Friday, December 19, 2008

Last Minute Gift Idea: Poets on the Psalms

For those of you who celebrate the season (any variation of it), and you have a reader on your list who is difficult to shop for, here's a last minute gift idea: Poets on the Psalms, a collection of essays by a wide variety of poets, edited by Lynn Domina (Trinity University Press, 2008).

You might expect a collection like this to emphasize heavily Psalm 23, and several essays do. However, this collection manages to shed new light on this Psalm, even though it's probably the most familiar Psalm to readers. Catherine Sasanov tells us that as people came down the stairwells of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, they spontaneously began to recite Psalm 23. Angie Estes writes a substantial essay on the idea of want (one of the key verbs of Psalm 23).

This book offers something for the scholar in us, but in manageable units. There are no ponderously dense, academic essays here, but different authors do give us intellectual insights. Robert A. Ayres uses his knowledge of Hebrew and his seminary education to shed light on the Psalms. Alicia Ostriker presents a fascinating view of the Psalms as gendered. Several essays take one Psalm (or several lines from one Psalm) and give an in-depth analysis.

And because the book is written by poets, it's wonderfully lyrical. I love Lynn Domina's essay that explores the Psalms, the winter holidays (particularly Christmas), other seasons, vegetables, and her love of her land. Jill Alexander Essbaum presents the Psalmist in relationship with God, and uncovers a smoldering sexuality in the Psalms.

This book has something for everyone, and would make a perfect gift for poets, for spiritual people of all kinds, for anyone who loves a variety of views on a given topic. It's a book that's unlikely to already be on the bookshelves of your favorite readers, but one they'll likely return to many times.

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