Mother Mary Comes to Me: a Pop Culture Anthology – a Review by Sarah Law


MOTHER MARY COMES TO ME: A POP CULTURE POETRY ANTHOLOGY, edited by Karen Head and Collin Kelley. 113 pp. Madville Publishing.  ISBN 9781948692427.

Although it might sound like a curiosity, it was a pleasure to read this new anthology which places Mary (as in the Blessed Virgin Mary) at the centre of contemporary concerns. Most prominent in Catholic culture and spirituality, Mary persists as mother with child on traditional Christmas cards, mourning mother in famous pietas, and as a tenderly smiling woman in a variety of kitsch statuary. As a feminine aspect of the divine, Mary has enduring appeal. In fact, it’s quite astonishing how many Marian apparitions there seem to have been, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She remains a figure of popular imagination, and a source of comfort and paradox even beyond the explicitly spiritual. This anthology isn’t a selection of devotional poetry, but the human responses and contexts included provide much food for thought, and Mary is the thread that runs through them all.

After a thoughtful editorial introduction, the opening section, ‘Ave Maria’ does contain poems with a devotional echo – work here is imaginatively lyrical, frequently blending imaginative use of Mary’s own voice with a sense of mystery: 

God is a hum, a note I know
In my heart. Hungry and full.
I am simultaneous
All the time.
('Anointed' by Ivy Alvarez).

Mary is also found in the specifics of ethnicity and geography, always among the disenfranchised rather than the privileged: 

...where would 
she be, a brown-skinned girl,
a migrant, going to put her name
on a register? 
('La Madonna de las Naranjas' by Lee Ann Pingel).

Mary is increasingly viscerally imagined, for example in Chelsea Clarey’s ‘Fear Not’, in which she is a girl who ‘did not fear the lamb’s blood’ but instead ‘stood in a gory portal/ and felt something deep’. Mary in this section is profoundly connected to the earth, especially in Lara Gulate’s ‘White City’, Linda Parson’s ‘How Soft the Earth’, and Trebor Healey’s resonant ‘Black Madonna’ where ‘All the dark mountains are her/ and she sits within them/ as if within a shawl of snow…’. Specific locations are highlighted in Lincoln Jaques’ ‘Our Gospa’ (referring to the ongoing Marian apparitions in Medjugorje) and Larry D Thacker’s ‘Thrift Store Gods’ where a statue of Mary both reveals and prompts an act of generosity. The prominence of Mary in Latinx culture is acknowledged in many poems, for example Gustavo Hernandez’s ‘Formas Sagradas’. These place-based poems are juxtaposed rather wonderfully with the homage to various US poets in ‘Mary Pays Homage’ by Jill Crammond, which starts: ‘The art of mothering isn’t hard to master’, and riffs on lines from Bishop, Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Mary Oliver and others. I’d really like to read a BritPo version of this cento-esque poem: would anyone like to oblige?

Section Two, ‘I Am Woman’ imagines various subversions of Mary’s traditional story: what if Mary had not consented, her Fiat a fiction? ‘Legend shows me acquiescent. / Don’t believe a word,’ says Grace Bauer’s Mary in ‘Mary: A Confession and Complaint’. In Pablo Miguel Martinez’s ‘ Adiós, O Virgen de Guadalope–’ she is ‘headstrong as only mujercitas/ her age can be’. In ‘Triptych’ by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton, a notably pop-culture poem, ‘Mary tried to fight off the Angel (#MaryToo),/ her womb full of snow, sky, and bickering clouds’. Elsewhere there is blood, the ‘ordered thud of blood’ in Catherine Clark-Sayles ‘Self Portrait as Annunciation’ and a ‘wrench of red bubbles’ in Ann Cefola’s poignant sketches of loss in ‘Theotokos’. An adulterous Mary is depicted in Tyson West’s ‘The Carpenter’s Wife’. All balanced with the delicate maternal absences in Jana Schledorn’s ‘Upon Realising the Absence of Mothers’: ‘(she calling, a call I could not catalog)’. 

Section Three, ‘Along Comes Mary’ contains more poems specifically merging Mary with contemporary culture, including a pregnant Mary hankering after decaf lattes in JC Reilly’s ‘Stopping at a Starbucks in Egypt’, and a superhero Mary, ‘dressed in a powder blue body suit,/ thigh-high boots, and cape connected to a swab-shaped helmet – ‘ in ‘Mutant Mary, Mother of Doom’ by Robert Siek. Madonna (singer) as well as Madonna (BVM) appear in Jennifer Martelli’s ‘Madonna Triptych, 1984’. Meanwhile, twenty-first century social media Mary is all pervasive in Donna McLaughlin Schwender’s ‘Follow Me @HailSocialMary’. For the theologically, as well as poetically inclined, I thought that this poem’s casual comment about live-tweeting the Assumption could surely inspire a poem of its own. Back to technology, P.F. Anderson’s ‘Our Lady of Code’ posits a Mary whose

is Boolean, her heart
is fuzzy, her heart
is false and true. 

