Philip Larkin’s noted poem This Be the Verse harpoons familial sanctity.


“Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf
Get out early as you can
And don’t have any kids yourself.”


Not solely an angry poem, This Be the Verse is a recalcitrant force. In reality, Larkin’s fucked up benefaction is as much a sly smirk as it is contemptuous memorial. Along the lines of that anonymous dictum, it takes one to know one.

What Larkin has been to the anti-familial, John Tottenham strives to be for the anti-marriage set. Tottenham’s second poetic issue is Antiepithalamia and other Poems of Regret and Resentment, from Penny-Ante Editions. The epithalamia the title sets itself against is an obscurity and so is defined on the back- epi-tha-la-mium n., pl. –miums or mia: A song or poem in honor of a bride and bridegroom. Right from the start, the book winks at its reader, for it is a screwed up invention about what it perceives as a screwed up invention. As the first line of the book’s first Antiepithalmium stresses “At last their smugness is united.” Quite.

Why should anyone want to read about doubt or spiritual alienation?

Well — doubt and even anguish are, I think, unavoidable aspects of the spiritual life.  They are part of the choreography of the spiritual life.

Indeed, it happens, I think, to almost everyone who pursues a spiritual life: at some point, you hit a wall.  The energy that animated your spiritual life seems to have evaporated.

I have come to call this – a little cheekily – a mid-faith crisis.

When I hit my own wall, I read because that is what I always do when I have a problem:  I read.  I read because I thought I might find in books a solution to, or at least an evasion of, the crisis – a way around, or at least a way of avoiding, the wall. Books did not, on their own, “solve” my mid-faith crisis, but they certainly provided companionship, solace, and inspiration along the way. (In fact, they helped me understand that a mid-faith crisis is not something to be solved, but to be lived into.)