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Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets
Wipf & Stock Pub, 2012
236 pp., $26.00
Strange Things with Meaning
Sometimes a book appears that makes the expectant reader think, "Finally," or "Well, it's about time!" If the book in question is an anthology such as Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets, assembled by Luke Hankins, a journal editor and young poet himself, then the reaction may be of a stronger, more satisfying sort, something like "I knew it!" Generally this reaction gives the reader who has it the pleasure of confirmation—the new anthology, then, validates a readerly hunch or hope that a particular poetic or literary movement is indeed afoot, whether it be more recog nizable as a resurgence or as genuine innovation.
The impression that Poems of Devotion gives is neither of these, exactly, but one more like "It's been here all along." The "it" there is the particular kind of poetry known as "devotional," including compositional circumstances and type of phenomenological engagement and divine audience that we associate with the devotional mode. Hankins makes a determined, refreshingly testy attempt to define what devotional poetry is, and what it is not, in an introductory essay here and, to a lesser degree, in an interview with the editor appended to this anthology. If we allow ourselves for the moment to set aside that concern for precision, we can focus instead on this collection's central accomplish ment: it shows in no uncertain terms that devotional poetry continued throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, from T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets and certain lyric poems by E. E. Cummings and Theodore Roethke to poets as various as Geoffrey Hill, Charles Wright, Andrew Hudgins, Gjertrud Schnackenberg, Scott Cairns, Mary Karr, Li-young Lee, Carl Phillips, Franz Wright, and, rounding up this "fair school," Maurice Manning and Christian Wiman. (Hankins' book includes at least one poem and often two from each of these authors.) Even more exciting, however, is a second impression fully felt only toward the end of the book—that devotional poetry not ...