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SEED WHEEL
APRICOTS OF DONBAS
Masquerade
ECCENTRIC DAYS OF HOPE AND SORROW
Lucifer, A Hagiography  
|
  Philip Memmer

ISBN 978-0-9800289-4-2     $16.95  /  $21 (Canada)     5.5 x 8.5       

88 pp      
PUB DATE: Spring 2009       Poetry





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Winner of the Idaho Prize for Poetry 2008

selected by M.L. Smoker

Lucifer is on a non-linear trajectory, revolving its readers through the profane and the pious swinging door of heaven and earth. Memmer’s collection, with a few pitches and an unexpected saint we can all root for, has the power to provoke, enlighten and unsettle. The paradox remains the same—so much is at stake in these poems, and so little—but Memmer has managed to give us an original and remarkable passageway.

—M.L. Smoker, Final Judge for the 2008 Idaho Prize for Poetry

 

With unflagging inventiveness and mordant wit, Philip Memmer’s Lucifer: A Hagiography explores the not-inconsiderable span of time between just before Creation and the End of Days, as experienced by God the Father’s other son. The cosmos that Memmer creates is both singularly strange and strangely familiar, and the character of Lucifer, a kind of existential hero for all time, instructs and delights us equally.

—Charles Martin

About the Author

Philip Memmer

Philip Memmer is the author of two previous books of poems, Threat of Pleasure and Sweetheart, Baby, Darling, as well as three chapbooks of poetry. His work has appeared in such journals as Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Tar River Poetry and Epoch, and in several anthologies, including 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day. He is Associate Editor for Tiger Bark Press, and the founder and director of the Downtown Writer’s Center, the Syracuse affiliate of the YMCA National Writer’s Voice. He lives in the rural village of Deansboro, New York, with his wife and two children.

Awards

Winner of the 2008 Idaho Prize for Poetry selected by M.L. Smoker

Finalist for the 2009 Ben Franklin Book Awards for Poetry

 

Reviews

Kelly Davio, Reviews Editor
Lucifer, A Hagiography by Philip Memmer
Lost Horse Press
ISBN: 978-0-9800289-4-2

M.L. Rosenthal claims in The Modern Poetic Sequence that the impulse to tell a lyrical narrative in a collection of poetry has “. . . evolved out of a serious need for an encompassing poetry, one completely involved with what our lives mean subjectively . . . the pressure, right or wrong, is to reconceive reality in humanly reassuring ways.” There is, perhaps, no better way to understand Philip Memmer’s poetry collection Lucifer, A Hagiography, winner of the 2008 Idaho Prize for Poetry, which tells the biography of that other, less-talked-about son of God. This collection from the distinguished Lost Horse Press is an imaginative, accessible and ultimately tender rethinking of a character who looms large in the religious consciousness, but about whom little can be definitively said.

In a period when many poets seem return to the extended poem or the novel-in-verse in crafting collections, it is worth noting that the telling of a sustained narrative requires a nuanced approach. The need to keep the storyline intelligible and compelling while maintaining the craftsmanship and integrity of individual pieces might scuttle the work of lesser poets.

But Memmer writes with dedication to a comprehensible storyline, telling a linear account of Lucifer’s life that includes not only wonderfully imaginative material, but grounds itself in Lucifer’s more well-known appearances in biblical lore. At the same time, Memmer maintains an unarguably consistent level of musicality; he writes primarily in refreshingly regular stanzas without distracting or experimental qualities; this is a collection in which the content is experimental enough. He even returns to rhyme in some poems, and to subtle, biblically-inspired cadence in others, as in “The Pigs”:

There they found the pigs upon the water,
not drowned or drowning or even in distress,
but swimming gaily, snapping after fish.
And seeing this, the men were full of wonder.
And seeing them, the swine were full of mirth . . .

The readability produced through the accessible structure and music of this collection is a counterpoint to its theologically feral, often challenging material. In Lucifer, “the Word” with God in the beginning of time is not Jesus, as dogma would have it, but instead God’s weary consort and Lucifer’s mother who, exhausted with the overbearing nature of the creator, abandons heaven:

He says my voice is still, small,
complains that I am quiet.
My throat is raw from screaming.
Enough. I cannot stay here

any longer, lips bleeding
for nothing. Let Him listen
to the angels, let Him make
his idiotic world . . .

In another inventive reversal, Lucifer himself willingly leaves his place in heaven, throwing himself to earth after a refusal to go through with the deity’s plan to sacrifice Lucifer for the failures of the human race. Jesus Christ, surprisingly, has only a brief cameo appearance in narrative, adumbrated as a replacement son: a hapless instrument in his Father’s machinations. In “The Temptation of Lucifer,” meeting his brother after 40 days in the desert,

Jesus mumbled. Why stay here
among devils and men? Father

would understand. But neither
set his foot upon the stair

that appeared before them,
although is shone. Soon enough,

Thought Jesus. Never again,
thought he who had no home.

Memmer’s reimagining of theological “givens” ascribes very human, understandable motivations to the supposedly ineffable, smearing the line between the divine and the fallen, the blessed and the damned. And Memmer goes a step further—challenging the line between Lucifer and ourselves. In the later poems in the collection, Lucifer’s life begins to bear a strong resemblance to contemporary American life. Lucifer appears to take up residence the suburbs where he can watch the neighbors take out the trash, contemplate the trees planted in strip-mall parking lots, teach an adult-education poetry workshop, and watch his wife grow old. Yet here is no facile condemnation of suburban life, that old, easy target. Rather, Memmer ascribes a quiet meaning to this existence; in the end, it seems that life satanic correlates not with evil but with our lives, and with quiet, commonplace sorrows.

Like Lucifer, Memmer seems to say, we have all been thrown to earth, living as God’s cast-off children, but living indeed. In what Rosenthal might call the impulse to reassure, Memmer makes Lucifer one of us; he has no need for a grandiose vision of evil or of fiery hell when there is enough sadness inherent in our daily-lived human condition. Yet it is at the heart of Memmer's achievement that he causes us to find the humane and the tender in our lives, just as his Lucifer does, and call them Good.



 
LUCIFER'S FIRST STEPS

There is not much to measure by
so each is a success,
and after a while, he rarely skins
his knees on the nothingness.

And God is pleased, though honestly
He cannot understand
just why the angels gather round
His son to lend a hand

when obviously, the boy is fine—
he’s running now, so well
the angels’ wings cannot keep up.
Then God sees it—Hell.

The smoke above, the fire below . . .
He forgot He put it there.
At every turn, young Lucifer
approaches its top stair.

God thinks of putting out the blaze.
The odor is offensive.
But someday, He will make mankind,
and they will need incentive.

The angels quit. Their breath is gone.
They huddle round the fire
where Lucifer has gone to sleep.
Even God is tired . . .

He stares down at His only son
then smiles and strokes his brow.
The angels ask what they should do.
Let it burn, He says, for now.