People of the Books: Chapters into Verse Vol. II: Gospels to Revelation, ed. by Robert Atwan & Laurance Wieder

For starters, Reader, on this super busy day when I almost don’t make it to posting, I want to fully thank you for however long you’ve been with me as I realize this blog has now entered its third year.  Both the blog and I have changed over the years, but man—it is good to still be walking this road with you, and to be walking this road at all.

So, this book.  Poetry books—especially poetry books with lots of poems—take a lot of time to read because the very nature of poetry is deceptively quick, as in you read it quickly but realize you didn’t really get all of that.  If you want to truly read poetry, you must linger on it, savor it, listen to the responses it ellicits in you.  Poetry is inherently participatory, and participation takes time.

When coupled with Scripture, the necessary time lengthens even further as you consider the way you are dialoguing not only with the poem but with the way the original poet is speaking to this inspiration text.  It’s like overhearing a conversation even while having one, and sorting that out takes a bit.

So 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 this.

I need to go back and re-read it.

Most poetry books are like that—they take several readings to settle into your bones, which is where the best poetry lives anyway.  On this first reading, though, I was surprised to find that I didn’t like it as much as the first volume.  I think a large part of that was that the Old Testament (OT) is inherently more poetic to begin with, what with the whole Psalms thing and the image-laden stories and angst of a wandering people.  The NT has a lot more abstract theology that can be harder to translate.  Also, the editing in this volume felt far less solid, which is odd considering it’s the same people.  Beyond a noticeable uptic in typos, there were just a lot of odd editorial choices:  a wide selection of really long poems and excerpts, a curiously thin selection of modern poems, and a lot of very tangential connections between poems and their Scriptures.  Again, a lot of the NT is hard to write on (whether because of intangibility or because it’s easier to be angry with the OT and therefore write that passion), I get that.  I just wasn’t as overwhelmed and pushed to my own muse by this volume.

I do still love the concept, though.  And I think the way they did the Gospels was smart—rather than trying to match every poem to a specific Gospel verse, the editors took poems that were responding to various parables and instances and paired them with the verse nearest to that point.  They amalgamated the Gospels into one (which is far easier with the synoptics than with John, but they managed it) fairly coherent storyline and added in poems as relevant, and it worked pretty well.  Again, though, the selections were a bit weird in terms of all the great Gospel-inspired English poetry out there.

So last week I had dinner with Interpreter, which was great for a number of reasons, but one of the things he said to me was that I need to read and write more poetry.  I think he’s right (but don’t tell him), and I will…later.  I think diving back into this right now would be unwise, but I do think I need to re-read this and really sift through it some more.  For the moment, though, there’s a whole other shelf of poetry in my house, and some of it is calling my name…


Rating:  3.5/5 stars  3-5-stars

One thought on “People of the Books: Chapters into Verse Vol. II: Gospels to Revelation, ed. by Robert Atwan & Laurance Wieder

  1. […] 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 faith, and […]


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