At first glance, I was a little intimidated by this book. Its slick black and white cover and the photo resembling something from Scott Mutter, spoke of high literature, the poetry you either have to re-read a dozen times to get, or just never get at all. And it's 229 pages also didn't look too inviting. 229 prose pages I can handle. But 229 pages of consecutive poetry? I wasn't sure, since I usually have to read a poem two, sometimes three times to really let it sink in.
My pleasure at being wrong was great. Prayers to Protest, the enigmatic title, means that the pieces that make up the book range in subject from prayers to poems of protest. And while not every poem is great (come on, there are 216 pages of poetry, did you expect perfection on every one?), some are, and most are very good.
This is the third Pudding House book I've read and, while I don't make a habit of reading poetry anthologies, this is also the third Pudding House book I've enjoyed. Jennifer Bosveld has a way of either attracting great poets, or sifting through the crap to find the good stuff. And her own poetry also shines, which is a very large plus.
Ms. Bosveld's 8 poems, along with her position as editor and Pudding House boss, seemed at first like she was using the forum for her own publication benefit. After reading them, however, you see that's not necessary -- Jennifer Bosveld is already an accomplished and proven poet, made so by talent, not position. And she does an equal job as editor, filling Prayers to Protest with something you don't see every day: poems that are poetic.
Ron Buck's "The Way of the World" is not only funny, but smart in its word choice, in what it says, how it says it, and what it doesn't say. Jeanne Lohmann's "A Few Questions Not Entirely Poetic" states the truth in line 24: "We can't fix everything."
"Charlotte & Stella Mary" by Marion Arenas, with a beautifully-done poem about children that shows, for them, not everything is black and white. Sometimes it's chocolate and strawberry.
"Reminder"* by Cassia Berman is perfect in only 17 words:
With a love
more tender than my mother's
God feeds me my lunch
with my own hand
Can you see the perfection?
"It is a simple and elegant piece," says Ms. Bosveld, "that any nonpoetry person can appreciate and comes more closely than any other piece in the book to something many people say or understand...it is a place where the person on the street can come into the book and feel at home. They don't have to struggle to figure it out. I think anthologies need breathers like that."
Further on, Mary Winters's "The Perfect Deity" envisions a God who doesn't allow the bad things to happen, "The perfect god or goddess.../ Wants "C'est la vie!" as a slogan / Of rue and bad luck to disappear; /The saying will point to joy."
As it should, as it would, in a perfect world.
Slipping somewhere between the prayers and protests, is Jennifer Bosveld's own "Thus You Have Five Yellow Cards And Still Have Not Advanced," where we're forced to face our own apathy for others as well as ourselves:
You hear a person screaming in the parking lot behind your office.
Do you try to help? Do you bother to look out the window? A stone
has been in your shoe all year. You never bother to turn
the shoe upside down and smack the rock loose, though you limp and favor.
You walk this way all year and all the next and the next.
Before I began reviewing, I'd never heard of Pudding House. Granted, I don't have anything on the pulse of the poetry world, and I don't know many other poetry publishers, but I've learned enough reviewing Pudding's books to know there's great stuff coming out of Johnstown, Ohio.
While poetry isn't for everyone, Prayers to Protest does a good job of trying anyway. Maybe that's why it's so thick. And in the midst of the work, you don't even notice you're on page 57 with 159 still to go.
The book makes a great gift, even if only for yourself.
I look forward to seeing more from Pudding House.
* "Reminder" is reprinted here with permission and first appeared in Divine Mother Within Me and reprinted in Prayers to Protest.