Catholic (Surviving Abuse & Other Dead End Roads)

By Skip Shea [Massachusetts]
December 4, 2006

Tragedy and survival.

While the Catholic Church abuse scandal of recent years may have already faded from the memory of cable news channels and thus a vast majority of the public consciousness, it is alive and festering for a great many of the survivors of that abuse. Poet and performer Skip Shea is one of these courageous people although for him it no longer seems to boil under the surface, because he has tackled it head on.

After reading Skip Shea's descriptive book "Catholic (Surviving Abuse & Other Dead End Roads)" it is apparent that Mr. Shea has gone through the hell of abuse. The difference is at that bottom of hell he turned around and came out intact and was profoundly shaped by the experience. He has survived and emerged with a fury. He taught himself to cope and at the same time learned to maintain a sense of humor.

Whether this book of 11 poems is a product of his abuse survival or a part of his recovery process does not matter. The book and the work of the poems are an inquest into a life shaped early by evil and then further shaped by the inevitable repression of the experience. The life examination however, does not end at the realization of Mr. Shea's past abuse. It continues to his healing.

The book begins with "The Creed". It is a long poem of about 5 pages that spells out with poetic device Mr. Shea's creation myth. In the poem Mr. Shea's spiritual conception is literally pre-womb and in a dream state. In the poem he progresses through birth to childhood to abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest during his pre-teen and teenage years.

"I have been raped by the anti-Christ,
and it defines me.
I am the soldier with the sword
piercing Christ's side
as I have been pierced
over and over
and over again
by God's messenger."

The poem continues on through Mr. Shea's life through his resultant drinking, his inevitable rejection of the Church and ends with his stories beginning creed: To live. To feel. To numb. To survive.

Many times you'll stop and wonder if it's ok to chuckle at passages in a book about such a serious subject matter. If you've ever had the pleasure of watching Mr. Shea perform his one man show that the book is based on, you'll see that Mr. Shea maintains a healthy sense of humor. While moving and at times shocking, Mr. Shea's book is indeed often intentionally funny. In the poem "Artist Statement" consider the following:

"so, 'we howl like fucking inmates at the moon
kneeling howling in a subway with manuscripts about
starving as hip hysterical angels'
and all that other crap
you know it
you've read it
after all we are artists
we like jazz!"

There are quite a few other humorous passages for the reader to find.

The tragedy in Mr. Shea's life was not confined to his early years. He also experienced the horror of losing a child. As an autobiographical book on the whole life experience of the author, this experience is weaved into its poetry just as it is interwoven into Mr. Shea's life. From the last poem of the book entitled "Let's Dance"

"With the moon out
in full
my spirit now howls
and cries as my daughter
dances the stars
twirling the breeze
with the leaves
and singing the chimes.
She is now Judy Garland..."

Guilt and rage, self loathing and eventual healing are all a part of "Catholic (Surviving Abuse & Other Dead End Roads)". It is full of the real and necessary consequences of a life such as Mr. Shea's and as a result the book is itself real. It is wonderful and if you can get your hands on a copy, you should.

GotPoetry gives the many poems in this book an A. Overall the collection deserves an A+ for the author's bravery in converting a challenging life into words.


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