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Practical Gods (Penguin Poets) Paperback – October 1, 2001
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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.
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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 on February 8, 2014 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
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.... Read morePublished on July 20, 2010 by BetterAllTheTime
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org