The God Who Loves You Critical Overview
by Carl Dennis

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Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

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Dennis’s Practical Gods received almost overwhelming praise when it was first published. In her 2001 review of the work for Booklist, Donna Seaman calls it “lucid, canny, and warmly funny.” Seaman remarks on what she sees as the overall theme of the collection: “What Dennis wants to know is, Why aren’t the gods more responsive, more helpful, more accountable?” She appreciates the “plainspoken and resonant” quality of the poems, which she says “hopscotch from the divine to the ordinary as they challenge pagan gods and the biblical God.”

In his 2002 review of the collection for The Antioch Review, John Taylor also gives Dennis high marks, noting that “the appropriate medium for the exposition of thought is usually prose.” Taylor says that “some poets boldly circumvent this rule” and remarks that “Dennis is one of the rare and most masterly practitioners of ‘thinking poetry’ in the United States.” He also gives a brief mention to “The God Who Loves You” in particular, saying that “Sundry ‘guardian angels’ and ‘gods who love you’ become tangible in awesome or amusing ways, whence the ironic title that recalls a how-to-do-it manual.”

Even reviews that criticize the poem do so in a light way, and there are more positives than negatives. For example, while the 2001 Publishers Weekly review notes that Dennis can be “saccharine or predictable,” the reviewer also notes that “At his best, though, Dennis can be far stranger, and funnier, than that.” This review also discusses Dennis’s style, which the reviewer says consists of “long, elaborate free-verse sentences” that “amble down odd paths of thoughts, past forested landscapes, furniture, paintings and solitary men, to end up with NPR-like reflections on human life.” Finally, the reviewer draws parallels between Practical Gods and the work of other modern poets: “It should please devotees of Stephen Dunn, or even of Raymond Carver, whose regretful musings suffuse the volume-closing “The God Who Loves You.”