(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

David Middleton has spent nearly all his life in the state where he was born, Louisiana. Growing up in Saline, in the northwestern part of the state, as of 2006 he lived in Thibodaux, in southeastern Louisiana, near the Mississippi Delta. There he composed The Building Fields. The poems are short to medium-length and use rhyme and meter. They also, however, have a conversational, personal quality, and Middleton’s use of contemporary language avoids archaisms and stilted expressions.

Middleton begins and ends the collection with poems dedicated to the memory of his maternal grandmother, surnamed Sudduth, who died in Saline in 1962. The opening poem, “The Vision,” describes the grandmother’s memories of her southern past in vivid, sensory terms, describing the plants and birds of the region as well as the grandmother’s grace and courtesy. The grandmother’s optimism about what awaits her in the afterlife is conveyed charmingly and unpretentiously. The closing poem, “The Family Tree,” describes a pecan tree in the grandmother’s backyard. The combination of the tree’s abundance and mortality, its fertility and its vulnerability to nature’s ravages, become symbols for the grandmother, whose bodily mortality is offset by the continuity of the poet’s memories of her.

“The Vision” is followed by “The Patriarch,” a poem dedicated to the memory of the poet’s grandfather. A white, male southerner, he was haunted by the legacy of the Civil War. “His” war, however, was World War I, and Middleton makes the...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Middleton, David. Review of Christina Rossetti: The Complete Poems. Anglican Theological Review, January, 2003. In reviewing the great nineteenth century Christian poet Christina Rossetti, Middleton offers his own thoughts on how to achieve spiritual intensity in poetry, as well as on the role the individual sensibility can play in religious poetry.

Middleton, David. Review of Hours/Moon and Sun/A Hymn of Simon Peter, by Kenneth A. Lohf. Anglican Theological Review, Fall, 1999. Middleton’s review of his fellow Christian poet gives an overview of Middleton’s own aesthetic preferences.

Sampson, Dennis. “The Authentic Voice.” The Hudson Review 45 (Winter, 1993): 668-676. The reviewer is uncomfortable with Middleton’s formalism but praises the vivid portraiture of the people depicted in the poetry.

Stanford, Donald E. “Wintersian Formalism.” Southern Review 104 (Winter, 1996): 164-167. Although mentioning The Burning Fields only briefly, Stanford provides an informative general discussion of Middleton’s poetry, his relation to the formalist aesthetic of Yvor Winters, and his debts to previous Christian poetries.

Tota, Frank P. Review of The Burning Fields. The Hollins Critic 30, no. 1 (February, 1993): 19. Short but perceptive review concentrating on its southern and religious themes.