- Publisher: Humanist Press
- Available in: Paperback, E-book
This original multimedia ebook contains 25 of the author’s creative photo montages and photos, as well as links to his dramatic reading of a number of poems, including the 121-line title poem, “Questions About God.”
(Washington, DC – Sep. 23, 2013) – An original multimedia collection of lauded humanist poetry is the latest offering from Humanist Press, the expanding publishing arm of the American Humanist Association. Questions About God from humanist poet Stephen Perry, being released today, is being called “. . . an excitingly different read” by the New York Journal of Books, as well as “challenging and thought-provoking,” by Midwest Book Review, concluding that “Questions About God delves into fundamental mysteries with a unique and insightful flair.”
Stephen Perry’s boundary-shattering poems feature many diverse voices. Complex, unpredictable narrators like Perry are rare in poetry, but even rarer is his range of subject matter, drawing on philosophy, science, history, etymology, archeology, psychology, poetry, sexuality, music, etc., in fact anything of human interest. Award-winning poet Frank X. Gaspar tells readers to “be prepared for a maelstrom ride through art, religion, philosophy, sexuality—in fact all things human, where categories break down and images meld into new relationships with one another.”
Perry’s Questions About God combines world mythologies of an astonishing range—from Greek to Judeo-Christian, from Hindu to Buddhist, even flirting with American Indian Blackfoot lore—coalescing all into a synthesis of science and myth in a grand celebration of the natural world. The perspective is wholly humanist, of interest to skeptics and agnostics and atheists and all those who distain the absurdities, crudities, and cruelties of a simplistic fundamentalist mindset.
PRAISE FOR QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD
In Questions About God, Stephen Perry manifests a poetry of collision and surfeit, an inclusive portrait (including his photographs) of a poet’s mind working furiously in our raw and ambivalent post-post-modern dawns and gloamings. Be prepared for a maelstrom ride through art, religion, philosophy, sexuality—in fact all things human, where categories break down and images meld into new relationships with one another. One thinks of Rabelais wrestling with Descartes somewhere backstage, behind the curtain—or of Borges’ library, where the only true portrait of the world can be the world itself in its entirety. In the marvelous prose poem “Monologue,” Perry’s narrator says, “…I have finally done it, explained myself to myself.” Perhaps he means the poet, but in doing so, both visually and verbally, he brings the reader along on a profound journey into the inner worlds that reside deeply within the inner worlds.
—Frank X. Gaspar, author of five collections of poetry and two novels. The Holyoke won the Morse Poetry Prize, Mass for the Grace of a Happy Death won the Anhinga Prize for Poetry, A Field Guide to the Heavens won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry, and his novel, Leaving Pico, won the Barnes & Noble Discovery Award. His poetry has been twice anthologized in Best American Poetry. He has also won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and three Pushcart Prizes.
PRAISE FOR STEPHEN PERRY’S POETRY
Stephen Perry—amateur physicist, botanist, lepidopterist—has a scientific fix on the details of the earth, and he expresses what he apprehends with a quirky passion and a lively sense of linguistic play.
—Billy Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003, New York State Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006, author of 13 poetry collections and several anthologies. The journal Poetry selected him as “Poet of the Year” in 1994, and in 2005, he was the first annual recipient of its Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry.
Stephen Perry has a novelist’s racing momentum and the lyric poet’s sad, sweet music. [His] poems keen, croon, careen. His imagination is always sympathetic, always surprising. If Hieronymus Bosch had painted Los Angeles—didn’t he?—this is what it would look like.
—J. D. McClatchy, author of seven collections of poems and several works of criticism, long-time editor of the Yale Review, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1996 until 2003, and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Hazmat. He has written texts for musical settings, including ten opera libretti. His most recent book is Seven Mozart Librettos: A Verse Translation.
The motions [in his poems], extreme as they must be in the extremity of their occasions, never blur. The imagery is wild by nature, not by force. And the sound! The sound is the music of our common Terror becoming, somehow but certainly, Joy. Perry is a man who has come through. His poems are brilliant evidence and a perfect map.
—Donald Revell, author of eleven books of poetry, a translator of Guillaume Apollinaire and of Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell. He has won the Lenore Marshall Award, is a two-time winner of the PEN Center USA Award in poetry, and he has received the Gertrude Stein Award, two Shestack Prizes, two Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Ingram Merrill and Guggenheim Foundations.
This is not a book for the passive reader, but an absolute treasure for those anxious to come to terms with some of the personal and emerging issues of existence in what we know to be a rapidly changing world. Mr. Perry is a poet of consummate skill who is effective in employing imagery, metaphor, repetitions, musicality and the like.
