In Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets, editor Luke Hankins assembled a collection of poems illustrating how poets from T.S. Eliot to Ilya Kaminsky had used the poem as a devotional practice. In Weak Devotions: Poems, he’s written poems as devotions himself, and an extremely fine collection they are.
And what inspires Hankins to utilize poetry as a devotional practice? The origin of words. The sight of blood. A newspaper photograph of children in Africa skipping through a swarm of locusts. War. Beauty. Growing up in Louisiana. Instructions to “follow the instructions.” Squirrels. A father’s sorrow. Anxiety disorder.
In other words, life, all of the events and issues and problems and wonder that comprise life.
And life includes the things we envy, including the unusual things we might envy, as in Weak Devotion XIII:
I have envied , yes,
the dog that cannot think of hell—
I have envied the dust mite,
the palm tree and the stone.
And can I say
(can I tell You Something
I’ve never told You before?)
that I have envied nonthings
because they do not exist.
A dust mite, a palm tree a stone – these things cannot think; they simply exist. Even a dog, which does have cognitive abilities, cannot think of Hell. And this ability to think ultimately links us to “You,” and all the questions we want addressed, the suffering we want relieved.
Hankins groups the poems into four sections, named for one of the poems in the group: A Shape with Forty Wings, Babel’s Child, Weak Devotions, and The Voice of One Crying Out. Many of the poems read like prayers, or psalms, perhaps prayers and psalms, the prayers and psalms of a poet in the 21st century and yet timeless.
To read these poems is to undertake an exercise in silence and quiet, because that is what they impart, a stilling of the mind and heart. Reading these poems I found myself listening, listening to that stillness, that quiet.
Several of the poems have been previously published in journals like the Asheville Poetry Review, American Literary Review, and Southern Poetry Review, or published in anthologies.
Read the poems of Weak Devotions in the early morning, or before going to bed, or in the middle of the day to find respite from the busyness of work. But read them.
Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.