Dr. Mary Ann Miller’s Poetry Anthology “St. Peter’s B-list” Shows Relevancy of Saints to Contemporary Life

Mary Ann MillerCaldwell University English faculty Mary Ann Buddenberg Miller, Ph.D.  is editor of a new anthology titled St. Peter’s B-list that portrays the relevancy of saints to modern life.  Published by Ave Maria Press, the book features a collection of more than 100 poems from a variety of well-known poets. The foreword is by the award-winning novelist Ron Hansen. The afterword is by James Martin, S.J., author of My Life with the Saints.   He calls Miller’s book “a treasure.”

Dr. Miller has a passion for bringing poetry alive in the contemporary world as evidenced when students in her Introduction to Poetry course work with published poets to host public readings.   Her research interests lie in the connection between theology and literature.

In this interview Dr. Miller gives us a glimpse into St. Peter’s B-list.  

What is St. Peter’s B-List?

St. Peter’s B-list is an anthology of over 100 contemporary American poems, written by 70 poets from across the United States, that contain references to canonized saints.   The voices in these poems are not the saints themselves, speaking from distant times and places.  They are very contemporary voices, both male and female, from a wide range of social, regional, and occupational circumstances, who remember a saint, often despite a pervasive sense of doubt, in the midst of the spiritual struggles of daily life.

Cover of book

What was your goal with this anthology?   

My goal is to show the relevancy of the saints and sainthood to contemporary life by increasing the visibility of poets who integrate them into their work.

Explain the title. 

The anthology’s title is the title of the last poem in the book, in which the speaker imagines himself in a dimly-lit bar on heaven’s “East Side.”  A “B-list” contains the names of people who are second in favor.  For example, a person would invite his or her B-list to attend a party or to join a sports team after ensuring the accommodation of those on the A-list.  St. Peter is traditionally believed to be the gatekeeper of heaven.  Most of us, I think, imagine we would be on St. Peter’s “B-list,” invited to the dimly-lit bar, after space is allocated for the canonized in the well-lit banquet hall.

What are some of the topics that your poets address?

While these poems were selected because of their artistic merit, which works against reducing them to any definitive statements about “topic,” they also would provide good starting points for discussion from the points of view of ministry and counseling.  Sample topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • the question of and hope for God’s mercy upon sins of the flesh
  • accepting the early loss of a brother or spouse
  • reconciliation with parents
  • facing the death or demise of a parent
  • the need for spiritual graces when parenting
  • the relationship to the Church of those with spouses from other faith traditions
  • answering the call to the religious life
  • the effect upon ones’ faith of pilgrimages to the burial places of saints
  • the spiritual impact of a community’s celebration of feast days
  • personal estrangement from family because of one’s conversion to Catholicism
  • self-examination before the sacrament of reconciliation
  • the question of mercy toward the dying in euthanasia
  • the complexity of true social service
  • the spiritual states of the mentally ill
  • God’s personal love for each of us as individuals
  • preparing for death in the face of terminal illness
  • belief in miracle healing

Why do people look to poetry for spiritual reflection?

Poetry does not teach concepts; it evokes thought and feeling, allowing a kind of revelation of truth to occur for the attentive reader.   Poetry engages not only the minds, but also the hearts of its readers.  Intellectual exercise alone cannot move the will.  Poetry presents the beauty of spiritual truths, making them attractive to the audience so that their wills turn toward the divine

Who are some of your well-known poets in this anthology?

Edward Hirsch, Dana Gioia, Mary Karr, Franz Wright, Brian Doyle, Kate Daniels, Paul Mariani

To find out more about St. Peter’s B List, go to:

Upcoming Readings and Events

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
6-8 pm
Cornelia St. Café
29 Cornelia St,
New York, NY
Featured poets:  Ann Cefola, Dean Kostos, Susan L. Miller, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Christine Redman-Waldeyer, and Susanna Rich
$8 cover, includes drink
Make reservations by calling (212) 989-9319

Thursday, April 24, 2014
6-8 pm
Poetry and the Communion of Saints: A Reading and Discussion of St. Peter’s B-list: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints
Sponsored by Fordham’s Curran Center for American Catholic Studies
Fordham University, Manhattan Campus
the Atrium, 2nd floor, Lowenstein
corner of 60th and Columbus Ave.
Guest speaker:  Paul Mariani. “When the Saints Go Marching In: Anagogical Dimensionality, Literary Stealth and the Catholic Imagination”
Featured poets:  Alan Berecka, Ann Cefola, Maryanne Hannan, Dean Kostos, Paul Mariani, Susan L. Miller, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Lauren Schmidt, Maria Terrone

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
6-8:30 pm
Poets House
10 River Terrace
New York, NY
Sponsored by Ave Maria Press
Featured poets:  Ann Cefola, Kate Daniels, Martín Espada, Dean Kostos, Gerry LaFemina, Jamison Lee, Susan L. Miller, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Susanna Rich, Nick Samaras, Lauren Schmidt

Wednesday, October 8, 2014 
12 noon – 12:50 pm 
Jennings Library 
Poetry reading with selected poets from St. Peter’s B-List 
No charge 
Co-sponsored by the Caldwell University 75th Anniversary Celebration and the Tower Poets. 
To RSVP, please email 75thanniversary@caldwell.edu or call 973.618.3371

Select poets: 
Laurie Byro
Sandra Duguid (former assistant director of academic support at Caldwell) 
Maryanne Hannan
Susan L. Miller (Rutgers, New Brunswick) 
Angela Alaimo O’Donnell (associate director, Curran Ctr for American Catholic Studies, Fordham) 
Susanna Rich (Emmy nominee; distinguished professor, Kean Univ) 

6:30 pm
Judith Valente,  PBS-TV’s Religion and Ethics News Weekly correspondent and published poet, will speak on Contemplation in the Age of Twitter.  She has poems in Dr. Miller’s book. 

Press release — Poets Explore Saints, Challenge Claim that Catholic Writer MIA 

If you would like to interview Dr. Miller, please contact Colette Liddy at cliddy@caldwell.edu or 973-618-3209 


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