Man Overboard (review)


Cover of Man Overboard by David DennyMan Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion by David Denny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You have probably heard the story of Jonah, but never like David Denny tells it in Man Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion. In 24 poems capturing the voices of Jonah, God, sailors, wind, whale, people of Nineveh, their king, even the vine and the worm, Denny retells this familiar tale with imagination and economy that nonetheless holds a treasure chest of riches.

Denny’s use of natural, cultural, and historic details delights, even as it grounds his flights of fancy in reality:

… my wife
clicked about my burning ears like a locust.
…. I untied all 613 knots
in my tallit” – “Flight” p. 4.

Those familiar with the Bible will recognize echoes of favorite passages:

“Seeing the dry bones of
my chosen ones scattered
on the ground…” (“Arise and Go” p. 23)

brings to mind Ezekiel’s vision from Ezekiel 37.

God’s inquisition of Jonah after Jonah complains about His lack of judgment:

“Where were you
when the Tigris began to flow? Where were you
when the walls of Nineveh were hosted to the sky?” (“God’s Response to Jonah” p. 25)

reminds us of God’s questioning of Job in Job 38.

In other places Denny subtly draws our attention to Jonah as a type of Christ.
“Can a man be born twice” Jonah asks after being vomited by the fish (“A Good Question” p. 19), and we hear Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.

The story of “The Perfumer and His Wife,”

“… And when he told us
that like a fox without a den he had nowhere to lay
his head…” pp. 25-26

remind us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 8.

Most significant of the finds in this book for me, though, are Denny’s illustration of the subtitle: “A Tale of Divine Compassion.” Compassion oozes from these poems. God refers to Jonah as “my dove” (Jonah means dove), and speaks of “his lovely face” (“Arise and Go” p. 3).

The wind speaks of Jonah as “this little one” – “Stormspeak” p. 5.

God calls the great fish “lovely, sweet and langourous one” in “God Speaks to the Great Fish” p. 18.

To the Ninevites, God says:

“My heart delights in you, for you were lost and now
you are found…” – “Turning Point” p. 29.

As poems, the individual pieces are easy to understand even as they make good use of poetic devices like anaphora, paradox, onomatopoeia, personification, and surprising juxtapositions:

“I can’t go back now
My stomach can’t hold
that much crow” – “On a Hilltop Overlooking Nineveh” p. 41.

In Man Overboard, Denny opens our eyes to the compassionate song of redemption that plays a sweet counterpoint to Jonah’s blues of nationalistic pettiness. Thanks to this little volume, I don’t think I’ll ever read the book of Jonah in quite the same way again.

Thank you to David Denny and Lora Zill for the review copy of Man Overboard. A shorter version of this review first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Time of Singing.

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Conspiracy of Light (review)

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Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. LewisConspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis by D.S. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“There is, then, creative reading as well as creative writing” said Emerson. Canadian poet D. S. Martin has read. C. S. Lewis creatively over years in order for us to now enjoy Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C. S. Lewis. From the first lines of the first poem:
“A glance over your shoulder / assures you you can always get back” to the final “Destination” it is a magical trip.

Martin takes us in 77 poems through seven sections that include poems that look at the role of the poet, riff on ideas and lines from Lewis’s writings, explore his fantasy settings, muse about communication, the vastness of God and the final state to which we aspire.

You may wonder, do readers have to be familiar with Lewis’s writings themselves to get these poems? No. They stand very well on their own, though Martin has included an acknowledgment section where he names the inspirational source of each poem.

Lewis’s (and Martin’s) philosophical bent is seen in many of the ideas on which Martin expands. What proves something is true?

“Some things are only known
once you step in” from “Proof” p. 5.

What is real? From “The Poet Weaves Three Worlds”:

“The marvelous he believes …
The marvelous fictitious fantasies …
The world his eye perceives …
The poet twists from these
a three-strand cord of truth” p. 35.

