That Rewak (The Orphan Bear, 2014, etc.) is a professor, a university chancellor, and a monk only makes the fact that he is also an accomplished poet more impressive.
It is difficult to talk about Jesuit poetry without invoking Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins was a monk, a spiritual seeker, and a poet responsible for some of the most moving, challenging English verse of the last two centuries. So it’s entirely fitting that Rewak—himself a Jesuit—calls out to his forebear in his new collection. “A New Task” is written in Hopkins’ memory, and in it, Rewak asks the poet, “Do you see, finally, after the dimness / that shadowed your black-robed walks / down lanes of half-opened eyes, / all the sentences left to be completed? / Is your pen busy with new, full-blown / wonders—stanzas that startle the saints?” Rewak’s own verse may not startle any saints, but it’s sure to please almost anyone else. But if Hopkins’ language is an ancient, gnarled oak, Rewak’s is a young birch, and his lines are smooth, white, and unbroken. Often flowing and conversational, his works are conceptually and emotionally ambitious but eminently readable. Take the humble, pristine “Rose”: “This little rose / is the best thing / I ever grew for you / on this small planet / you can take the dinosaurs / and mushrooms, the great / Himalayas, full of grandeur / (as an indication of My size) / but this thing I hold....” Here, the poet’s direct address and his coyly simple language remind us of the beauty of small things—even things so frequently praised as that red flower. Like Hopkins before him, Rewak addresses God less often than the beautiful, sublime world. But when he does turn his attention to religious matters, it’s with wit and insight. Here is “Verdict,” which is presumably about the trial of God: “They’ve put You on trial / I’m told: / it was whispered to me / proceedings are held tight / in a shuttered room… / but I notice the sun / still shines / because at heart You’re generous / and inclined to overlook petulance.”
Would that all poets could write with such tact and humor.