The Christian poetry of Simon Oveton is available on the Web. It tends to be rather formal in style and careful crafted.
An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Poetry
David Impastato, editor
Oxford University Press
$25.00, hardcover; 369 pages
Editor David Impastato, who for many years worked as a film director in
Los Angeles, and is currently affiliated with the talking books program at the Library of
Congress, provides a fine introduction to fifteen contemporary poets whose work displays
brilliant intimations of transcendence.
It is as if the holy spirit always close to the poetic urge to utter the new word has found its way into our postmodern consciousness through the back door. Most readers of contemporary verse would not be surprised to discover how a literal religious consciousness has been abandoned in contemporary poetic expression. Most significant contemporary poets works mirror in both formal terms and in subjects chosen, the absence of the relevant transcendent. Thanks to editor Impastato we find that this is not the case. The same immortal religious themes are reinvented in each of these still practicing poets. Here we are treated to major poets who also invite intense religious feeling. I find the editors location of these poets as particularly Christian a bit stultifying. The treatment of the themes, even classic Christian themes, are larger than the biblical source from which they are adroitly drawn. There is in our large secular times more room for mystery than has usually been noticed by the literary establishment.
David Impastatos superb anthology, UPHOLDING MYSTERY, introduces us to a number of poets whose work is definitely spiritual. He provides brief introductions to the poets and to many of the poems, providing a deft commentary that locates them in both their literary and expressly Christian contexts.
The sequence of this book unfolds by the poetrys own numinous logic, or arcane imagery. With chapters on suffering, transformation, death, injustice, Presence, nature, love, grace, etc., we are invited to listen to these quite persuasive voices. The theological journey each reader may follow does not seem be overwhelmingly Christian. The verse does demonstrate that great religious poetry, like any great poetry appeals, to universals well beyond to articulation of a single faith perspective.
What I enjoy most in Oxford anthologies of poetry is how we are provided with choice, literate morsels of verse adeptly presented. The poets represented in this anthology are well worth considering on their own terms. I am happy to have had the chance to become introduced to some of them in this attractive format. By limiting the number of poets to fifteen rather than presenting the usual broad sampling, this volume allows us to gain a fuller acquaintance with each poets work to see the trial, detection, and shift in the spiritual quest through an individual body of verse, yet still to see how each poet subscribes to a vision of the sacred that can be understood only in diversity, in the very contrast between one voice and another. From Andrew Hudginss often witty reports to Geoffrey Hills darkly ardent lyrics, from Denise Levertovs crisp personal and political intuitions to Wendell Berrys handsome evocations of the godly presence of nature, UPHOLDING MYSTERY displays for us a familial neighborhood of poetic and spiritual appreciation.
Featuring only poets who are presently writing and publishing, the book gives abundant selections of work by such well-known poets as Richard Wilbur, Annie Dillard, Daniel Berrigan, Les Murray, Louise Erdrich and Kathleen Norris, along with the impressive though less known voices of David Craig, David Citino, Scott Cairns, Maura Eichner, and David Brendan Hopes. Together the anthologys fifteen poets have created a radical center of work that is as noted for the caliber of its verse as for its enlightening of a new Christian ethos.
HYMNS OF PRUDENTIUS
The Cathemerinon; or The Daily Round
David R, Slavitt, translator
The Johns Hopkins University Press
$19.95, Cloth, 61 pages
Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a fourth-century Spaniard, was thirteen years old when Julian, the last pagan emperor, came to the throne and attempted to suppress Christianity and restore paganism. Two years later Julian was succeeded by the co-emperors Valentinian and Valens, both Christians. Their court included such scholars as Jerome, Ausonius and Martin of Tours. Prudentius thrived in this world of devotional scholarship and attained a position of considerable authority in the Roman imperial administration. He abandoned it to follow his poetic and religious call.
Prudentiuss enduring influence springs from his work as a poet. He
was a pioneer in the creation of a Latin Christian literature. Usually regarded as the
greatest of the Christian Latin poets, and his legacy instructed the poetic form of the
Latin liturgy as well as the products of future poets, including George Herbert and John
Donne. Prudentius wrote two collections of hymns: the Cathemerinon Liber and the Peristephanon.
The former is a collection of twelve songs roughly translated as The Daily Round. They have been recently eased into contemporary diction, if not sentiment, by the skillful renderings of David Slavitt.
Essentially bookish in composition and form, Prudentiuss hymns
eventually replaced Latin pagan mythology with stories from the Hebrew and Christian
scriptures. They became enormously popular during the middle ages and were formative to
the Latin style of sung or chanted liturgy in the western church. Much of the Latin shape
of worship is indebeted to this poet whose works have been unjustly ignored for their own
poetic power. Fetch me a pen, lad. I mean to sing of the noble deeds / of Jesus
Christ, the theme of my heavenly Music.
The contribution of Slavitt gives this work a refreshing ease in verse that captures some of Prudentiuss own stiff Latin. It is decorous almost to the point of punctiliousness and his lyric carriage suggests a vigorous piety that in its own right is quite appealing. Slavitt has tried to honor this devout voice and suggests the vigor in it to us, something easily overlooked because of the poets enormous influence. Slavitt own bias comes in the form of a postmodern poet who remains agnostic about the ultimate personage of these poems piety. Christians will value the devout simplicity of the verse, while agnostics should come to enjoy the sentiment of faith, if not its assuredness.
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