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."
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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
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I first encountered this collection in undergrad, and have come back to it every year. And now I use selections from it in the classroom myself. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Michael Byrd
This was my first encounter in print of Carl Dennis's work. After reading it I went out and bought most of the rest--all of which I enjoyed, but none as much as Practical Gods,... Read morePublished on June 8, 2013 by Kevin
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. Read morePublished on March 3, 2006 by Gregory Butera
My apologies to Carl, but he really doesn't strike me as an important Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. I appreciate the mythic themes of this book, & some of his insights &... Read morePublished on December 16, 2002 by "hirofantv"
Practical Gods wouldn't have been my choice for the Pulitzer, but I can see how it won. While there are no poems that stand out themselves, the work as a whole is impressive. Read morePublished on May 8, 2002 by email@example.com