Faith, Sex, and Poetry

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Author: Valerie Sayers
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,040 words

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[(review date 18 May 2001) In the following review, Sayers speculates that Norris's intention with The Virgin of Bennington is to extend her spiritual journey by revisiting a key secular era of her life.]

Kathleen Norris opens her new memoir [The Virgin of Bennington] with an epigraph from Saint Augustine's Confessions, and the youthful adventures of the first few chapters suggest that this book may be Augustinian in content, at least when it comes to the sinning. Though Norris is indeed a virgin most of the time she is a student at Bennington College in the 1960s, she soon enough has an affair with a woman and another with a married male professor. Shortly after her post-graduation arrival in New York City, her adventures begin in earnest. At one point she takes to sleeping with a dancer who is beginning to doubt his homosexuality. "I thought it over," Morris writes, "and decided it was the least a friend could do."

That deadpan line is typical of Norris's commentary on her own role in the sexual revolution. But sex, despite the come-on of the title and the first few chapters, is not this book's major theme. As in her previous autobiographical works, Dakota and The Cloister Walk, Norris employs a hybrid form: Here it's part popular history of the 1970s poetry scene in New York, part meditation on a writer's coming of age, and large part biography of the late Elizabeth Kray, director of the Academy of American Poets (AAP) at the time Norris worked there. The narrative moves...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100080190