Beliefs and Blasphemies: A Collection of Poems
Random House. 1998. (ISBN: 0375500170). Hardcover, 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches. In 1996 Virginia Hamilton Adair published her first collection, Ants on the Melon, and this tardy debut by the 83-year-old author took the poetry world by storm. In a series of concise, vigorous lyrics, she considered everything from motherhood to Hiroshima to her own glaucoma-induced blindness. Along with providing the deep satisfactions of an assured poetic voice, Adair's debut also whetted the appetite for more. And now she has obliged her readers with a follow-up, Beliefs & Blasphemies. This time around, she narrows her focus to a single issue, albeit one with (literally) infinite ramifications: religion. "Is there some cosmic lab / where the stars conspire, inventing Life? / Did the parturition of nothingness / give birth to all this glory?" she riddles in "Whodunit." The question, of course, is an old one, but Adair asks it with fresh eloquence, and puts a typically comic spin on her title. These are some of the wittier poems about eternity. In "Sermon on the Sermon," for example, Adair manages some expert mockery without ever succumbing to shallow skepticism: Let us skip for a moment the beatitudes and get down to the refreshments. The picnic part. Their souls were already fed; their stomachs were empty. Elsewhere she varies her attack from light-verse flippancy to a deep, Yeatsian reverence. Indeed, Yeats's influence is apparent throughout--check out such semi-homages as "Easter 1990" and "Wings Like an Angel"--and it's hard to think of another living American writer who has so beautifully absorbed that Irish master's mixture of gravity and rigorous wit. The afterword of Ants on the Melon, Adair's first collection of poems?published two years ago at the age of 83 to justified acclaim?hinted at a trove of equally masterful poems to be drawn on in books to come. The toughness, grace and humor of this second collection at times bear that out, but those expecting an Ants on the Melon II, with that book's broad range of subjects and moods, will be disappointed. These poems almost exclusively take up God, religion and ethics as their subjects, subjects that have produced much of the greatest poetry, but that have been somewhat neglected of late. Divided among seven sections ("Imagining a Maker"; "Yeshua"; "Mineral, Vegetable, Animal"; "Beyond" and three others), the poems quip ("God is a girl, they intoned, and if you don't believe us, no soup tonight"), question ("How could God know he was 'love'/ before this voice, these eyes, told him?") and declare a provisional faith ("I have never been sure of meanings/ of sin, atonement, forgiveness"). Others use chance encounters?a cabin-bound couple's brush with a gun-toting biker; a visit to a mental hospital's chapel; the discovery of a great-grandmother's "soiled scarf"?to meditate on the nature of belief when put to the test. Some lean toward the transcendental ("The eagle soars, slides down air/ from heaven, giving thanks/ for wings and atmosphere") and others, without fanfare, toward death. Adair's searching verses may not always have the ring of the contemporary, and they often stop short here of fully unfurling their insights. But at its best, this collection points the way back to an American tradition of religious poetry understood and cherished by the likes of Elizabeth Bishop and Louise Bogan. 0-904041-87-5. Hardback with dustjacket - 1998 - good condition, sunfaded dj on spine - - used books, secondhand books, for sale, out of print books, hard to find books, second-hand books, college books, student books, nonfiction, first editions, exlibrary books sold, signed copies, non-fiction books delivered world wide. Isbn 0904041875. Used: Acceptable.
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