. . . an excitingly different read.
—Laverne Frith, New York Journal of Books
Fascinating, provocative, intelligent collection of poetry that pulls no punches in its investigation of man, God, and all thoughts in between.
—Thomas Fortenberry, American author, editor, reviewer, and publisher. Owner of Mind Fire Press and the international literary arts journal Mindfire, he has judged many literary contests, including The Robert Penn Warren Prize for Fiction.
Questions About God is an inquisitive, far-reaching poetry collection, ranging in format from free-verse to stream-of-consciousness monologue to rhyming stanzas and more. Some poems are tales by unreliable narrators; others strike out into topics ranging from history and theology to sexuality, music, science, and the workings of the human mind. Challenging and thought-provoking, Questions About God delves into fundamental mysteries with a unique and insightful flair.
—Midwest Book Review
Stephen Perry . . . doesn’t take hostages. He goes for the gut, eviscerates the truth, and holds it up to the light, like an Aztec Priest in prayer. We can only shiver and moan as it shoots, spins, and careens among the grapevines.
—Rood Andersson, LibraryThing
Stephen Perry’s poetry in Questions About God is full of images. Even his narratives get lost in his images, but his images are so often beautiful or scary or full of strength that I stop worrying about context or content or form and just follow along with the tour Perry has set out for me to follow. It is a tour of a very engaging mind at work.
Even the cover photo of this slim book of poetry is thought-provoking with a curious lady museum goer examining a bronze statue of what appears to be Poseidon. Perry pursues the eternal questions about god(s) by asking what, why, where, when and how, the universal theological questions. He does it in a playful, melodious way that engages the careful reader in all the greater philosophical questions.
—the delightful Ms. P., LibraryThing
In his notes at the end of the book, Perry writes “Everyone should chat with their subconscious now and again.” This one line spoke to me as much as any of the poems themselves did, and I will be going back through the collection again and again.
—Bryan Spellman, LibraryThing
Mostly kaleidoscopic, pell-mell verse, poetic grapeshot that is more hit than miss. Never dull or detached, Questions About God is nonetheless at its best when it pauses for breath, as in the haunting “Philomel,” or when the madcap exuberance is kept yoked as in the brilliant title poem. There’s a rich dark humor in the (lack of) self-awareness of Perry’s cast of crackpots and a gossamer deftness in some of the portraiture . . . there are enough truly kick-ass pieces here to recommend Questions About God to anyone with a bent for writing that grabs you by the gonads and rasps its hot breath right into your ear.
Stephen Perry’s poetry challenges your intellect with thoughtful, allusion-packed, well-constructed poems. The voice of each poem changes—at times you hear the poet or maybe it’s God or a harpsichord player. Perry takes you into their thoughts and actions, giving them a witty, comical voice or a questioning, interrogatory voice. The poems read well—silently or aloud—and have a powerful rhythm. I’ll dip back into his poems from time to time—understanding grows with rereading—and Perry’s poems warrant the effort.
—David Farris, LibraryThing
Despite their dense appearance, the poems were surprisingly good—accessible, relatable, and often funny. My favorite by far is “Blueberry Cordial.” It reads more like a short short story, is deliciously tongue-in-cheek, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in The Stroud or some other literary mystery magazine sometime in the near future.
As with most books of poetry, I didn’t read all the poems in chronological order. I have to be in the right mood and more importantly, the right space to read a poem . . . What I have read, with the exception of “Napi,” I’ve enjoyed very much. Many times I’ve started to read a poem expecting not to like it (“Descartes’ Baby’s Asshole”), been slowly drawn in and finished the poem thinking “this is pretty good!”
The title poem, “Questions About God,” reminded me of Pablo Naruda’s Book of Questions and no doubt, was inspired by it. Reading it, I found myself nodding my head, thinking that I’d wanted to ask similar questions. Questions About God, all in all, is a well-done collection of thoughtful, sometimes provocative, and definitely memorable poetry that was worth diving into.
—Betsy Whitmarsh, LibraryThing
Questions About God by Stephen Perry hits you like a knife, not a sharp knife but rather a rusty old blade. It’s painful to the point that you won’t forget . . . He moves with a rhythm that’s unexpected but somehow works. He goes deep into the soul to pull out thought-provoking ideas which are most often not very pretty. If you are looking for Billy Collins than Perry is not the poet for you. If you are looking for something shockingly fresh that will hit you fast and hard then give this work a read. After you’re done, read it again because this work demands it.