However, even when misspelled, as in the tattoo described by Alison Pelegrin’s ‘Our Lady of No Regerts’, Mary is there. 

Section Four, entitled ‘Don’t Stop Believin”, modulates the poems towards a more spiritual hunger: ‘as if/ as if’, in Rupert Loydell’s meditatively spacious ‘a Confusion of Marys’. Miracles and Marian apparitions flicker amidst the paraphernalia of contemporary life: Mary on a tube station, as a stain on the wall, and conjured by ‘some nearly unnoticed machinery of grace’ in Blake Leland’s ‘Annunciation’. Perhaps, some poems suggest, the gift of perceiving Mary’s presence is in us, readers of the world, rather than in the fabric of our surroundings: ‘God bless/ the human brain for the hardwiring/ that sees the face everywhere’ declares the splendidly titled ‘Pareidolia, or “If it Makes them Pray, that’s Okay”’ by Tina Kelley. It’s followed by the fifth section, ‘How Great Thou Art’, which dips into the ekphrastic mode with poems celebrating both the beauty and absurdity of artistic representations of the Virgin. ‘She never seems surprised/ to have given birth to an old man’ observes Danielle Hanson’s ‘Lemon Breast of the Virgin Mary’. 

The sixth and final section, ‘Like a Prayer’ is arguably the most spiritually focused of all, as traditional Marian devotions are woven into our contemporary worldliness and religious resistance. Several poems literally intercalate lines of prayer with contemporary narrative fragment. I was struck by Rick Campbell’s ‘To All Those who Prayed for Me’, and its agnostic honesty: ‘I believe/ in believing in something’. And I was moved by Janet Lowery’s ‘Statue of Mary’ which documents how a simple statue helped preserve the speaker’s sanity through an abusive childhood: ‘Where could I go for help except the divine?’ 

I’ve not been able to mention all the poems that strike a chord of collective or personal memory but I can conclude by saying this anthology is a strong one. In much needed contrast to recent reactionary interpretations of Marian apparitions as minatory and censorious, Mother Mary Comes to Me is a spiritually open, as well as a poetically refreshing book.

A Year in Sentences – a poem by Matthew Miller

A Year in Sentences

This first snow falls 
like a pleasant chord, fingers stretched 
pianissimo on their knit hats.

In flat panoramas, rain dribbles 
then gathers to nap 
on the shoulders of back roads.

New light spills sideways, like a child 
from a spiral slide, dizzy 
but climbing up again.

When streams release mighty sighs, 
delight in smooth crests of stone 
peeking from lapping waters.

Long exhales into tense film 
send momentary bubbles 
drifting above the midway.

Kayaks in cold currents float 
beneath fir and lodgepole, 
paddling faster to what end.

Coneflowers explode 
beside the road; then bend away 
in breezes spun from bike tires.

With wild lines, house flies 
buzz ripe peaches, while raw grapes hide 
behind fuzzy tomato vines.

After yesterday's rain, impromptu 
ponds cast yellow shimmers 
between rows of cut stalks.

The sun withdraws, a taut 
pumpkin softly collapsing 
in the wind's bitter caterwaul.

Brittle leaves scrawl 
an unfathomable dispatch, 
a cursive labyrinth on the lawn.

On the porch, two spruces 
dappled in descending beams 
from outstretched lights nailed above them.

Matthew Miller teaches social studies, swings tennis rackets, and writes poetry – all hoping to create a home. He lives beside a dilapidating apple orchard in Indiana, and tries to shape the dead trees into playhouses for his four boys. His poetry has been published in Flying Island, Remington Review and is forthcoming in Whale Road Review.

Cave Artist – a poem by Ann Cuthbert

Cave Artist
This body is fluid.
I have entered Her.
Now I will give birth,
bring out the likenesses.
My eyes find forms,
lift them from Her body,
my hands ease out
their bones, their flesh,
cajole animation, 
conjure breath.
This is no illusion.
I am bone and antler,
hoof and fur and skin.
I am inside Her.
Everything is inside me.

Ann Cuthbert enjoys writing and performing poems, usually with the Tees Women Poets collective. Her work has been widely published in magazines and anthologies online and in print, most recently 14 and Not Very Quiet magazines. Her poetry chapbook is Watching a Heron with Davey (Black Light Engine Room Press). 

