Tuesday, December 23, 2008


ISBN-10: 1-55022-835-8
ISBN-13: 978-1-55022-835-9
5.5 x 8.5 in, 120pp, paperback
$16.95 CAD
October 2008
a misFit book

Robert Priest’s new book, Reading the Bible Backwards, displays his usual multi-dimensional creativity manifested, as the back cover blurb puts it: “in reverse engineering the word, meme splicing, morpheme replacement therapy, phonetic modifications” Priest’s poetic oeuvre reflects a child’s commitment to the spiritual policy of: for Poetry I will grow up just enough. Life and language is his sandbox.

Reading the Bible Backwards is another toss-up of his mischief with linguistic orthodoxies, abiding by the dictum of SHELLY, Percy Bysshe; “…if no new poets should arise to create afresh the associations that have thus been disorganized, language will be dead to all the nobler purposes of human intercourse.” Priest takes the well-worn laundry of language thru several spin cycles, presenting them all haut couture strutting down the catwalk of this anthology.

Yes, there is a gimmick here, the unraveling of the Bible-dna thread that has all too often constricted the larynx of our imagination. He has recycled and liberated cultural orthodoxy, let the dogmas out to lose themselves into the light. Gimmicks can be dangerous. Successful gimmicks have the unfortunate enticement of becoming a rut, but Priest has always known when the cow has been milked dry and moves on to other langscapes of poetry.

Priest’s gimmick is declared up front in the title of the book. He becomes the Priesthood re-verse-ing sacred narrative to refresh meaning; forward to the past. The book kicks off with the liberation of Jesus from the Cross and moonwalks us into BC. Many poems are edged in cleverness, and weighted with wit; “…turn the other cheek, or I’ll turn it for you.”

His meme splice poems provide a clever utilization of a concept which provides many fascinating sub-concepts that sub-verse the orthodoxies of language. In this regard, the Priesthood becomes the Priest hoodlum, a collaborator with Richard Dawkins, wiping the dirt of dogma from the windshield of our culture, joysticking it in re-verse, backing out of the cul de sac of unsalvation onto the main Free Expression Freeway. It is wreck-creation as recreation to re-creation.

The FACE-FAITH MEME SPLICE poem is rich WOW moments. “Just another pretty faith”, “You can‘t faith the truth“, “Utterly two-faithed”, “The faithless masses”, “To look into the very faith of God.” Unfortunately, I read this poem first and it set me up for disappointment with subsequent meme splice poems; they did not contain the same intensity of WOW-WIT found in FACE-FAITH.

The Priest hoodlum takes on one of the most famous poems in the Bible: the Lord’s Prayer. While I enjoyed the in-verse of its contents, I do wish he had spent sufficient time to conform to the cadence of the prayer. It is too well known, it’s rhythms deeply embedded in us all, so dissonance is instantly recognized. Priest’s re-versed prayer is cloak of many colours that is ill-fitting.

PUTTING UP BABEL is a poem that I regard as quintessential Priest:

“…if someone
Unifies the language
We go dialectic, megalexic
We get all slang on them

And at the top
Having stopped
At the end of atmosphere
We’ll lean out
High over god and all the angels
And shout as one
A trillion words for sky

Backwards to star words from the big bang of Priest’s imagination, and from the sky he brings us down to the debris of Babel, selecting nuggets of neologism, and scattering them on the page like treasure, like a filthy-faithed child bursting through the kitchen door and detonating with delight; Hey-look-what-I-found! “Mass Martyrers”, “ terrortorial”, “immurderate language”, “banksters.”

Our Children Are Explosive is wonderfully simple, the premise in its title. I read the poem as if it were a fuse, following the sizzle to its detonation. Children are the perpetual treasure of our continuity. They ensure evolution until Priest describes them as a “famine waiting to happen.”

This Priesthood of Poetry, or more aptly, Priest hoodlum of poetry, contains dark diamonds of compressed cynicism acquired from living beyond his gamble with pre-destiny or pre-dysentery. There a few mediocre poems in this collection. The gimmick of Re-Verse does not work in and of itself. There is no poetic imagination in the assertion that God is Great to Nothing is God. But mediocrity can be found in any collection of Neruda, Eliot, Blake, Byron.

One characteristic of Priest’s poetry that I find incredibly enriching is the exquisite tenderness of his romantic poetry.

The Sail Cannot
Deny the wind
How can I deny
My love
You move me
You send me
I have crossed barriers
I never dreamed
With you behind me.

I love how Priest spills his imagination, brilliant debris, in his neologisms, carrying us through time, unravelling the narrative-spine of Western culture, deconstructing and reassembling and playing god with language, plunging into lleH & re-Versing out to Heaven, leading us all to the salvation of love as exemplified in the last poems of this collection:


I love you for words
I love you for songs
The two us holding a dream between us
Centring the inkblot
Circling the unattainable
Giving symmetry something
To arrange itself around.

No comments: