This Crazy Devotion

  • Review
By – July 14, 2021

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. 

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