it alone has been given and which
Heaven will not repeat,
its gift to give back to the King.
Mulderink acknowledges that wisdom for us often comes late in life. As she indicates in "Born Again," only once we come to the knowledge of how much we need God do we truly begin to live:
who only begin to live
so many decades after we are born.
Part two features the title poem "To Sing You Must Exhale" which describes a near-death experience taking place during childbirth:
I know what I do not know and I've leaned face-first into
the most fragile membrane and
balanced, breathless, on that stropped razor edge
which separates us from all we are meant to be.
"Chosen" offers the reason we belong to God:
before all this was,
you chose me.
Therefore I am.
And therefore I am Yours.
Part Three includes a poignant tribute to Mary, mother of Jesus, in "Twice United:"
She so loves the world
that she will give her only Son,
and the blood that saves the world
from her own heart.
The final poem in the collection, "Gift," once again returns to the theme of offering all that we are back to God:
Love asks each soul . . .
to offer the self we have received as gift to Him
so that He can continue to give
through our hands,
through our eyes.
Mulderink's writings are truly Catholic. While they speak to the universal longing of the soul for God, they do so firmly within the Catholic experience of faith. The Eucharist as True Presence is a prevalent theme (very appropriate as this is "The Year of The Eucharist" in the Catholic Church), as is Marian Devotion. Included in the collection are a few poems that were written for a particular event or person and are more formal and traditional in nature. These are Mulderink's weakest efforts. As most any artist can tell you, it is very difficult to force creativity. It is when the Spirit is flowing through you and the inspiration comes from God that the work takes on a life of its own. Fortunately for us, the Spirit was hard at work in the vast majority of Mulderink's verse. God has used her words to help bring us to God.
Any review would be incomplete without a mention of the illustrations by Victor Kynam, a seminarian "who dedicates all his art to the Holy Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary." His black and white line drawings, many with intricate undertones and hidden images, only add to the experience of the verse. Both words and pictures unite in a mystical prayer to God.
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is editor of "The Spiritual Woman Newsletter" and author of "Letters to Mary from a Young Mother" (iUniverse, 2004). She has a Master of Arts Degree in Applied Theology from Elms College.