People of the Books: Chapters Into Verse, Volume I, ed. by Robert Atwan and Laurance Weider

Whether you love it, hate it, don’t particularly care about it, or wish someone would write a graphic novel version already, the Bible is one of the top 10 most influential texts in the world.  It just is.  So to compile a volume of all of the poetry in English inspired by it–well, that’s brilliant.  And I bet it was a hell of a thing to edit, too; these things I appreciate, being a part-time editor.

I say all–of course it’s not all, and I would love to see what a supplementary version of this would look like in terms of poetry written after the publication date of Chapters into Verse.  There have been some very interesting things said since 1993, but what we have is awesome enough; there really is poetry from the time vernacular modern English was respectable enough to be used by poets until the tail end of the 20th century.  Some of the poets are in every compilation ever; some I’ve never heard of, and I was and English major in college.  Some are really excited about the verse on which they’re writing–some sound like they’d be super happy if the whole shebang went down in flames.  And that’s one of the great strengths of this collection–it’s not meant to be a Bible companion or anything, it’s just a bunch of poems inspired by one book.  The good, the bad, the weird, the transcendent, everything.

As to the layout and structure of the book, this volume one takes you through the Old Testament–volume two, which I may not start until Christmas break, is the New Testament, and I’m very interested in what kinds of poems that one will hold.  But this is great; I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that they kept the relevant verses with their corresponding poems; for each piece, you knew what the author was writing about, in response to, in opposition against. Setting the verses in bold made it easier to keep them separate from the poetry visually, as well, which I liked.

I also applaud the decision to use the King James Bible (though I can see there would be fine arguments made for the NKJV or even the NIV, though I’m not as big a fan of that one). This particular translation, as explained here in the introduction, is such an incredibly important foundation for English Biblical translations, but also for the language of English itself.

If you’re at all into poetry, it’s fascinating to see what kinds of responses a single text inspires over some 500 years of writing–and it may inspire you to write your own.

Rating:  5/5 stars

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2 thoughts on “People of the Books: Chapters Into Verse, Volume I, ed. by Robert Atwan and Laurance Weider

  1. […] culture and history, this reliance on poetry, and it is for the modern Gentile as well.  There are whole anthologies of folks writing poetry to try and communicate with and understand their God, their […]

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  2. […] this book took a bit.  I reviewed its sibling Chapters into Verse Volume I:  Genesis to Malachi early on in this blog and have now finally finished […]

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