Is religious poetry making a comeback? Peggy Rosenthal at Image thinks so:

When I was in college and grad school in literature in the 1960s, God was never mentioned in my courses—except as a metaphor. The poetry even of overtly religious writers like Herbert and Donne was read for its witty word-play; that these poets were believers was an unmentioned embarrassment to my professors.

[ . . . ]

As for poets themselves during most of the twentieth century in the West, if they were believers and wanted an audience, they did what Wilbur did so magnificently: envisioned ways to image a world imbued by spirit, but in terms that a religiously illiterate audience could relate to. Otherwise, like the British poet Geoffrey Hill—as Greg Wolfe observes in his editorial in the current Image (#66)—they were dismissed as slightly crazed if they boomed out as Hill did in a 1950s poem: “Against the burly air I strode/ Crying the miracles of God.” The exceptions of Auden and Eliot only prove the rule: they gained their poetic fame well before writing overtly Christian verse.

Yet now, what a sea change! The major poetry currently written by avowedly religious writers like Scott Cairns, Carolyn Forché, Franz Wright, Mark Jarman, Pattiann Rogers, and now even Mary Oliver is read by a wide audience. And a professor at the secular Middlebury College, Jay Parini, can publish his Why Poetry Matters in 2008 with the secular Yale University Press, drawing on explicitly religious language to speak about poetry. “Poetry,” he even writes, “could be viewed as a form of religious thought.”


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