We heard Roger Housden, author of nine books including Sacred America: The Emerging Spirit of the People, recite some heartfelt poems one night at a bookstore. We were impressed by the fervor of his soul as he allowed himself to be transported on the wings of spiritual wordsmiths. This wonderful work is brimming over with his insights and enthusiasm for ecstatic poets.
"Great poetry can alter the way we see ourselves," Housden writes. "It can change the way we see the world. You may never have read a poem in your life, and yet you can pick up a volume, open it to any page, and suddenly see your own original face there; suddenly find yourself blown into a world full of awe, dread, wonder, marvel, deep sorrow, and joy."
The author believes that the ten poems he has chosen are prime examples of a genuine poetry of the spirit. They are timeless creations that embrace matter and "reach into territory that lies just beyond our conscious experience." Housden begins with Mary Oliver's "The Journey," which challenges us to unfurl our authentic self, and ends with "The Dark Night," where St. John of the Cross celebrates the inner life and union with God.
In between are the marvels of Antonio Machado, who reveals to us that we can profitably harvest our failures ("Last Night As I Was Sleeping"); Walt Whitman, who emboldens us to question our familiar identity ("Song of Myself"); Rumi, who ponders the meaning of grace ("Zero Circle"); Kabir who wants us to savor mystery instead of being imprisoned in our belief systems ("The Time Before Death"); Galway Kinnell, who affirms erotic love ("Last Gods"); W. S. Merwin, who brings us into a close encounter with the end of life ("For the Anniversary of My Death"); and Derek Walcott, who hurrahs the moments when we come home to our true selves ("Love After Love").
Our favorite poem in this superb collection is "Ode to My Socks" where Pablo Neruda models for us the spiritual path of wonder. Here even ordinary things become resplendent with meaning, joy, and pleasure. These are "dangerous poems," as Housden calls them, for they are catalysts capable of transforming how we see ourselves, others, the Beloved, and the world in which we live.