From rage and despair to reverence and joy, the Psalter encompasses the spectrum of human emotions and spiritual expression. In Uproar: Antiphonies to Psalms, his seventh book of poetry, Brooks Haxton bridges the gap between the exalted language of scripture and the experience of life in the twenty-first century by offering sixty-five poetic responses to excerpts of Psalms taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
The relationship between Haxton’s poems and the accompanying epigrams from the Psalms varies from poem to poem. In some works the tone is humorous and ironic. “Kingliness,” for example, responds to “Who is this king of glory” (Psalm 24) with a sly musing on current scholarship’s “rehabilitation” of Richard III’s twisted character. Other poems like “Justice,” inspired by “I am shut up, and I cannot come forth . . . Wilt thou show wonders to the dead?” (Psalm 88), mirror the loneliness and melancholy which mark many of the Hebrew originals. Still other poems connect the ancient words to the joys and frustrations inherent in the daily routine of modern life. “The Passion of Colic,” sparked by “Out of the mouth of babes” (Psalm 8), portrays the helplessness parents feel in the face of their infant daughter’s gastric distress, while “Aught One: Leonids, Predawn,” also based on Psalm 88, captures the simple pleasure of watching a meteor shower light up the night sky.
Haxton notes in his introduction that “it would be a lie to say that I believe in God, and it would be another lie to say that I do not.” While some of Haxton’s poems teeter on the edge of faith, many others reflect his uncertainty about whether the divine is present in today’s world. Yet despite his ambivalence, more than a glimmer of transcendence illuminates this rich and varied collection.