Poet and author Max Wolf Valerio recently reviewed one of my poems; I had asked for feedback from a few people I knew who were themselves poets who I respected. Max’s review was so thorough and interesting I asked him if I could share it. So with his consent, here is the review of my newest poem Killing God. The poem being reviewed will follow at the end of this post.
This is a skilled rendering of your beliefs and perception of the world, and of the divine, and our present situation. I mean, you lay it out coherently and with precision – with craft. The line breaks are skillful, leading the eye from one place to another carefully. I like how you use parking lots, and museums to illustrate your ideas, and even bring in the number of years that civilization has been in existence and — Christianity (2,000 years). The idea that civilization is “killing God” is an intriguing one, and it is also interesting that you use the term “culture of death”. Seeing the term used here in this way is intriguing to me as the other place that one sees “culture of death” is in the writing of social conservatives, often Catholic social conservatives, who see the far left as a “culture of death” (abortion, euthanasia, movement toward less reproduction or no reproduction, the breakup of the family into smaller units — single mothers and the subsequent marriage of women to the state and not a man). BTW, I am not, of course, a social conservative, though I share some of their concerns and grapple with all these issues, as do you– obviously from this poem and what I know of you. I mean, you grapple with reproduction, death, technological interventions… etc. Your use of this term “culture of death” is not ironic, but is your take on a world that is increasingly artificial and alien. Now, I think you’ve done a good job here of rendering your beliefs, and carefully making them manifest in the use of actual objects and places: museums, parking lots, shopping malls, desecration of burial grounds. I think there is another step however, and I challenge you to go farther. I can see this poem as a statement to either preface a book of essays, even “poetic” essays or better — a kind of manifesto to a book of poems that take each one of these ideas, separates them, and really brings the experience alive to the reader in an actualized, concrete way. Or you don’t need to separate each idea, but show how they work together. Well, you can get creative as you write… Poems that make these ideas really come alive — that’s what I mean. Poems that leave less room for disagreement since they feel less like opinions. Possibly, they feel more like dreams or visions? You can experiment.
Now, one problem with political or ideological poetry is that it is the poet’s opinion. Often, political poems are turgid and each thing they say is entirely expected so the poems are not as “alive”. However, they can be instructive… But there is that issue… I mean, I can read a poem like this, and agree or not. There is space created for my agreement or disagreement that is easy to enter. There are poets who excel in this type of poem, and while he is not a leftist radical, to say the least — Rudyard Kipling comes to mind. He has that poem “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” which is ideological or a poem of ideas. It uses metaphors liberally, and is attempting to convey ideas the poet believes are important. This is a poem that conservatives love, and for good reason since it makes their cardinal points quite vividly. I mean, it makes them plain and is persuasive. While you are in a whole other place ideologically, look to this poem for clues as to how to proceed. I’ll link to it. Also your ideas, while very different, are also talking about a returning, a refusal of present values. In your case, it is not principles that are eternally true, but a return to some kind of elemental and pristine wildness that you believe is more essential and good and holy (you identify it with “God” in the poem) than the present morass. If you want, you can use the poem you presented to me as the first, and build a whole book from these ideas. Take each one, take the poem apart, and find ways to animate these ideas. My own approach to ideological poetry is that I try and make it less about my “opinion” and more about SHOWING the reader why my perspective is persuasive. You know, that old adage, show don’t tell. That can be applied to poetry as well. Even in Kipling’s poem, he shows the consequences of each set of wrong ideas and links them to his refrain of the “copybook headings” and finally to the copybook headings themselves like “the wages of sin is death”. The examples he posits, bring those crusty adages to life. This can be done with your ideas as well. ..Possibly really take us into each idea, show me the ceremonial burial sites, and what desecration is — don’t tell me, but show in image, metaphor, or — detail. I like detail, and a concrete detail can be imaginary, but must be entirely feasible. Because it is feasible, when the detail can be heard, felt, seen — it is persuasive.
Also the idea that “God is dead’ is not a progressive anthem, but a rallying cry for actual death, is interesting as it takes a conservative theme I’ve seen, that we have killed God, and either takes it further or – to another place entirely. I mean, in some ways, you are very, very conservative since you want humanity, I think, to return to something very ancient and before language. In that way of thinking all human revolutions or “evolution” that appears to have created “progress” are not progressive at all. In this worldview we need to go back, very far back — and things have to be brought back to extreme basics. Of course, that makes you more of a revolutionary, but in an interesting way. Anyway, show more, tell less. Try different voices or ways of showing, and maybe when you do tell, try something playful also. Anyway… thanks for showing me this poem! Very interesting. Here’s that Kipling poem, ironic I would think of him — but there you go. Poetry is a place of strange coincidences and odd conflations. Any way, take care — have a great day – Max V.
Every day we kill God
Vivisect, dissect, and sterilize
Our culture has been killing God since before humans nailed a living man
to a dead tree
for saying we should all get along
And claiming to be one of God’s children
Born of love
And daring to live outside their authority
So they tortured him
2000 years of mistakes
12000 years of domestication
and attempted control of the wild
And what is the world we have created?
Every day we get up and go to work collectively killing God
Killing every vestige of divinity
Destroying every sacred place
Chopping down every living forest
Habitat to an entire community
Poisoning our own bodies
Our own water
So that all we have is pavement
And tailings ponds
It seems the very idea of life
is a threat
To our culture of death
A world of parking lots
Full of toxic embalmed corpses
While we dig up ceremonial burial sites
Of someone else’s ancestors
To create another exhibit for our museums
And replace their resting places
with shopping malls
Come see the cultures of old
On display, today!
From back when they still believed in something
Or at least come see their death
Now under our control
And behind glass
What does it mean in this culture of death
For man to stand up
Like the sermon on the mountain
And arrogantly declare “I have killed God”
Like a proclamation
If God is just a word
A synonym for life, love, and creative energy
For all things wild
What we label “nature”
Then what kind of a world is left
When we’ve killed God?