- Series: Wisconsin Poetry Series (Book 1995)
- Paperback: 100 pages
- Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; First edition (October 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0299149048
- ISBN-13: 978-0299149048
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,570,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Old And New Testaments (Wisconsin Poetry Series) Paperback – October 1, 1995
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—Carolyn Kizer, Brittingham Prize Citation
"These direct, loving, sober poems are the change we need from most recent verse. The intensity of the opening poems in Old & New Testaments builds throughout the book until, almost intolerable, it transforms into profound acceptance, the quietness that comes of acknowledging both life and death. These images and rhythms need no persuasiveness beyond themselves, brightening our spirits with the clarity of reality."—A. R. Ammons
From the Back Cover
'Lynn Powell's Old & New Testaments is a reclaiming of spiritual texts and traditions for a woman's life in the body--a life of childhood physicality, female sexuality, procreation, and nurturing love. Playful, tender and wise, Powell brings her gospel learning down to earth. We can hail her poems in an old phrase with a new meaning: they are full of grace.'--Alicia Ostriker
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Powell's book, winner of the 1995 Brittingham Prize in Poetry, is organized in four parts representing the Old and New Testaments of the title, but not in the expected order: Genesis, Song of Solomon, Revelation, and Job-the beginning, the idyllic time, the end, and finally, returning to the Old Testament's most timeless book, Job, the existential present.
The poems range over childhood and family, illness and age, marriage and parenthood, love and marital conflict, with biblical and daily-life texts interwoven in the most natural and immediate way. At the outset, in "Nativity," we realize how compatible the Bible stories are with the domain of childhood and the imagination. The poem's structure (a sestina) reflects the interplay of contradictions and opposites, and their many mutations, that will continue throughout the book and that is inherent in the story of Jesus. It begins:
Some parents shy away from the body,
but we hush up about the cross-
rereading our daughter the story about Jesus
we most believe in: mother
and father kneeling after the hard birth,
humbled by the exhaustions of love.
In its alternations and ringing-of-changes on the six repeated words (most of which are different tones of the same, muted vowel), the unstrained sestina suits well the alternations of, and variations on, its ideas. The words Powell commits the poem to-body, cross, Jesus, mother, birth, love-prove up to the task, able to sustain the poem's progression of meaning. This is partly because she lets them assume many forms: As the narrative moves through the six stanzas, "birth" alternates with "death," "Jesus" with "Christ" and "God." "Mother" becomes "Mommy," and also the poet's mother to whom she whispered, "I think God would have picked me as Mother/Mary if he'd sent his son right now", and finally both "Mom" and the "Mary" whose part the child has taken. The cross takes on varied meanings, as an adjective (Herod, jealous and cross), and later, part of the sweet, vivid picture of the poet's baby son, enlisted as Jesus in his sister's play, "a prop, lovingly swaddled in blue dish towels, his head criss-crossed/with paisley scarves..."
There are many more poems that deserve mention for the arresting pictures they paint, their observant juxtaposition of the sacred and domestic, their transparent, playful craft. Powell's world is a world where the implications of the imagination are taken seriously, and where we're reminded that the Bible is as fertile a source for intelligent, lively contemporary poetry as Homer or Dante. In showing us this world, Powell has created a remarkably unified and satisfying book
Wow. This is some seriously fine stuff.
Lynn Powell's first book of poetry (which won three awards, including the Norma Faber First Book Award) is a testament in every sense of the word. Don't bother trying to tell the Biblical literalists, however. Powell's volume focuses on the earthly, and how the spiritual relates to it; this is the kind of stuff capable of making a person understand how the physical and the spiritual are intertwined, not exclusive.
The four parts of the book go through four aspects of life (birth, sensual awakening, marriage, and death), emphasizing the beauty and harmony of each, the spiritual aspect working with, but never dominating, the physical:
"Oh God, keep me a mediocre Mary!
Dilute my children's love with selfishness,
let them refuse the treacherous kiss, never know
the miserable cup. Make their lives long, happy, ordinary-
and forgive the mother, reaching for Your hem, craving that miracle."
A wonderful book, highly recommended all around. ****