Upholding Mystery: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Poetry

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Upholding Mystery: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Poetry. Edited by David Impastato. New York/ Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. 369 pp. $25.00 (cloth).

In this delightful volume, David Impastato has made selections from the works of fifteen contemporary poets and arranged them under sixteen different topics, beginning with The Cross and ending with The Holy. The volume is designed less for lovers of poetry who happen to be Christians than for Christians who might be induced to read poetry for insights into their Christian experience. Some of these writers have enjoyed reputations for decades: Daniel Berrigan, Wendell Berry, Geoffrey Hill, Denise Levertov, Richard Wilbur and, in Australia, Les Murray. Annie Dillard, Andrew Hudgins, and Kathleen Norris are perhaps the best-known among the younger poets, who are rounded out by Scott Cairns, David Citino, David Craig, Maura Eichner, Louise Erdrich, and David Brendan Hopes. Impastato explains in his "Introduction" that he chose these poets "because their work is not only 'Christian' but 'good' " and because they have been writing long enough to engage "the struggle, contradiction, change, and depth that characterizes the spiritual journey" (p. xxvi).

The sixteen topics of the collection attempt to embrace the full range of Christian experience: from its extraordinary heights (Transformation, Grace) and depths (Injustice, The Dark) to its ordinary joys (Love, Praise) and struggles (Wayfarers, The Leap). Impastato has provided brief introductory notes for each of these sections and for most of the poems. The compiler of an anthology, like the writer of dictionaries and (let it be said) a translator of the Bible, is liable to suffer "the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life," for his work can always be carped at. Impastato knows that he can and will be criticized for his choice of poets, his selection of poems, and for his various introductory notes being either too obvious or not enlightening enough. Yet despite whatever defects I feel the book to have in these respects, I do not intend to carp at Impastato's achievement, for his selection of poems and his introductory notes become intelligible by understanding his intended audience. …