Review #11: ‘The Devotional Poems’ by Joe Hall

devotional poems
  • PUBLISHED BY: Black Ocean, 2013
  • REVIEW BY: Timothy Liu

Joe Hall - The Devotional Poems

“Sophomoric” is mostly a pejorative, a retroactive confirmation of one’s debut as a flash in the pan, a fluke, but in literary history, “sloppy seconds” sometimes exceed whatever came before, converting what was first dished out into a mere amuse-bouche however promising/dazzling the debut was—Louise Glück’s House on Marshland or Carolyn Forché’s The Country Between Us come to mind (never mind John Ashbery’s Tennis Court Oath!)—which brings us to Joe Hall’s latest, hot on the heels of his rookie Pigafetta Is My Wife (also from Black Ocean); one might ask if his latest is a leap forward or more of the same ole same ole, but such questions fall by the wayside when you read both books in tandem in a single afternoon, going back and forth, back and forth, sort of like shuffling songs off Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II combined; that said, if I had to choose, I’d say Joe Hall’s latest is a big leap forward if for no other reason that herein one meets his composite Christ Beast demanding worship, healing the Madonna/Whore split of the post-Edenic mind by nimbly fusing the two, erasing easy binaries (Heaven/Hell, Male/Female, Homo/Hetero, Body/Mind, Apollo/Dionysus), which reminds me—Beethoven’s first published piano concerto was actually the second one that he wrote (so much for chronology)—a germane aside considering the fact that the final section of Joe Hall’s latest was also written first (I asked him) remains my one quibble with the ordering of the book: why end in relative quiet piety meditating on Mary rather than go out in one polymorphous perverse bang?

Disclosures: We first met on a panel on love poems at AWP Boston; now we are having a baby!

Favorites: “Gasoline Chainsaw Jesus”; “Nativity”; “Post Nativity”; “I Was Living in a Boarded Up House without Heat. I Was Still Sick and Had Unpaid Medical Bills. The Record He gave Me Was GOOD OLD COUNTRY GOSPEL.”

Read Joe Hall at HTMLGiant.