To a Church Mouse Nibbling the Remains of the Host – a poem by David E. Poston

Blesséd be whiskers 
& tiny feet
Blesséd be Aquinas
Blesséd be Bonaventure  
Blesséd be crumbs in a dark chancel 
& pink tongue that licks spilt wine 
Blesséd be the silence of this hour
Blesséd be the least of these
                        meek inheritor
                        wee vessel for glory
                        insignificant squeaker
                        faintest whisperer 
                                                            of grace

David E. Poston is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Slow of Study, and a co-editor of Kakalak. His work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Atlanta ReviewNorth Carolina Literary ReviewPembroke Magazine, and The Windhover. He lives in Gastonia, NC.

Birdsongs – a poem by Matthew J. Andrews

I came back to the place,
found only a flock of doves
pecking at scraps in the street,
cooing in communion.
Was that you speaking?
I have read that bird colonies
on isolated rocky outposts
can be millions strong, a mass
of squawking eternal. 
Yet amidst the cacophony, a child
always knows the mother’s call,
can always pick it out,
can always be heard in response,
can always be fed.
This is how birds are made.
I’m trying to write a gospel
of bird noises, but I’ll be damned
to make any sense of them.
The sounds themselves are simple,
but the tones shift like fault lines,
the pitches rise and fall like tides.
It’s impossible to know whether each trill
is admonishment or admiration,
whether the barely whispered cooooo
is the tenderness of a lover’s kiss
or the quiet mourning of a broken heart.
The voice erupts, an atom 
bomb detonated in the sky, whipping
clothes in its wind, drawing blood
from ruptured eardrums.
There is nothing like it. The closest
you can get on your own
is to jam quill pens
into the sides of your head:
a flagellation of words,
an auditory stigmata,
an imitation of birdsong. 

Matthew J. Andrews is a private investigator and writer who lives in Modesto, California. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Funicular MagazineThe Inflectionist ReviewRed Rock ReviewSojournersKissing Dynamite, and Deep Wild Journal, among others. He can be contacted at

Dwelling, Here – a poem by M.J. Iuppa

Dwelling, Here

At evening, in the lush cornfield alongside our farmhouse, the mask 
of light becomes another shade of indigo, and those green tongues 
begin to stir, whispering loud, and louder still, like a crowd of people 
standing too close to each other. The loneliness of this hour, even
among unison, among luster, makes me inch closer to this immensity
that could swallow me whole if I walked inside my shoes, inside my
skin, without pushing my way through the tasseled corn that swells
with an intoxicating smell that could make me fall unconscious if
I breath too deeply, like the corn itself, breathing in shadows,
surrounding me in height, hiding me from any world that isn’t
this world— this other world that dreams of a life raised up
to this deepening light, this soothing light, this light of dwelling.

M.J. Iuppa’s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past 31 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.

Affinity – a poem by Janet Krauss

Lately I listen to the wind sleep at night.
Its stillness outside my window helps
me slip unawares into the lap  of oblivion.
The earth stretches towards the moon
but cannot reach it. The earth
is always spinning while the moon
circles around  and helps the tides 
keep the faith-- recede  and return 
to give us something to depend upon.
Crabs wait for moonlight to expand
over the sand so they can hurry 
as if they were trying to hide a secret
but  didn’t care, hurry to the edge 
of the water to lay their eggs, then 
scurry back unnoticed to the swamp.
Lately I listen for the smile that appears
unawares when I read a poem that needs
no light to leave its message.

Janet Krauss, who has two books of poetry published, “Borrowed Scenery,” Yuganta Press, and “Through the Trees of Autumn,” Spartina Press, has recently retired from teaching English at Fairfield University. Her mission is to help and guide Bridgeport’s  young children through her teaching creative writing, leading book clubs and reading to and engaging a kindergarten class. As a poet, she co-directs the poetry program of the Black Rock Art Guild

Saint Boniface – a poem by John Muro

Saint Boniface 
Sometimes at night, freed from penance,
I close my eyes and drift towards sleep
Awaiting the slow spirals of stardust 
And droplets of light that emerge from 
Darkness and coalesce to form 
Crenellations above some ornate,
Oriel window, inset with leaded 
Panes of carmine, Pyrenees green 
And chalice yellow. Colors settle 
Then soon abandon glass and dissolve 
Beneath a gilded asp, blending with
Air and into body now rising beyond
The plane of altar, the velvet nest of 
Tabernacle and the furrowed pews 
Worn to the hue of brown harness 
As I watch a younger self cradled 
In prayer and sowed with sorrow 
Waiting on the brighter hope and 
Splendor of sun piercing plumes 
Of incense and illuminating
The arched, stained-glass window 
Depicting a solitary child in a field 
Necklaced by a brook and a gnarled 
Tree twisting up towards heaven, 
Blue leaves dripping, sky still bearing 
The sacred scars of falling stars.

