Philip Terman’s latest poetry collection, This Crazy Devotion, is an impressive project, connecting the intensity of the natural world to its elaborate, spiritual purpose. The collection is made up of four sections, three of which are compilations of different poems, and the last of which is a standalone piece, “Garden Chronicle.” Throughout the book, Terman forages — often literally — for meaning in devotion.
“Dreams of Poverty and Miracles,” the first section, mainly concerns a poet’s duty to transform their life into art. In the standout piece, “Dawish and Amichai Share Poems in Heaven,” Terman explores how writing provides a refuge for the incarcerated and defiant poets in nations seized by warfare. Through gentle and reverential language, Terman reveals the way good poetry becomes “the beauty/that will outlast your sorrow.”.
After “Of Longing and Chutzpah,” a lovely and heartbreaking ten-piece eulogy to Terman’s mother, comes “The Devotees,” which pays tribute to the relentless love of a parent (and the love that is returned by their children), the devotion of artists (and the hero-worship of their admirers), and even the loyalty given to our deceased loved ones (and the ritualistic laws we follow even at the ends of our lives). Through subjects that range from a mushroom collector, to a devoted gay convert, to a collection of frenzied tourists spying Kobe Bryant in their midst in Florence, This Crazy Devotion studies how we love in a way that may seem like madness — that is, if it didn’t imbue our lives with greater meaning.
Like a careful gardener, Termanroots around underneath the simplicity of the natural world, in all of its quietly roosted beauty, to wonder at the revelation that is the constant act of creation. It’s an idea that is as Jewish as it is ancient: life, he wants to remind us, is miraculous. As grateful for ritual as the “Tormented Mesugnahs” he writes about, Terman is obsessed with the way the artist and the farmer turn life into art. He refers to poetry as the same calling that inspires a cowherd to “dervish across hayfields.” He sees the sacred as something found not only in the Torah, but also with the “mourning doves gathered in their crazy congregation around the holy ark of the feeder.” This is a collection to be read outside, to be read to a spouse, to be whispered to a lilac sunset. It is a call to service. As he writes in “Garden Chronicle”:
“The garden says: change.
It continues: become spectacular.
Obey the wind’s command,
then turn into something else.”
The whole collection is connected by this idea. Marriage, religion, hospitality, tradition, and the robin flying to her nest — these are all means of transformation. That’s what makes Terman’s devotion “crazy”: its elevation of the quotidian.
LE Cavataro is a writer and recent graduate based in New York. She is currently working on her own collection of poetry.