Many of these poems whisper eternal truths that we pick up in echoes from Bible texts like these ending lines from “The Sacred Fish”:

“Better is one day in his boats
than thousands elsewhere” p. 19.

and these bits from “The Dogs” (obstacles, challenges, troubles):

“I want to tell them to move
to pick them up and throw them into the sea
like a mustard tree
or a handful of mountain” p. 26.

What I like about these poems is the way Martin has made the ideas his own by bringing in elements of his generation. In the poem “Something” (about music) the title evokes the song by the Beatles and the poem contains the line “his guitar gently weeps” p. 36.

In “On the Latest Impending Doom” which, the notes tell us, got their inspiration from Lewis’s poem “On the Atomic Bomb’ Martin gives his dooms a 21st century feel:

“So you’ve found a new engine of doom
running on fossil fuel …
Who needs new science to kindle dread
whether coastal cities be blooded or simply left behind” p. 66.

Most of the poems are free verse. There are a few sonnets (though not of the traditional rhyme scheme, iambic pentameter variety) and one very traditional rhymer. Still, Martin’s crafting fascinates me. He uses lots of rhyme—perfect and imperfect within and at the ends of lines that sing to each other across stanzas unifying the piece as well as making it a pleasure to read aloud. “After Evensong” is one such that I thought had an almost lullaby quality to it:

“Like cranky toddlers we can fight
so long not strong enough to stay vertical
or resist rubbing our eyes
although wise men know darkness is deep
& in the end the dark is right

For soon we all are ravished by sleep…” p. 63.

I could go on about the titled sections and the way titles of each are hidden within poems, the whimsical wordplay within many of the selections and the wonderful note of hope on which the book ends. Having found so many goodies on a quick read-through, I now want to return and reread to see what other surprises this collection will yield in both the categories of idea and technique.

Conspiracy of Light reminds me of the moon. In reflecting the sun’s light, the moon shows off its own topography. In the same way Martin’s poems reflecting on the brilliance of Lewis, reveal the man who wrote them.

(A shorter version of this review was first published in Faith Today.)

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Conspiracy of Light is part of the Poiema Series of poetry books from Cascade Books of which Martin is the series editor. It also includes Scape by Luci Shaw, Gold by Barbara Crooker, Second Sky by Tania Runyan,  and Particular Scandals by Julie L. Moore.

You might like to try writing a poem for Martin’s blog The 55 Project. Poems need to connect in some way with Isaiah 55. Visit the blog and look in the right sidebar under “Join The Project” for contact information.

D. S. Martin also blogs Christian poetry from all eras, featuring a new poem and poet every Monday at his blog Kingdom Poets.


Messy – Poetry Friday

Shelf of poetry books

“… untidy on the shelf”


Poetry is messy
all these snippets of poems
lying around
all these lines that keep asking
to be changed or moved
into another poem altogether
how do I keep track?

And look at these books
—mere brochures
with spines too skinny for titles
slight, yet too weighty
for the garbage
lovely to hold
but untidy on the shelf

and as impossible to catalogue
—with their love, humor peace,
protest, outrage and grace—
as the motley bunch of us
at our last reading.

© 2013 by Violet Nesdoly


At the beginning of the year, do you find yourself with the urge to organize—even your poetry? And how impossible is that!


Welcome to Poetry Friday, the impossible-to-catalogue weekly collection of poetry and poetry-related blog posts for readers of all ages!

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Black Friday wish list for poets


It’s Black Friday. For me here in Canada, that term was meaningless for most of my life. When I first heard it, I thought it had something to do with a particularly unlucky Friday the 13th or something.

Of course those innocent days are gone. Black Friday disease has crossed the border, and even though we celebrated Thanksgiving weeks ago, with the U.S. Black Friday sales competing for our dollars, local merchants have got on the Black Friday bandwagon with a vengeance.

So, with the theme of shopping in mind, I’m putting up a list of books that you or your fellow poets might appreciate in your stockings. Keep your eyes peeled for  these in your Black Friday (and Saturday and Sunday…) shopping. (Though many of these are a few years old, they’re as valuable as ever. I know. I own every one of them and refer to them often.)