Stephen Perry is a risk-taker, poetically speaking. In fact, by the time I was on the fifth or sixth poem in Questions About God, I was pretty sure he was a danger freak, addicted to climbing aesthetic or poetic cliffs without a rope. My quick take (if you’re looking for a thumbs-up thumbs-down approach) . . . Perry’s parting gift, an extraordinary three-page stream-of-consciousness catalog titled “These Things Are Important” held me rapt for its nearly 150 lines of loose 5-beat, 6-beat, 7-beat syncopation packed with:
demijohns, alcohol, preschool, brain cells like bees’ chambers,
chamber music, bass clefs, fish gills, clarinets, Debussy
under my fingers,
Believe me, the list includes everything. In his “Notes” at the end of the book, Perry says that he wrote it “in almost one long breath on a day I was severely depressed and posed the question to myself: ‘What’s there to live for?’” As personal as the list is, the underlying celebration is universal (and anyway, a whole bunch of them certainly make my list and will probably make yours). We should all be graced to find as much to plumb on our darkest days.
So much for the “short take.” For those who are interested in more details about some of the high points, here we go. Perry’s risky behavior jumps right out in the first lines of the first poem, and it’s the risk of toying with a trap that catches artists and writers regularly. The book’s title poem, “Questions About God,” opens:
Does God have a penis and did Mary see it, tiny
seraphim swimming upstream to spawn,
Uh oh. Pop music, contemporary visual art, and writing are all littered with ostensible shock value mistaken for inspiration. Call God a schlub and you get a reaction. So we’re just two lines into the book, I’m concerned, and then:
and was it
the flesh of fish and what kind of fish,
clownfish, swordfish, blowfish, or lionfish,
and we’re off and running. This is no amateur we’re reading. Perry’s best poems regularly throw beautifully musical lines and images intertwined in front of you, supported by what sometimes seems an open channel to archetype and symbol and literature and history – and momentum. Even a “long” poem like this (3 pages) requires a certain recklessness for momentum, and Perry has all the recklessness required to take the brakes off. The engine may skip here and there, the rhythm might stumble on occasion, but the momentum carries you through to the end.
As free wheeling as Perry’s energy of language and images and ideas are, he is often disciplined and precise as well, and with wonderful results. His sestina, “Rye and Dry,” was a revelation when I read it – there’s a long list of sestinas by famous poets on undergraduate reading lists, but few are this successful. It’s about a poet (again, a risk – there’s as many bad poems about poets as there are bad sestinas) – and even riskier, about Robert Lowell the poet, and the archetype he represents of a certain poet-character in, say, a novel or movie. Among the many successes of this poem: you don’t need to know anything about Robert Lowell to love it – what held me was the language mixed with the character mixed with the images, again, intertwined and inseparable. In other words, it’s a damn good poem and tells a good story, too. Better, it’s referential in the way the best poems are: making references not to impress us, but to point us along the same path the poet followed to get there – the reference as an invitation. On the night I read this, the reference to Lowell’s “The Drunken Fisherman” led me first to Lowell’s take on Rimbaud’s “The Drunken Boat” from Imitations, the only book of Lowell’s floating around in my library. It was obviously not the poem Perry referred to, but I read it anyway, followed by a side trip to Lowell’s translation/take on Pasternak’s ‘For Anna Akhmatova,’ since I’d just read my first Akhmatova a few days before. Then I finally tracked down the correct poem and understood how it could stay with somebody long enough to, well, cause a sestina – not something that happens often. So, reference, some random chance, some convergence with recent unrelated reading – this is the journey I was sent on after reading “Rye and Dry.” Stephen, thanks for the trip!
Other highlights for me: “Blueberry Cordial,” another example of Perry pointing a poem down a steep hill and removing the brakes (and in this case, the breaks as well – it moves from 4- and 5-beat lines to long breathless runaway phrases as he draws the poem’s story to a close). “Don Giovanni,” where Perry manages to make well-crafted 2-beat lines and three, two, and one-line stanzas tell a story as expansive as his runaway train pieces. “Philomel,” the shortest poem in the book and a lovely eight-line lyric. “Tenements of Rose and Ice,” one of the more mannered, measured poems in the collection, and one I’ll revisit. And of course, the final poem, “These Things are Important,” which is what I opened this review with, and so will finish here. Yes, a lot of words for a LibraryThing review, but it felt like an appropriate response to a book filled with so much hard work, so much of it successful.
—Scott Drost, LibraryThing