The Lives of Saints

Lives of Saints“The lives of the saints take place all around us, under us, so much of the earth they seethe in it.” In this new book of poems, Suzanne Paola brings her unique voice to the meditative tradition, with words that offer a fresh and breathtaking foothold for the ages-old leap of faith. The book is, in Paola’s words, “a polyphony, a chorus spoken about saints and perhaps, occasionally, by them.”

The image of the rose winds through the book, symbol of eternity and transience, gravity and folly. We find it in the ghastly bloom of the atomic bomb, in the relic of St. Therese of Lisieux, in the wool of a cloned sheep. Its image glows silently under the Waste Isolation Projects of Yucca Mountain and New Mexico, in the U.S. Human Radiation Experiments, in the altars constructed at the schoolyard gate of the Columbine massacre.

The poems – witty, sly, sensitive, and immensely informed – trace the spiritual inquiries of a series of linked personae adrift in bodies and a world made toxic by the residues of scientific experimentation. Paola’s dramatic monologues begin and end with the same fictional narrator, a wry, cynical, cake-baking woman who, on learning of the atomic structure of all matter, begins a lifetime of questioning.

At times blasphemous, at times poignant and humorous, these voices are never less than heartbreakingly human, and the words they utter chill with their honesty. The Lives of the Saints is a stark, wise, meticulously researched book by a writer whose reputation leaps forward with each publication.


  • Finalist for the Academy of American Poets’ Lenore Marshall Award


Suzanne Paola’s collection reveals an amazing mind. . . . This is devotional poetry of a new sort.

—Oregon Statesman-Journal

It is difficult to decide what is most exciting about Paola’s book, the seriousness with which she attacks the themes of her poems, or the playfulness with which she turns these themes upside down. . . . The Lives of the Saints fits well in terms of its themes somewhere between The Last Temptation of Christ and Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Paola’s poems deserve to be admired: a good book to hide inside the torn-off cover of a hymnal while at church.

—Ace Boggess, The Adirondack Review

A rising Bellingham poet crafts a stark, fascinating collection of poems that focus on scientific, religious and life concerns.

—Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The beauty of this work lies in its intricate interweaving of medieval voices with modern voices, of ancient times with our times, of archetypal story with news story. This is no loose batch of poems, but a single work made from interrelated poems. The multi-voiced chorus recites – in soul-shuddering and very real terms – the terrors of our own times.

—Women’s Review of Books

The richness of The Lives of the Saints eludes description…At its best, what [it] is about is the breaking of one realm into another, and this it exemplifies with rare intelligence and a language as passionate and clear as lived faith once must have been.


Suzanne Paola’s collection reveals an amazing mind. Her words flow in their own directions, bringing insight, taking us on arcane journeys to familiar places suddenly redolent with new understanding. This is devotional poetry of a new sort.

—Salem Statesman-Journal

Purchase Book

University of Washington Press