Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Early Creatures, Native Gods

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Early Creatures, Native Gods

Article excerpt

Early Creatures, Native Gods. By K. A. Hays. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012. 72 pp. $15.95 (paper).

K. A. Hays's second collection in the fine Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series follows Dear Apocalypse, published in 2009. As in her first book, Hays borrows terms from orthodox Christianity to engage eternal questions, including doubt and failures of faith. The book is divided in five titled sections: Renunciation, Lament, Downeast, Early Creatures, and Creed. The first poem begins with an insistence on the sacramental nature of the material world, as the speaker, gazing at a painting of the Assumption of the Virgin, imagines that Mary, the mother of Jesus, must have preferred her life in the "truest heaven," which is figured as a field of cattle and her among them and the mosquitoes, prior to the Nativity. The final poem renders another, ordinary young woman, Marta, running in a northern Italian village with her arms akimbo, like the Virgin in the Assumption. The speaker urges the girl to run in defiance of all that would suppress her flight.

Between these paradoxical statements of renunciation and belief, we find gorgeous lyric meditations - sometimes interrogations. Indeed, this collection will lead a reader to wonder what belief finally means: to claim the world as heaven here, now, as Jesus commanded, or to long for that faraway place with many mansions that he promised. Related to this dualism is a recovery of the feminine divine through the figure of the Blessed Virgin.

Admirers of Mary Oliver will be drawn to Hays's combination of natural, often sensual, imagery and transcendental aspiration, but they should be warned that her poems have sharper edges. As in the first collection, Hays's lines are strikingly lean, the diction pristine, and the syntax is so plainspoken that even when her sentences get very long, they never feel unwieldy. The collection's setting, subjects, and emotional intensity - especially of the long tide poem, "Early Creatures" - recall the chiseled lyrics of H. …

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