Runyan, Tania. What Will Soon Take Place. Paraclete. Dec. 2017. 96p.
ISBN 9781612618579. pap. $18.
Wallace, Jennifer. Almost Entirely. Paraclete. Nov. 2017. 128p.
ISBN 9781612618593. pap. $18. POETRY
Although faith and prayer seem natural fonts of poetry (think of all those Psalms), they are likely now to be mutually uncomprehending fields: most contemporary poets are unbelievers, and your neighbor in the pew rarely reads a poem that isn’t a hymn. There are grand exceptions, of course—Welsh poet-priest R.S. Thomas, American poets Denise Levertov and Christian Wiman—but still, Christian poets live in a thin overlap of contrasted communities. Paraclete Press has been publishing an increasingly adventurous catalog of contemporary poetry, ranging from the late Phyllis Tickle, one of the guiding spirits of the press, to Scott Cairns and Paul Mariani.
Runyan’s work fits readily into the mode of the new poetry, with its zingy diction and the fizz of pop-culture references (Facebook, NASA, My Little Pony). Her latest volume might be considered a sequel of sorts to the earlier Second Sky and A Thousand Vessels; she has been developing a method of juxtaposing biblical stories and verses with an aggressively of-the-times voice. Here, her inspiration is no less than the Book of Revelation, which is itself a vision of what will take place. She follows that disturbing prophesy almost chapter by chapter, populating its archaic strangeness with the anxieties and rot of our world, including a swearing Jesus, filth, desire, and vomit. Runyan is at her best at her darkest and wittiest, as in the poem, “The Great Harlot Takes a Selfie,” whom “software won’t block,” or the final piece, “Coming Soon,” which re-creates the New Eden as “backspacing into a garden/ before serpents unspooled from trees,/ before I positioned ficus leaves/ around my hips.”
Wallace’s new collection is a stark book: sincere in its continual engagement with doubt, silence, absence, and loneliness. The author concedes in her epigraph that she struggles to reconcile faith and her “Western mind”; her Triton, rather like Wordsworth’s, is to “deliver us from our unbelief.” Her God, a post-Kierkegaardian challenge, stimulates both a poetry and a faith in her that is “a dense hollowness,” the only respites seeming to come from friendship, love, and natural scenes, vividly and respectfully glimpsed. VERDICT Paraclete has done itself proud with their two finest poets to date, the direct and heartbreaking Wallace and the acerbic, accomplished Runyan.
—Graham Christian, formerly with Andover-Harvard Theological Lib., Cambridge, MA