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Virginia Tech's Director of Creative Writing Rethinks Prayer


Virginia Tech’s Director of Creative Writing has a new book out. It’s a collection of prayers. He says the work of crafting a prayer is like what writers struggle with every day, expressing emotion, desires, hopes and dreams.  But as you’ll hear in this story, the book is a very different take on what you may think of as a prayer.

Mathew VollmerReading from “A Book of Uncommon Prayer:  “Poems for Lent, Post Game Day Blessing, For People Who are Seeing Their New Rental for the First Time, For the Unseeable Child in the Rear-Facing Safety Seat, For Gluten, For the Good and Proper Use of Money, For Lost Phones, For Post Interview Job Candidates….”

Mathew Vollmer’s idea of what a prayer is, evolved over time.

“When I was a kid I mostly asked for, please keep my parents safe, keep my sister safe. Thank you for this. Thank you for that. Thank you for our dogs and our food and our house and all that. So they were prayers of thanks but they were also petitions like; help me find my lost wallet.”

His new collection is called, “A Book of Uncommon Prayer” not to be confused with THE Book of Common Prayer written in the 16th century and featured since then at the Anglican Church to the point where people today can often recite them by memory.

“The Book of Common Prayer has a section in it, prayers and thanksgivings, I think it’s called in which there are prayers for all occasions. So there are prayers for the sick, prayers for government, prayers for rain, prayers for just about anything you can think of.

Vollmer grew up as a Seventh Day Adventists, where the prayers are not so circumscribed.  In fact they’re not written down at all, but rather evolve in real time. Prayers with which no one could read along. And that gave him the idea for this collection.

“I’m always interested in forms that writing has taken or can take so these are prayers but they’re also essays and meditations. And the ways that the conventions of particular forms exert pressure on the writer.  You have to do certain things for it to be a prayer or be considered a prayer but then how do you go off the rails? How can you re-shape someone’s understanding of what a prayer is or what a prayer can do? And I’m always interested in the ways that writing can help us receive the actual forms where the writing resides.”

It’s something you can hear even in this list of titles of the poems he wrote or commissioned from dozens of other writers.

Mathew Vollmer Reading from “A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 

“For the Harmless, Yet Disgusting Parasitic Nematodes that Last Week Briefly Infected Our Children, For the Spudnuts as They Take to the Sky, For the Woman who Bought a Groupon, For a Teenage Girl Embarking Upon a Week Long Carnival Cruise with Her Parents, For Target, To God Almighty that I Have Never Believed In, Especially Since This Entity Saw Fit to Take My Best Friend Rosemarie Who Had Just Finished Med School at Johns Hopkins, When She Was Killed in a Horrible Car Accident, For Lubbock, For Those Haunted by Deceased Parents, Lost Youth, Missed Connections, Misspent Friendships, Spent Looks, Dropped Balls, Roads Not Taken, Words Not Spoken, Words Spoken, Dampened Passions, Failures of Both Business and Imagination, Bad Calls, Mixed Bags, Sagging Flesh, Spilt Milk, Bad Blood and Random Acts of Unkindness.”

Mathew Vollmer will read some of the poems of these titles at the Blacksburg Public Library in A Night of Fiction and Poetry with Matthew Vollmer & Erika Meitner on Miller Street, Monday, December 7th at 7 pm.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
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