An ambitious if uneven effort to update the Torah.

VERSE BY VERSE

Debut author Zenz offers a poetic rewrite that aims to make Scripture more accessible.

For readers who find Scripture too difficult, too long, or too boring, the poet aims to remake it in easy, contemporary verse. It’s a great idea, if a hard one to pull off. Zenz admits the religious challenges: for the devout, the Bible is sacred, and adjusting its message, whether by intent or by mistake, is seen as sinful. However, this book, which focuses on the Torah, sometimes seems to ignore these pitfalls. Indeed, the Bible is not only spiritually significant; it’s one of the pillars of world literature, and rewriting it is akin to rewriting Shakespeare. The troubles start in this book’s first lines of Genesis: “In the beginning of the earth, / Of living things, there was a dearth.” It’s hard to improve on the King James Version’s timeless opening, “In the beginning,” so the poet’s foundation is sound. But his addition—“of the earth”—is odd, as Genesis 1 starts out not just before the Earth, but before everything: there are no sun, no stars, no planets, no nothing, so these three extra words are misleading. The second phrase is equally problematic, as its nonstandard syntax—which opens awkwardly with the prepositional phrase “of living things”—sets up a forced rhyme of “earth” and “dearth.” Of course, there are much stronger passages elsewhere, each of which reveals the poet’s skill. One high point is his rendering of the sacrifice of Isaac: “So up Moriah the old man went, / Isaac knowing naught, / With wood and knife and stony flint, / The sacrifice he brought.” Much of the genius of the original Torah comes from its concision, and the poet replicates that effect here, wasting no words as Abraham brings his son to the altar. But it’s hard to maintain that level of quality throughout; as a result, this book serves mostly to remind readers of the Bible’s own poetic genius.

An ambitious if uneven effort to update the Torah.

Pub Date: March 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5127-7314-9

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2017

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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