According the dictionary, purgatory is defined as: “In Roman Catholic theology, a state or place in which those who have died in the grace of God expiate their sins by suffering; any state or place of temporary punishment, expiation, or remorse.”
The operative word in the definition, the one everyone pounces on like a starving lion on a piece of meat, is ‘temporary." None of that forever jazz so often associated with God and eternity and Heaven and Hell.
The doctrine of Purgatory dates back to a papal letter written in 1253, and was confirmed at the Council of Trent. Purgatory was adopted by the Church as a response to the wave of heresy crashing through history at the time. The popular heresy of the day was dualism, sometimes called Manichaeism, which really upset the powers that be. So the guys at the top decided on a two-pronged attack: punishment and reward. The punishment was initially called the Abigensian Crusade. Later, they came up with a concentrated version of the same thing and called it the Inquisition. The reward was Purgatory.
Purgatory was viewed as a reward because it provided a loophole for all the people who were kind of caught in the middle. They weren’t incorrigibly wicked, but they certainly weren’t saints or martyrs, either. In effect, it seemed like a pretty benevolent idea. Of course, like most good ideas, it stumbled a bit. The powers that be, tempted by earthly riches, found themselves selling "indulgences." Lots of bad PR.
The idea, of course, is still around. It’s still a Church doctrine. It’s just that no one pays much attention to it anymore. There are other more pressing issues, like health care and contraception. Stuff like that.
All that to say this: Amelia Martens has resurrected the idea of purgatory in her volume of poetry by the same name: Purgatory. And it is hella good stuff.
Martens’ poems are kind of more like paragraphs instead of your regular, typical, run-of-the-mill, properly formatted, stanza-ized poems. They are short, almost syllogistic reflections on various, almost sci-fi-like and really nightmarish, scenarios. Similar to something St. Paul would have written while on the island of Patmos, if he’d been a poet instead of an Apostle. Or maybe like something Cioran would have written if he’d been a poet and not so depressed and nihilistic and all that kind of stuff.