2 out of 4 stars
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For me, poetry is the artistic execution of feeling and nuance that communicates visceral experience in an economy of words. When done well, poetry communicates visually, verbally, and emotionally. I chose to read Paul Juby’s collection Revival For All From the Shoulder based on its genre and the hint in the blurb that it would present something unexpected.
Mr. Juby writes his poetry collection for evangelical Christians. It is abundantly clear from his choice of subjects and his use of community-specific language that his intended readership is Christians who regularly attend church. Like many communities, Christian churches develop a certain jargon that makes community members highly recognizable. For example, visitors to a church are likely to hear the word “witness” used as a synonym for “evangelize”, and a visitor is far more likely to hear a person called “blessed” than “lucky”or even “fortunate”. Similar trends in terminology make it clear - even before considering the subjects addressed - that Mr. Juby’s poems are written by a Christian for a Christian.
The common theme explored by these poems is that attending church does not a Christian make. In order to truly be a Christ-follower, one must strive to serve God daily, pray constantly, and minister to the needy. Mr. Juby writes about the need for fire and passion among church congregations. His mission, as stated in the afterword, is to challenge churches and Christians in a constructive way so that they will be inspired to become better representatives for Jesus Christ.
Regrettably, I found the execution of the poems lacking in what I would normally consider artistry. The author did not use many poetic devices to craft his verse. On occasion, there would be a nod to metaphor or simile as the author labels static Christians “pew potatoes” or calls Christians to work diligently and collaboratively like ants do. He overused exclamation points in an apparent effort to create excitement and emphasis, but the impact of this punctuation choice was severely reduced due to the frequency of its use. The author also chose to write “Hallelujah!” at the end of each poem as a closing line. While this might have been clever a few times, it quickly grew tiring and, in a similar fashion as closing every prayer with “amen”, it lost its original meaning. As I read through more than 150 poems, after a while I started yearning for something different and deeper.
Although the lack of traditionally “poetic” characteristics was less appealing to me, it informed the impact of the poems as a whole. The poems were very direct and clear in their message. There was really no need for introduction or afterword from the author because there was no mistaking the intention behind the poems. They could be nothing other than a challenge to Christians.
One last flaw in this book was the editing. There were numerous spelling and typing errors throughout the collection (i.e., “yourselk”, “minisries”, “Hallelu7jah!”). The formatting was also strange. Most of the pages were printed such that the poem would begin near the bottom of the page and conclude on the following page, whereupon the next would begin at the bottom. Since the poems were each able to fit on a single page, it seemed odd that they were placed in this fashion. These errors convinced me that the collection had not been professionally edited. I also wondered about the title. I couldn’t find a clear origin for the phrase “From the Shoulder”, and I didn’t understand why it was part of the title.
As I considered the rating for this book, I challenged myself to rise beyond my own opinions about what makes a good poem. Although I prefer a “beautiful” poem, I can’t discount the effectiveness of a direct poem. In this collection, the poems may not be subtle or artistic, but they communicate effectively nonetheless. I would only recommend Revival For All From the Shoulder to church-attending Christians, but within that readership there are surely many who will find value in this collection. My rating is 2 out of 4 stars, with particular attention paid to the flaws in the editing. If anyone is considering reading through this collection, I would advise reading just a few poems at a time, since this would help work around some of the repetitious qualities like the exclamation points and the closing “Hallelujah!”.
Revival For All From The Shoulder
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