Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Perfect Book for Post-Rapture Times: "Framed in Silence" by Lynn Domina

My reading life has gotten strange lately.  I'm making my way through Jane Eyre, our next book club pick.  I've been reading Nicholas Carr's book on what the Internet is doing to our brains and will write more about that later.  And I've been doing some theological reading.

I've been monitoring the huge firestorm surrounding Rob Bell's book Love Wins, and when a friend at church offered to loan it to me, I said yes.  I wanted to make my way through it quickly so I could return it in a timely fashion.  Then there was that whole Rapture brouhaha (with emphasis on the ha ha).  Bell's book made me want to revisit N. T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope, which covers some of the same territory Bell does, but in much more depth.  For my review of the Bell book, go here; for more on the Wright book, go here.

It's time for some poetry, and I have just the book.  For several months now, I've returned again and again to Lynn Domina's Framed in Silence.  I first came to know Lynn through Poets on the Psalms, a wonderful book that she edited (my review here and here).  I also had a wonderful meal with her at the AWP in February.  But I'd never read her poems. 

Happily, I love these poems.  And there's something here for everyone.  Some of you might be thinking, hmm, sounds a little too religious for me.  But I'd encourage you to give this book a chance.

I love poems that make me see the world differently, poems that tilt my carefully constructed reality towards a different view.  The first section of the book, "Creation Sequence," is full of those kind of poems.  In these poems, Domina envisions God in the act of creating (or relaxing after creating), and what a delight it is:  ". . . God grins at ingenuity, as at the sustenance / a thornbug derives from sap, so many insects surviving / on bits of leaf or wood shavings or stray husks . . ."  It's a God that some of us may remember from the earliest Genesis story, the God that creates and declares everything "Good."  It's not a stretch to imagine a God amused by some of those creations.

Domina does not give us a pre-Science view of Genesis retold here.  No, right from the beginning, we know that Domina comes to this subject with an educated brain.  In her poem, "Chaos," she references things atomic, electromagnetic radiation, electricity, chaos theory--all done in a condensed style:  " . . . God spun doodles into symbols:  / positive charge, negative charge, divided by, pi / degrees of arc, is or is not equal to, infinity."

Here's a wonderful view of creation from the same poem:

"Chaos bled into channels; the wind halted,
organized itself into breeze, gust, chinook, doldrums,
squall, gale, tempest.  Meaning resided, God knew, in the proximity
of one symbol to another:  . . ."

Instead of ellipses, the poem contains equations that I can't make the computer do, like E=mc(squared). 

The second section of the book, "All Saints," continues the theological inquiry, but the inquiry roams more freely.  "Gift" gives us a cool view of grace, through many snowflake metaphors.  "Antique Shop" gives us a realistic view of the modern human:  ". . . Of course I believe / angels welcomed her to paradise / even as I doubt / the reality of angels."  Domina shows her ecumenical approach in poems like "New Year's at Moon Luck Noodle Shop," "Immanence," and "Opening Lecture on Buddhism."

The third section "Peaceable Obsession" offers poems perfect for people who love ekphrastic poems.  These poems were inspired by the paintings by Edward Hicks, who painted many versions of "The Peaceable Kingdom," images which are probably familiar to most of us.  Even if you don't like ekphrastic work, these poems have much to say about Biblical teachings and the ways we interpret them, about food, about animals, and about our relationships.

This book is well worth your time.  It's the kind of book that offers rewards for reading in one sitting, from front to back.  But it also offers treasures for the kind of reader who dips in and out, and for the ones who only have time to read one poem a week or one a month.  There's not an unsatisfying poem in the book, and so many made me gasp in awe.

For example, here's a view of Heaven, one that would make Rob Bell or N. T. Wright happy:  "Rather than Peter polishing the keys, couldn't we also imagine / heaven's gate unlocked by the Iscariot, forgiven?"  That's from the poem, "The Quality of Mercy," which repeats and ends in this word:  "forgiven."

"Not Exactly What You Had in Mind" gives us a vision of God as sprawling, smoking woman in a flowered, stained muumuu. Wow!  It works theologically, and Domina pulls it off poetically.  Here's a view of God that I adore, a view of God incarnate:

"You wonder what signal you missed,
when God became the type of person
to so let herself go, what possible whim
plopped her down amid the crabgrass
and thistles you call yours."

The God who lets herself go by hanging out with us--good news indeed!

Obviously this book will not appeal to those of you saying, "Ack, blasphemy, heresy, blhhhh."  But surely those people stopped reading my blog years ago.  For the rest of us, those who delight in poems that take us to unusual places and return us safely home with strange visions to delight us, do not miss this book.

You can buy it here, if you scroll down to the third row (at least that's where it is on my screen), if you want to buy directly from the Main Street Rag website.  This press puts out such fine work, like Richard Allen Taylor's book (reviewed here) and the work of Suzanne Frischkorn.  The deadline for the chapbook contest comes soon, June 1, and it's one of the contests where everyone gets a copy of the winning book; go here for details.  They also have an annual contest for a full length book, with the deadline in January (details here).  I must remember to enter!

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