10 May 2012

Five-Minute Runyan

I'm reviewing Tania Runyan's new book of poetry, A Thousand Vessels, for Curator magazine. Here is a taste of a few points: 

From the Greek epic to the haiku, the tragic drama to the sonnet, poetry has spanned the history of literary scope as well as of social and linguistic change. In general, Americans are not writing epic poetry. Our poetry is tiny, isolated, incidental, and possibly insignificant.

Tania Runyan's A Thousand Vessels is in between the two ends of the scale of size. The book as a whole sweeps across thousands of years of Biblical history, from “Genesis” to “The Empty Tomb.” This volume gives voices to women from the Biblical narrative—Eve, Sarah, Dinah, Ruth, Esther, Mary, the woman at the well, Martha, Jairus' daughter, and Mary Magdalene. And we are also numbered in the Thousand Vessels.

Runyan is at her best with the intimate details of mothering, and the overwhelming effect of her book is to take away the differences between ourselves and Ruth, Boaz, Jairus, Mary Magdalene. The sad side of these stories haunts her verse. The "thousand vessels" are women: the fragile vials for holding tear drops, cups for wrath, vases for grief, all the way down to today when Runyan and I add our crystal agony to the shelf.

There are surprising turns in these poems, nice endings, and memorable individual lines. Her greatest strength is bringing ancient women to life through an impassive narrative voice, giving stories and characters a different color than they ever had before. And there is a large scope packed into these tiny poetic vessels.

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