TOWARDS A NEW PIETY by Paul  Bussan

TOWARDS A NEW PIETY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Bussan (This Is Me, Not Robert Creeley, Speaking, 2017, etc.) stakes out his vision of religiosity in a collection of short poems.

Faith presses up against its limitations in Bussan’s poems, whose abbreviated lines and sudden line breaks seem to struggle against their own boundaries, as in the opening “Towards a New Piety, X,”: “The challen- / -ge of that t- / -wo-fisted pr- / -ayer, and b- / -arrel-chest- / -ed faith, th- / -e times are / calling for, I / am answe- / -ring.” These strained, stuttered lines illustrate the deliberation that’s required to speak even short statements simply. In other poems, in which words aren’t split, the syntax is still fractured and reordered, creating a puzzle to be reassembled: “As, / on water, / Jesus did, / one step / at a time, / desire paths, / on dry land / I’m making as / I go along.” The poet also develops a self-centered theology in which he reworks prayers and Scripture to place the speaker in the role of God or other religious figures: “The godman in me, / 3 times before the sun sets, / I will not deny,” reads the haiku “Daily Affirmation.” The speaker wryly sets terms for a deity in which he can believe in “Deal Breaker, IV”: “Any god who’s never / experienced betrayal, / is no friend of mine.” The overall result is an empowered, individual theology—one that’s often found in the modern world.

Bussan’s poems are short—frequently fewer than 30 words in length and sometimes in the neighborhood of 10. Even in these Spartan spaces, he finds humor, as in “Alpha and Omega,” in which the speaker sees a bit of himself in Christ: “An ageless hipster, / Christ, the first, and last, hipster, / liberates in me.” The poet grapples with his influences as well as with deities; references to Robert Creeley, Charles Baudelaire, Søren Kierkegaard, Stephen Crane, and others dot the pages’ cemeterylike terrain. The vision that emerges is not a groping or questioning one, as one often finds in poetry that touches on God and religion, but rather confident and firm. Despite his rejection of so much orthodoxy, Bussan ends up positioning his speaker as a sort of holy man. Poems such as “Structural,” which is shaved into slender columns, offer the speaker as a stylite, rejecting the world from atop his pillar: “When I, / from my / faith, / the orna- / -ments, re- / -move, / I see how / it st- / -ands.” It’s a book that reads very quickly and yet invites rereading; one wishes to return to dismembered words, which take on greater importance the more that they appear. It can be difficult to come up with new poetic approaches, particularly when tackling religion, but Bussan’s fragmentary efforts—which feel simultaneously of the current moment, of 70 years ago, and of 2,000 years ago—stand out in a landscape of undercooked verse.

A stark, striking collection of inward-looking theological poems.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9726884-3-7
Page count: 60pp
Publisher: PSB Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2019