A Brief Review of
Poems of Devotion: An Anthology
Paperback: Wipf and Stock, 2012.
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Reviewed by Stefanie Coleman
If you are looking for something to jump-start a devotional practice or provide an entry into poetry, Luke Hankins’s anthology assembles modern devotional works of recent poets into a remarkable book. Hankins includes poets as well-known as e.e. cummings and T.S. Eliot, but also obscure, newly published poets, and ones who are outside of the Christian faith tradition. The book opens with an introduction to the devotional poem that focuses on the work of Herbert, Frost, Donne and famous devotional writers of the 17th century. Hankins sees these authors as the direct predecessors of the devotional poetry of today and argues that they directly impact the form and tradition of devotional poetry. It was clear from the technical discussion of poetry forms and terminology that this discussion assumes a moderate level of knowledge about poetry that the casual devotional reader might not possess. As someone who considers herself a poetry amateur, I found his introduction to be geared to the highly interested, informed poetry reader. It might serve the casual reader better to skim this section. There is an assumption throughout the anthology that his readers would be unfamiliar with Christian terminology, as all terms connected with the Church and its practices are defined.
Hankins gathered poems that varied significantly in style. The collection contains couplets, sonnets, paragraphs, stanzas, and other free form types of poetry. In addition to style, devotional books often include only specifically Christian poems, neglecting the worldwide tradition of devotional poetry. Although Hankins chose to include only monotheistic poems, the poems here include Christian, Jewish and Islamic devotional practice. The similarities are striking; a gentle reminder to the reader of what each of these religions has in common with each other, the pursuit of God, the Holy One. Each poem reflects on an individual’s experience with the Holy One, as they confront life, their own failings, the broken world around them, and metaphysical questions. These poems are honest, compelling psalms of people experiencing the joy of the mystics, the depth of the dark night of the soul, and the beauty and heartache to be found in the mundane.
The poet’s duty is to record life and give us eyes to see anew the very familiar or even the painful. Poets are meaning-finders and experience-seekers who put pen to paper, even when it’s uncomfortable. Luke Hankins’ anthology is a marvelous collection of poems that bring new perspective and even grace. Moments and lines were often so lyrically beautiful and stirring that they required moments of silence to comprehend that beauty. It is amazing, the stirring and joy that juxtaposition of words on paper can evoke. This is a book to be savored, tasted, mulled over and shared with others. A book enjoyed in multiple sittings, with a warm cup of tea or strong coffee as accompaniment. It’s a book to be read out loud to friends and family. Most of all, this is a collection that represents a variety of stations along a spiritual journey, much like the Psalms.