“I don’t read poetry, but I like these poems!” So say many readers of After God, a lean, readable, tender tale of a lifelong lovers’ quarrel between a poet and God. If you grew up Catholic–whether you have left the Church or remain in it despite its troubles—you will find resonance in this After God.
If you have left other churches and faiths, but still wonder in your soul about the question of God, this too is a book for you. And it explores the God question through a tale told in poetry—the “whiskey” of literature.
The tale opens in winsome poems set in the world of a New York, first-generation Irish Catholic boy who grows up in the1940s and ’50s steeped in God, church and faith. As the boy moves into emerging manhood, he chooses to ground his life in God. He joins the religious order of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, who taught him throughout his boyhood. He enters an ancient world “behind the wall” of the cloister as he makes his way through religious life to become a teaching brother.
A decade later, studying new theology, his life begins his “after”: arriving in the wild-wonderful late 1960s when the world flipped. With its upturn, the brother chooses to leave church, faith, God and brothers. As his agile-talking Irish relatives might have put it, linguistically holding past inside present, “Isn’t he after leaving God!” But like a humming bird suspending, a sense of God hovers in His absence.
Slowly in the agnostic wake of his gone God, the poet finds an enigmatic “You” more intriguing than any knowing he held of the God—the Him or Her or Whom?— he dismissed as the doctrine-girdled deity he inherited. For the poet, confronting the enigma of this You opens “after” into its second sense: “after” as hunt.
While Whelan’s writing here is full of a sense of real spiritual struggle, the poems themselves are beautifully rendered without pretension and with plenty of humor and humility.
- Poet Terence Winch
What’s most impressive about AFTER GOD is the quality of the poems—intelligent, fluent, sensuous, and assured. What’s surprising is that it’s Michael Whelan’s first book. The story may be familiar (boy falls in love, falls out of love, keeps longing), but Whelan’s handling of it, with unguarded candor and a battery of emotions, is rare and compelling.
He reveals himself as a God-besotted child, self-pleased and aesthetically aware; then an irate young man exorcising God from his life; and finally a mature man, yearning for a sip of the old awe. His ongoing effort to reshape God into something rational yet intimate may not succeed, but this book surely does.
- Poet Joan Murray
These are very good poems.
- Poet Dermot Healy
Michael Whelan tells us that he can never leave the touchable world of childhood. That is
fortunate for those of us who recognize our own religious journey in his search for 'that
Ultimate behind the mask we call the universe.'
- Theologian Gabriel Moran
Brilliant array of picturesque images and writing. Fascinating and difficult to halt reading for reflection because of the imagery and pace of narration.
- Richard Oprey
Beautifully written with authenticity and love. Autobiographical, insightful and honest.
- Margaret Duffy