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APRIL IS POETRY MONTH: 'Uproar: Antiphonies to Psalms' by Brooks Haxton
As he writes in his preface, “I take psalms less as doctrine than as outcries, and I cry back in these poems from whatever vantage I can find.” The result is lucid, touching verse that connects the exalted language of scripture with everyday experience. In a poem called “Dark,” for example, Haxton riffs on the gorgeous line “The night also is thine” (Psalm 74) as he stands on his front stoop on a particularly black night. “Thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures” (Psalm 36) brings forth a poem about the perilous joy of bodysurfing. And his response to Psalm 58, “The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance,” becomes a poem about Westmoreland in Vietnam.
These vibrant scraps of ancient text reverberate with intimations of the immediate present, and Haxton’s poetry, in response, is fresh, funny, and tender. In the pain of doubt, and even in the burlesque of irreverence, he explores the mystery of our abiding passion for the sacred.
Fists I Thought Were Made To Hold the Reins
He delighteth not in the strength of the horse...He maketh peace... - Psalm 147
Catfish, lacking scales, are beautiful
in their repulsive way, but they will give you
an infected wound if you're not careful.
The filets I rubbed with cayenne, chili, salt,
and ginger, skillet hot and dry, then drowned
with lemon. Even the kids, who don't eat fish,
left none. My wife and I stopped brooding,
and my right hand opened with me staring
into the empty palm, long having, if I ever
knew, forgotten when and how the reins
slipped free. I love equestrians,
but I let go the reins, unlike my heroes,
lacking their authority, and wishing now
to lack my lack as well. An unimaginable horse
is rippling at a gallop far away, unshod,
with hoofbeats as impermanent as stars.
* * *
Brooks Haxton, born in Greenville, Mississippi, in 1950, is the son of the novelist Ellen Douglas and the composer Kenneth Haxton. He has published three previous collections of poetry, two book-length narrative poems, and two books of translations from the ancient Greek. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation, Haxton teaches in the writing programs at Syracuse University and Warren Wilson College. He lives in Syracuse with his wife and three children.
Excerpt from UPROAR: Antiphonies to Psalms. Copyright (c) 2006 by Brooks Haxton. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, LLC., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.