Previously Feared Darkness by Robert Priest is his latest collection of poetry. Priest, also known as Dr. Poetry on CBC’s Wordbeat has a popular following and professionally recognized. His has work is has received air play and he has published a number of children’s CDs of songs and poems. Priest has also written ten books of poetry for adults. The Toronto Star accurately calls Priest’s work “Passionate, cocky alternately adoring and insulting verse.”
Priest is an interesting poet to say the least. He is hard to pin down. “All the Information in the Sun” starts with the promise of science. The title reminded me of one the latest quantum theories that information cannot be lost in the universe…much like matter and energy. I thought this will be interesting. But no sooner than I turned on my scientific mind, I come to Waistland, a play on T.S. Eliot and a irreverent poem on obesity. From there to Aztechs, a poem on modern wars and warfare tying it back to Quetzalcoatl’s blood lust. Priest rotates his poems through a mix of themes keeping the reader interested and slightly off guard not knowing what to expect next. The science is refreshing, good, and even humorous:
Einstein and Heidelberg both said
“There’s no simultaneity
over vast distances”
at exactly the same time.
Perhaps as a tribute to Martin Amis we are taken on a journey through John Lennon’s life… in reverse. “Rights Left” reads a military cadence call and with clever plays on words brings us to a modern day concern for our individual rights. Equally alarming is Priest’s interpretation of Book of Job(s) carried into the modern times. And yes, many will take offense and the more cynical of us will nod with understanding. Perhaps, if the “Book of Jobs” did not offend enough, maybe learning the true meaning of Churchill’s “V” for victory sign will do it. If your modesty still hasn’t driven you away, you should safely be able to navigate your way through the memes unscathed, maybe.
Priest manages to combine science and social issues with what some will call the profane. I see it as combination of brilliant and a punk rock attitude. Sometimes his message is clear and other times its hidden in the brashness of words. It’s easy to why he is so popular. He doesn’t shock for the sake of shocking, like the Sex Pistols, but does it to deliver a message like Lou Reed’s “Last Great American Whale”. Sometimes people need to be pushed into thinking. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and I am going to actively look for his other collections. Previously Feared Darkness may not be for everyone, but I find it to be absolutely brilliant.