Writing The Natural Way - RicoWhatever you write you’ve probably heard of clustering (also called webbing, word webs, semantic mapping, mind mapping etc.). Gabriele Rico, a pioneer of this method of generating ideas,  begins by explaining how to cluster and how it works in terms of brain physiology. She shows how clustering helps writers access unexpected personal material and suggests lots of exercises. The book includes chapters on image, voice, creating tension, and revision. The many quotes about creativity and the writing life (found in the wide margins of this 9 x 71/2-inch paperback) are another feature that make it a treasure.

  • Creating Poetry by John Drury, 1991 (hardback – re-released in paperback, 2006).Creating Poetry - John Drury

You’ll never run out of poem-writing ideas if you have this book. The great thing is that it also doubles as a tutor. The introduction explains, “This book is organized sequentially according to the process of writing – or rather the process of learning to write, which amounts to the same thing – beginning with “Preparing” and ending with “Finishing.”

Poets Companion - Addonizio & LauxA great little book that combines instruction with inspiration and prompts. It’s available in Kindle format too.

In this value-packed volume, Mary Oliver talks about how to court the muse, read poems, and make the most of the science of sound. Maybe ‘science’ is too technical a word, but I did learn a lot about how the different sounds of our letters affect us and help or hinder our poems. What amazed me was to see how much technique and thought (she talks about the line, forms, diction, tone, voice, imagery, and revision) goes into Oliver’s poems—poems that come out sounding as effortless as breathing.

Poetry Home Repair Manual - Ted KooserThe U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004 – 2006 authored this slim paperback. If Kooser’s poetry is noted for anything it is accessibility and this book is his manifesto on why poetry should be accessible and how to write understandable poems.

He discusses topics like what it means to be a poet, how to entice readers to read your poems, how to avoid distracting the reader with the physical look of your work, using figures of speech and more. Along with wisdom gained from years of writing, Kooser dispenses encouragement, inspiration and just plain common sense. You’ll also enjoy the poetry sprinkled throughout this practical and understandable manual.

From “ABECEDARIUM” to “WORD” this handy book will help you stay in the know about almost any poetic term literature can throw at you. Three hundred fifty three pages of entries – which include pronunciations, definitions and over 250 illustrative poems from Homer to the present – are supplemented with an index of poets and poems, and an index of terms. This handy reference is as good for finding inspiration as boning up on the poetic terms you’re curious about or have never heard before.

Art & Craft of Poetry - BugejaThis excellent instruction-cum-reference book is written by a seasoned college teacher and published poet. In twenty-one chapters Bugeja talks about the entire poetic process from getting ideas to getting published. Each chapter comes complete with writing instruction, its own mini-anthology and a set of exercises for three levels (so you can make three passes through the book). You will not go through this book even once without amassing a fat portfolio of poems and a well-rounded understanding of poetry from traditional to contemporary. This oldie but goodie is now also available in a Kindle edition.

If you’re a poet who wants to master traditional forms this book, written by a seasoned poet, author, editor and teacher, is for you. In it you’ll find chapters explaining meter, the quatrain, couplet, sonnet, tercet, blank verse, French forms and more.

Baer explains things in a step-by-step way and uses classic and contemporary poetry to illustrate his points. He includes short practice exercises as well as twelve formal assignments. The appendix contains several essays about the history of poetry (including one about the formalist movement), a nine-page section of quotes about meter, form and rhyme, and a helpful index. This book is a must-have for poets in love with rhythm and rhyme.

Poet Power - WilliamsIf you want ideas about what to do with your poems besides warehousing them in file drawers, this is the book for you. Williams addresses subjects like the business of poetry, secrets of publishable poems, how to submit to magazines, self-publish, organize readings, publicize, and then sell your books. Williams’ enthusiasm and motivational writing style may well transform you from a poetic wallflower to a poetry entrepreneur who becomes a mover and shaker in your literary circle.

Happy Shopping!

(Updated from an article originally published in September 2009  as “Assigned Reading for Poets”  in Poets Classroom at

This post is submitted to Poetry Friday, hosted today by the multi-talented Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.