Angelicus Review ATR

The following review of Angelicus appeared in Anglican Theological Review
Fall 2021 • Volume 103 • Number 4

No matter your background or expertise, D.S. Martin’s newest poetry collection will soar, spin, and dance you through all things angels. Ministering, avenging, intervening, praising, liberating; angels unawares; and angels plucked in atypical fashion from familiar Biblical texts: the poems in Angelicus reshape and expand our understanding of angels, undoing society’s stereotypes of “tacky . . . fat winged babies” (p. 21) and introducing celestial beings “found at your back door/in jeans & human skin” (p. 1). These joyful, engaging, and often humorous riffs on God’s messengers are infused with theology and meditations on humankind, and showcase the many ways the Divine self-reveals: through Scripture, prayer, vision, dream, story, poem, painting, music, film, nature, and—yes—angels.

With new eyes, we witness angelic visitations with Mary, St. John on the Isle of Patmos, the wrestling Jacob, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We shadow angels in Eden and in the Dominican Republic, and eavesdrop as angels, sitting on stones, ask, “Why/do you seek the living among the dead?” (p. 53). We enter into dreams from angels, “a conduit/for God’s message” (p. 32), and then listen as they speak of faith or explain prayer—“how Number Three/translates & Number Two advocates though Number One/knows what’s going on before one word is said . . .” (p. 81).

Often, such revelations come through art. In “An Angel Addresses a Churchgoer,” Martin presents painting, poem, and parable as venues for epiphany (p. 70). Elsewhere in this wide-ranging collection, one angel critiques Caravaggio’s Saint Matthew & the Angel” (p. 17), another pontificates from the painted scene of Signorelli’s Resurrection of the Body (p. 48), while from Cimabue’s The Crucifixion, “[t]he visible & invisible glow from the fresco” (p. 49).

In response to Richard Wilbur’s poem “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World,” Martin has titled one poem “Laughs About Laundry” (p. 8). Others consider William Blake and Rainer Maria Rilke, and then puzzle over murder mystery writer Dorothy Sayers’ “way of getting at the true. . . how justice will one day come through. . . ” (p. 79). Add to this contemplations on Dante, Dickinson, Auden, Browning, Shakespeare, Ferlinghetti, and others. No wonder, in “An Angel Marvels at Human Language,” the narrator exclaims, “You humans are all language-/makers . . . glorious onomatopoetic cock-a-doodle-doo drawn from every/encountered hullaballoo” (p. 6).

And no wonder, also, that these poems brim with sound and song, rhyme and repetition, the classic and contemporary. Hank Williams’ “so lonesome [I] could die” in “The Angel of Death at the Grand Ole Opry” (p. 24) harmonizes with an angel’s annoyance at the pop song “Teen Angel” (p. 80). Woven throughout the book is the recurring refrain “child of clay.” In this way, Martin urges us “to recall the height/from which [we’ve] fallen” (p. 65) but “not be shocked by angelic intervention” (p. 22). Thus, in “An Angel Watches It’s a Wonderful Life,” the poet reminds us, “Angels when talking aren’t like stars/blinking with a loose connection . . . the thing that rings true/is this intervention’s due to ZuZu’s prayer” (p. 61).

Throughout, nature also shouts divine epiphanies. “Even angels love rain/the way it/knows when to curl into haystack/clouds & when to let go spattering/leaves & grass” (p. 42). And yet, the poems remind us, “unlike the manta ray or bat/the rat or blue jay . . . [we] though tumbled sullied/toxified & crushed flat/. . . were modelled after the divine” (p. 73). In “An Angel Denies a Flat Earth,” Martin moves us even closer to revelation, creation opening its mouth/wider than a hippopotamus ever could/like that closet door you’ve never opened . . . which is not a closet door at all but a way out . . . & above that . . . & above that . . . beyond the beyond . . . (p. 72)

Angelicus begins “When we seek to speak . . . translating on the wing/from tongues of angels” (p. 1). It ends with “let [faith] be the fulfillment to the prayer/you most frequently ask” (p. 86). In between, with wisdom and insight, D.S. Martin employs his own “tongues of angels” to deliver a fuller understanding of the Divine. And thank God—and all the angels in heaven and on earth—for that.

Lock Haven University, Lock Haven, PA, USA