Debut author Stobbe gives modern readers a fresh look at the Psalms in this clever poetic experiment.
Although the Hebrew Bible features hundreds and hundreds of pages of prose—straight narrative telling the stories of God’s people on Earth—it’s also a treasure trove of ancient Israelite poetry, including the Song of Songs, Proverbs, and the book of Ecclesiastes. Many of the biblical prophets write in verse, too. But the great grand-daddy of them all is Psalms, a 150-chapter behemoth that stands at the center of the biblical poetic tradition. This new volume builds firmly on that tradition and reads like a modern update on psalmic literature. Indeed, it’s effectively a deconstruction of roughly two dozen Psalms. In each poem, the author takes one memorable line from a Psalm, breaks it down into its constituent parts, and builds a new verse around them. For instance, in “God of Power and Might,” the author begins with a brief line from Psalm 93: “Your statutes stand firm.” The resultant poem takes those four words as tent poles: “YOUR might thunders from distant ocean shores; / STATUES established long ago. / STAND still, / listen / to the sea’s / rolling voice / Stand / FIRM / unto eternity— / in God’s word, we rejoice.” The author builds the rest of the poems according to the same model. Of course, the risk of such a structured approach is that it might begin to seem mechanical—a too-clever exercise. However, that never happens here, in large part because Stobbe’s model is so flexible. Instead of the Psalms becoming a ponderous edifice that stunts or crushes the new verse, the Bible instead acts as a thin but powerful frame. Further, it’s clear that the author has immersed himself in the Bible’s poems in preparation for writing this book, as his works feature many of the structural and stylistic elements of scriptural verse. Stobbe’s poems are also set in front of gorgeous photographs by Klassen, many of which depict the grandeur of the natural world; these only enhance the collection’s atmosphere of reverence and awe.
A worthy contribution to the afterlife of biblical poetry.