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Practical Gods (Poets, Penguin) Paperback – October 1, 2001


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Product Details

  • Series: Poets, Penguin
  • Paperback: 77 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; First Paperback edition (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141002301
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141002309
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dennis's (Ranking the Wishes) eighth book of poems continues his longstanding meditative project: long, elaborate free-verse sentences amble down odd paths of thoughts, past forested landscapes, furniture, paintings and solitary men, to end up with NPR-like reflections on human life. "Today I seem to be focusing on my wish to sand/ And stain and varnish my bookcase, a job that a monk/ Who specializes in repetition might embrace as a ritual," one poem muses; another offers "the comfort of familiar shadows/ But not the glory of leading those shadows/ Out of the flickering dark into the living present." Dennis's warm, accessible approach has garnered him several awards (most recently a big prize from Poetry magazine); it should please devotees of Stephen Dunn, or even of Raymond Carver, whose regretful musings suffuse the volume-closing "The God Who Loves You." Praising "the light touch of [Vermeer's] brush on canvas," or saying, "there's nothing wrong with imagining missions," Dennis can end up saccharine or predictable. At his best, though, Dennis can be far stranger, and funnier, than that; his attractive webs of phrases and sentences can take on a zigzag aspect almost akin to Ashbery. And his best poems make space not just for wise speculations but for genuine oddities, from Utica, N.Y., to "a senior coach like Mr. Ruggieri," to homely, handy extended metaphors: "The past we need is only a kind of currency/ Stamped in red with the date of this day."

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The title of Dennis' lucid, canny, and warmly funny eighth collection is a bit of an oxymoron and a gauntlet gently thrown down with equal measures of self-mockery and panache. What Dennis wants to know is, Why aren't the gods more responsive, more helpful, more accountable? Plainspoken and resonant, his poems hopscotch from the divine to the ordinary as they challenge pagan gods and the biblical God. Dennis muses on oracles and gods who demand sacrifices and ponders the glory that can be found in everyday chores. Saint Francis thinks about how much easier it is to pray with birds than answer the tough questions of a dying nun, and a man considers the commandment against coveting in "Department Store," a poem both wry and poignant. Dennis also writes piquantly about how we play god by writing fiction, failing to care for an absent neighbor's garden, and donating organs. Dennis' bright poems, as deft as Billy Collins', offer the comfort which the "cold, companionless cosmos / That never comes through when you need a friend" does not. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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His poetry is written in comparatively long lines with a conversational rhythm.
M. J. Smith
My book club recently decided to take a month off from novels and nonfiction to read poetry, and one of the members read a few from this volume.
Gregory Butera
Thank you for an extraordinary collection of poems and for the insights and inspiration they have given me.
"sharonentress"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By "sharonentress" on October 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
This collection of poems is a gem. Mr. Dennis explores, from both religious and secular perspectives, issues of practical concern that touch all of our lives such as faith and its absence, paths not taken, regret, envy, forgiveness, happiness, and living a life that we can be proud to claim as our own, particularly in the face of multiple and often conflicting standards. For example, in "Guardian Angel," he illustrates how happiness often hits indirectly, "Like losing oneself in a casual conversation/ That tests our powers of empathy, not cleverness." In "Pride," he embraces self-esteem, suggesting that it can open our eyes to the good in others, even if it doesn't enable us to see in ourselves the virtues others find in us. He considers in "Department Store" whether the moments we covet in others' lives aren't "...only a truce/ In a lifelong saga of border warfare," a saga similar to our own struggle to not envy and be proud of who we are. In "Not for the Idle," he explores why the books of those persons often mistaken as idle, "Lined up on their desks, don't look like drinks/ Lined up on a bar..." In "The God Who Loves You," he suggests that peace can be found between the life we have and the life that might have been by recognizing the former as the life we've chosen. These are lines from just a few of my many favorites. I have read these poems four and five times, both because they are simply beautiful and because I can tell that Mr. Dennis has thought long and hard about these issues and I want to make sure I catch every insight he is conveying. With each read, I develop a greater appreciation for how exceptional his work is.Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By paedagogue on September 29, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dennis is not a "difficult" poet, but he has perfected a wonderfully flexible, almost conversational style of versification which artfully conceals a highly pondered structure. He relies on enjambment to propel the reader from one line to the next, allowing the ironies to blossom almost as if by chance, as he spins out "what-if" scenarios over which his own rueful intelligence presides like a benevolent deity. Dennis' "practical gods" arise from the texture of our everyday lives, and wish-fulfillment reveries, but they are also religious entities, vehicles for prayer.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Martin Mazurik on April 11, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I just heard a poem, read by the Author on the Jim Lehrer hour program and heard he won the Pulitzer prize.
The poem was a wonderfully insightful look at our relationship and questions, and fear of gods wishes for us - pointing out that we may actually be living the life that is best for us.
The life we chose.
Bravo. And Congratulations Carl. I ordered 6 copies for myself, and my Christian friends. Perhaps they too may discover the god within themselves ... the one that really gets things done on this planet. If nothing else, perhaps they can lighten up ... and realize the path whether chosen or not - needn't be so damn heavy. Enjoy.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Smith VINE VOICE on July 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
While this poetry is unlikely to appear in anthologies a century from now, Dennis has captured well the faith, doubts and concern for meaning in our age. A few poems require academic knowledge of poets and religious beliefs of other eras, but on the whole these poems are acceptable to the general reading public.
His poetry is written in comparatively long lines with a conversational rhythm. Unlike some writing in such a style, however, his work is not prose broken into lines but rather carefully crafted poetry.
The strength of the poetry is often in the cohesiveness built from disparate parts. Dennis is able to connect ancient mythology, Japanese poets, Biblical references, Moby Dick etc. to our contemporary lives.
Examples, "Sun Rise" begins with the Aztec human sacrifices only to move to the Jewish diasporia's revolution from temple sacrifice to a religion of the books. Or "Eternal Poetry" which explores prison reform while insisting it is not a topic appropriate to poetry. "The Serpent to Adam" is a surprising evaluation of what was (or was not) lost in the fall of Adam. "Prophet" uses the story of Jonah to explore the work of a prophet in our own time, in soup kitchen.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By theworstpoet on August 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
I do not generally like free verse as a rule. I hoped that a pulizter prize winning collection would help me gain a better appreciation of the genre (figuring that, with a Pulitzer, my appreciation would be on trial rather than the skill of the poet). I had to force myself to read the works through a couple times but after the fourth read through, I have started to favorably appreciate many of the works. I still am not devoted free verse fan, but there is no denying Mr. Dennis is skilled at his craft and he has me warming up to the genre. I'd purchase the book and give yourself some quiet time to ponder his work. If it takes an effort I believe it will be worth it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By BetterAllTheTime on July 20, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I like my poetry a little on the funny side....Dennis is dealing with BIG topics....eternity, god, life....and he does it so gently, yet trenchantly....the humor is wry and understated, but it succeeds in balancing out the sadness and acerbity which one must also acknowledge....this is a great book. It arrived speedily and in excellent condition.
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