Harold Bloom and Jesse Zuba, editors, American Religious Poems, An Anthology (New York: The Library of America, 2006), 685pp.
Here under one cover is a poetry lover's gold mine—over 900 poems, by over 200 poets, about all things religious. Bloom and Zuba have defined religion very broadly both in terms of faith traditions and subject matter, the skeptical and the unconventional included, the result being poems and poets that reflect the diverse and plural religious perspectives in American history, including Native American, African American, Buddhist, Sufi, Deist, Jewish, Unitarian, Protestant, Catholic and dozens more. The poems are arranged chronologically, beginning with the 1640 Bay Psalm Book (the first book printed in the colonies) and ending with Brett Foster (b. 1973) of Wheaton College. After the 900-plus poems there are 14 American Indian Songs and Chants, then 14 Spirituals and Anonymous Hymns (eg, "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" and "Free at Last"). A reader's guide to religious terms, a name index of poets, and an index of poem titles and first lines complete the volume. I was disappointed in Bloom's "introduction," which was little more than a short, technical essay on Walt Whitman ("our prime shaman of American religion") and Emily Dickinson ("Whitman's only possible rival in American poetry"). A broader treatment would have served a general readership better. Nor is there any introduction to the poets or their poems, save their date of birth. Still, this is a literary treasure trove, and I was sorry I had to return it to the public library; between its two covers there is enough poetry for a lifetime of meditation and reflection.