Beliefs and Blasphemies: A Collection of Poems

Virginia Hamilton Adair, Author Random House (NY) $22 (176p) ISBN 978-0-375-50017-6
The afterword of Ants on the Melon, Adair's first collection of poems--published two years ago at the age of 83 to justified acclaim--hinted at a trove of equally masterful poems to be drawn on in books to come. The toughness, grace and humor of this second collection at times bear that out, but those expecting an Ants on the Melon II, with that book's broad range of subjects and moods, will be disappointed. These poems almost exclusively take up God, religion and ethics as their subjects, subjects that have produced much of the greatest poetry, but that have been somewhat neglected of late. Divided among seven sections (""Imagining a Maker""; ""Yeshua""; ""Mineral, Vegetable, Animal""; ""Beyond"" and three others), the poems quip (""God is a girl, they intoned, and if you don't believe us, no soup tonight""), question (""How could God know he was `love'/ before this voice, these eyes, told him?"") and declare a provisional faith (""I have never been sure of meanings/ of sin, atonement, forgiveness""). Others use chance encounters--a cabin-bound couple's brush with a gun-toting biker; a visit to a mental hospital's chapel; the discovery of a great-grandmother's ""soiled scarf""--to meditate on the nature of belief when put to the test. Some lean toward the transcendental (""The eagle soars, slides down air/ from heaven, giving thanks/ for wings and atmosphere"") and others, without fanfare, toward death. Adair's searching verses may not always have the ring of the contemporary, and they often stop short here of fully unfurling their insights. But at its best, this collection points the way back to an American tradition of religious poetry understood and cherished by the likes of Elizabeth Bishop and Louise Bogan. Editor: Dan Menaker. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/29/1998
Release date: 07/01/1998
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