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Poetry Moment: Brianna Noll and 'Confiteor'

Poet Brianna Noll

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Confiteor” by Brianna Noll.

Brianna Noll is the author of The Era of Discontent, winner of the Elixir Press 20th Annual Poetry Award, and The Price of Scarlet, which was named one of the top poetry books of 2017 by the Chicago Review of Books. Co-founder of The Account, Noll’s poems and translations have appeared widely in journals. Noll was born and raised in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Confiteor is a form of prayer used in Catholic Mass and other sacraments. It is a prayer expressing sorrow for one’s sins, with an interesting footnote. The Confiteor is offered when the penitent has not committed a serious sin or even no longer believes in the concept of sin. Brianna Noll’s poem engages with this idea of prayer, not as an act we perform to seek forgiveness for wrongdoing but to sound our insufficiency. The poem unfolds as one apology after another for, essentially, the fact of being human and unable to know what is ‘unknowable.’ Noll’s intimate poem voices an experience felt by many who have lost the absolutes of faith yet keep trying to read the world as ‘symbols,’ with a ‘stubborn need to make sense’ of ‘this life.’



I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible
by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
                 – Umberto Eco

Apologies to the invisible,
the unknown and unknowable.
Apologies to the hazy upswell
I cannot make coalesce
into a mighty geyser.
Apologies to you, my love,
for my deficiencies of mind
and pocketbook. There is,
in this life, a multitude
of impossibles, and I feel
a personal responsibility
for them all. Maybe it’s
the Catholic in me, or maybe
it’s just innate stubbornness,
a motivating need to make
sense of it all. I know
we have the power
to invent and discover, and
we want to untangle
everything, but we are not
brains in jars. I tell
the swarm in me to hush
and, when it doesn’t,
focus on feeling it rumble.
This is temporary.
Whenever I see blue
I think blessed virgin because
my world is a world of symbols
and saints, and it’s a hard lesson
to learn that not everything
has that kind of weight.

That was “Confiteor” by Brianna Noll.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with us today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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