Book Review: "Twenty Poems to Nourish Your Soul" edited by Judith Valente and Charles Reynard

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Book review: Twenty Poems to Nourish Your Soul edited by Judith Valente and Charles Reynard

Twenty poems seem easy enough to find - but ones which nourish the soul? Nourishment of any type is difficult to find. To nourish is to enrich, to sustain. The soul is a much debated article, tangible to some, elusive to others, its very existence a sore topic to many. So, poems which nourish the soul? Seems a tall order. The question here, then, is whether this book can hope to fill it.

The format seems straightforward enough. Ten chapters, two poems per chapter. The chapters stand roughly astride the following topics: Attentiveness, Gratitude, Acceptance, Simplicity, Praise, Work, Loss, Body and Soul, Mystery, and Prayer. The poems selected are by various authors. Some are well-known: W.S. Merwin, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walt Whitman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Some are perhaps less famous: Charles Wright, Li-Young Lee. Many poems included are personal in nature, yet resonate with the wider world: Whitman's Song of Myself, for instance, printed within in well-chosen excerpts. And there are voices heretofore widely unknown, but whose words the co-editors of this book (Judith Valente and Charles Reynard) found moving in some way.

After an illuminating, scholarly foreword by Joseph Parisi, Ms. Valente offers an Introduction. Her Introduction outlines the purpose of the book while beginning the very personal 'diary' tone of the upcoming twenty essays either by herself or her co-editor Mr. Reynard. I suppose I should have taken more note of the words in the Introduction. It would have given a clue as to the very personal nature of what I was about to read, and perhaps changed my expectations. The plainspoken intent given in the Introduction was: "These twenty poems are some of our favorite things, and we will tell you how they have helped us find God in all things."

The focus of this book, then, is intently spiritual ("soul" is not merely a symbol therein) and often religious. I had no problem with that - but anyone expecting a dispassionate, agnostic, scholarly look at questions of the spirit might be disappointed. What did bother me, in the end, was the relentlessly autobiographical nature of the twenty essays contained in this book. In our blog-driven universe, there seems no such thing as too much information, but some of us still blanch. Why should I? I often enjoy autobiographies. But it was not what I was in the market for, here.

If reading poetry could be compared to walking through a garden, marveling at this flower or that, the shape of the hedge just beyond, the bee busily tending to a bloom - one can see this walk is best taken in solitude. If these poems were to nourish my own soul, that is how I wished to experience them. Perhaps a light shone here or there. Perhaps a hedge made more conspicuous by the path laid before it. There is an art to a beautiful garden such that the guide is invisible. But the guide was there in its planning all along. The pilgrim brings his or her own experiences, their history with them. And their own impressions are taken away. If the course was delicately set, before being left to the pilgrim following it, all that is seen is beauty.


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Ο λόγος είναι μεγάλη ανάγκη της ψυχής. (Γιώργος Ιωάννου)


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I agree on you that is why in addition to that, these poems for the soul assure us, in moving language, that God can be found in all things, and that grace blesses even the most simple moments of our daily lives.


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