A new book of critical prose, Thick and Dazzling Darkness: Religious Poetry in a Secular Age, will be published this November by Columbia University Press. I am stoked. This represents over fifteen years of work; its appearance (I'm tempted to say "epiphany") fulfills long labor.
Here is the description of the book:
In Thick and Dazzling Darkness, Peter O’Leary offers a new reading of modern and contemporary poets’ treatment of religion and the nature of the divine in a secular age. The book seeks to come to terms with an often obscured spiritual impulse that drives the production and imagination of American poetry.
O’Leary presents close and comprehensive readings of the modernist, late-modernist, and postmodern poets Robinson Jeffers, Frank Samperi, and Robert Duncan, as well as the contemporary poets Joseph Donahue, Geoffrey Hill, Fanny Howe, Nathaniel Mackey, Pam Rehm, and Lissa Wolsak. He argues that an anxiety of misunderstanding exists in the study and writing of poetry between secular and religious impulses and that the religious nature of poets’ works is too often marginalized. Examining the works of a specific poet in each chapter, O’Leary reveals their complexity and offers a defense of the value and meaning of religious poetry against the grain of a secular society.
And here is an endorsement by G.C. Waldrep:
Thick and Dazzling Darkness undertakes the daunting task of exploring spirituality (qua poetry) in a way that connects such otherwise dissimilar poets as the self-consciously backward-looking Robinson Jeffers, the peculiarly American modernism of Robert Duncan, and the (at)tendent postmodernism of Fanny Howe and Nathaniel Mackey. O'Leary creates a conceptual fabric through which we can "read" this diverse group of poets—some well-served in scholarly circles, others rapidly falling off the American poetry radar. Given our cultural predicament as Americans, this work could not be more timely.
And here is the table of contents:
Introduction: Religious Poetry in a Secular Age
1. A Mystical Theology of Angelic Despair: Writing Religious Poetry and the Trilogy of Frank Samperi
2. Robinson Jeffers, the Man from Whom God Hid Everything
3. Spiritual Osmosis: Absorbing the Influence in Geoffrey Hill’s Later Poetry
4. Prophetic Frustrations: Robert Duncan’s Tribunals
5. What Lies Beneath My Copy of Eternity? Religious Language in the Poetry of Lissa Wolsak
6. Catholics: Reading Fanny Howe
7. Robert Duncan’s Celestial Hierarchy
8. The Long Huthered Hajj: Nathaniel Mackey’s Esotericism
9. Apocalypticism: A Way Forward for Poetry
Conclusion: Why Not Be Totally Changed Into Fire?
It is my understanding that this book will also be available through the Knowledge Unlatched platform. Stay tuned for details. And in the meantime, convince your libraries - local and university - to buy a copy!