Since 2010, Canadian poet and editor D.S. Martin has been curating a blog called “The Kingdom Poets,” where he shares weekly work by poets of the Christian faith. “There is no attempt made to assess orthodoxy, but simply to present poets who speak profoundly of faith in God,” Martin writes in the site’s description. He took this same approach as editor of his new anthology of contemporary Christian poetry, The Turning Aside.
Pulling from the plethora of contemporary Christian poetry was no doubt a challenging task. In order to give this collection some necessary limits, Martin chose to include only poetry written in English by poets who were alive in January 2000. The poets come from various denominational backgrounds. They also vary in style and form, which makes this a vibrant collection of very different voices. There are delicately-crafted sonnets and works of free verse—lengthy epics and brief, vivid musings. Some of the poets published their first poems decades ago, and are widely regarded as masters of Christian verse—such as Luci Shaw, Wendell Berry, Richard Wilbur, and Margaret Avison. Other contributors are newer to the fold, yet clearly modern masters in their own right and certainly worthy of a wider readership.
Common themes emerge throughout this collection. Several poems contain more questions than answers and dare to inhabit difficult spaces of doubt and paradox alongside exclamations of praise or gratitude. Often the poets directly contemplate poetry itself—the literary form’s ability to both express belief with clarity and transgress the borders of typical religious language. In one poem by Les Murray, for example, the poet says: “God is the poetry caught in any religion,/caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror/that he attracted, being in the world as poetry/is in the poem, a law against its closure.” These are skilled poets boldly and imaginatively seeking God’s face, and this anthology is a truly unforgettable feast of words made flesh. (Banner review)