A life-long resident of Connecticut, John Muro is a graduate of Trinity College. He has also earned advanced degrees from Wesleyan University and the University of Connecticut. His first volume of poems, “In the Lilac Hour,” was published in October 2020 by Antrim House, and the book is available on Amazon. He has spent most of his professional career serving as an executive and volunteer in the fields of environmental stewardship and conservation.  John currently lives on the Connecticut shoreline with his wife, Debra Ann.

Psalms in Darkness – a poem by Dennis Daly

Psalms in Darkness
Down the ethereal ocean, the fall
Unnerved the princes of heaven. Their power
Diminished to deep unsubstantial dust,
A feral den to lodge their pride.
No, they were not ashamed. They trusted
The magnificence of You, You who now
Hide your face, who forgive the darkening
Clouds that veil the molten center,
Who forgive the vanity of words. 
Must you forswear the unforgivable?
In song our prayers do not ascend
Your mighty battlement of space
And time. They cringe with incredulity,
They crawl aside to little rooms
Where love becomes mere artifice.
Alone they loll unconsummated,
Futile. Their sorrow too keen, too lavish.
Contrite to a final fault, they sink
Without aspiring to their mission’s courage.
They sink, forever loosed, they sink.
One seraph stayed its will,
A spirit lifted high above
The pit of tenuity’s realm,
Encompassed then by urgings,
By loyalty to mulish origins, always
There to issue life’s rules,
Feathered structures drawn to numbers,
Numbers that connect truth to truth,
That resist the coal and brimstone tempest,
Waiting for you, Lord, the face of light.
Rage not against me, shake not my parts,
My bones, Lord, that house
Coursing hate. Free my heart from haunt,
Let my hands calm the world,
The chaos before me. Let my fallen 
Self find joy again in justice.
Let me turn the sly nod, the sneer,
The hungry look. Let me caress
With written words, create a stillness
That fends off fitful noise with beauty.
I would be spared. Oh, airy Lord,
Spurned by heaven’s obstinate rule,
Release me from perpetual torture.
Show hell’s mercy, then bridge each gap
I face with liberating reason,
With lust for resplendent beauty.
As I hold my head up, doling out
A knowledge that repeats in many beings
And many places. I bless my equals,
Who worship truth and possibility.
My signature bleeds, multiplies
One hundred times, one thousand times,
Ten million times, an infinite quagmire I sink into.
Mea culpa, Mea culpa, Mea Maximus culpa.
Is one’s blood so sacred? A scratch,
A momentary flow. Nothing more.
Circling me, the red riot of letters
Remembers that written certainty
Grown bigger than the life I’ve lived,
Bigger than the death I’ll die.
Witness all that I have become.
I am torn within a tempest
Torn by beaks of preying birds
Tumbling with me, fiend to fiend.
What dynamo of wind whirls
Me, blends me with faithless things?
My world envisioned into being,
An eternal hell so deserved,
Without doubt my doing, a conjuration
Oppressing me. Yet I ask for nothing.
Breathers of shadows fly through chambers
Of stalled sentences and grammar that conjures
Each day. Here perceptions and plots
Beget dreams that beget more dreams,
All within the mortal eggshell,
A universe of disquiet and doubt,
An apprehension that solidifies
Belief before blown through
The pinhole toward eternity’s
Blustery beginnings and tepid ends.

Dennis Daly has published seven books of poetry and poetic translations. He writes reviews regularly for The Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene and on occasion for the Notre Dame Review, Ibbetson Street, Wilderness House, and the Somerville Times. He occasionally reads his poetry at various venues. Please see his blog at

A Minute Before Heaven – a poem by Kathryn de Leon

Decades ago in college I learned that
all the water on the earth
is the same water
that existed aeons ago
so that Shakespeare could have bathed
or washed his hands in the water
I shower in.
Nothing new,
every raindrop a repeat.
In summer we let the sea
throw used waves
at our faces and bare legs
but it’s okay.
Even clouds posing
in animal or people shapes
moving regally in the wind
are not originals,
copies or copies of copies,
diluted versions of real clouds
lost long ago.
I’m wondering if today’s early-summer sky
is the same sky that offered me my first blue
the day I was born.
Is it a used blue I see today
or does the sky change its blue regularly
like a soiled shirt?
Is it the same sky 
that will attend me the day I die
or will a new sky glide in
a minute before Heaven,
take over with a fresh supply of blue
and see me out?

Kathryn de Leon is from Los Angeles, California but has been living in England for ten years. Her poems have appeared in several magazines in the US including Calliope, Aaduna, and Black Fox, and several in the UK including The Blue Nib, Snakeskin, Trouvaille Review, and The High Window where she was the Featured American Poet.