Reviewing Heaven

In the book, Heaven, written by award-winning poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips and published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, who kindly sent me a copy for review, the poems in this particular “heaven” lean not toward the baptismal but the mythological. So, if you’re expecting a biblical view of heaven, as I was, you might miss the search, as I first did, into heavenly realms that began with light, music, and flights of literary allusions.

While these poems do not land in a particular place or spiritual environment, they explore a variety of routes people have taken to get there. For example, the opening poem, “The Mind After Everything Has Happened” begins with “Perpetual peace. Perpetual light./ From a distance it all seems graffiti” then ends:

“If Hell is a crater to a crater
To a crater to a crater, what then
Is Heaven, aside from its opposite,
Which was glorious, known, and obvious?”

But then there’s the question of whether that last line depicts Heaven or Hell.

The poem “Boys” seems more obvious as the guys cut class to hang out “to play/ Just about all the music we knew,” caught up in the heavenly tunes of their own making. Interestingly, that all-day endeavor ends in suffering:

“When the dark would come, we’d show each other
Our blisters, the painful white whorls peeling,
Our read palms upwards, outstretched and unread.”

After reading the search in those palms, we read “The Starry Night,” where “Night frees its collar from around its neck/ And walks slowly past the two bathing bears/ Wading in the black stellate subheaven.”

From celestial places and beautiful myths to the beauty in nature and love, the poet briefly descends into “News From the Muse Of Not Guilty” with these sensory and highly visual lines:

“He sits in a Hawaiian shirt over a bulletproof vest,
Slumped in a beach chair, its back to the ocean.
Even his red wine spritzer tastes like Skittles now.”

“An Excuse For Mayhem” starts with “The Kingdom of Heaven” as perceived through the Christian faith then ends with this word or, is it a warning?

“…the sublime blue hour
Of the voice, the mute light, mute church, mute choice.”

The final lines of the book, however, find rest in an earthy heaven and this confession:

“…all I want to do is lay my head/
Down, lay my head down on the naked slope
Of your chest and listen there for my heart.”

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, writer and reviewer, has 3 books of poems in print, the first of which, Living in the Nature Poem, was published in 2012 by Hiraeth Press with an e-book version in 2014. That same year, Kelsay Books published Mary’s book of nature poems for children and her book of Bible-based poems, Outside Eden.

Heaven: poems, hardback

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