The Turning Aside (review)

The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry
Edited by D. S. Martin
Wipf & Stock, 2016. 262 pages. $34.99 (e-book $9.99)

IF EUGENE Peterson is correct in stating that busyness is an illness of spirit, then a healthy spirit is one which takes time to be quiet. Poet R. S. Thomas expresses it this way: "Life is not hurrying / on to a receding future, nor hankering / after an imagined past. It is the turning / aside like Moses to the miracle / of the lit bush."

Brampton, Ont., editor D. S. Martin borrows this phrase as the title to this stunning anthology of contemporary poetry by 60 distinguished and lesser-known Christian poets. It encompasses work in a broad variety of styles, including familiar names such as Wendell Berry, Luci Shaw, Christian Wiman and Eugene Peterson. It also presents powerful voices in Madeline DeFrees, Richard Wilbur, Jeanne Murray Walker and Mary Karr, among others. They have all been drawn from the editor’s posts at and collected over decades.

The works highlight the divine in the gamut of human experience, from the painful despair expressed in a DeFrees poem – "All the long night in the moaning wind / the bruised reed breaks and the sparrow falls" – to the joyful exaltation Richard Wilbur describes as "the morning air is all awash with angels." Readers also find exaltation in poems such as one by Robert Siegel in which "Yellow flames flutter / about the feeder: / a Pentecost of finches."

Humour and irony are also present in a Scott Cairns poem which reads, "Your petitions – though they continue to bear / just the one signature – have been duly recorded" and in another Richard Wilbur poem which states, "In the light of our gross product, the practice of charity / is palpably nonessential."

Poets are prophets and truth tellers in a world driven by commerce. These poems invite us to turn aside and listen to God’s still, quiet voice amid the noise.

–MARIANNE JONES for Faith Today