Poetry Review — Reading the Bible Backwards

Reading the Bible Backwards by Robert Priest and read by the author is a collection of poetry with a unique perspective on how we see things. Priest is a literary poet in the tradition of Neruda and Mayakovsky, a composer of lush love poems, a singer-songwriter, a widely quoted aphorist, a children’s poet, and novelist, Robert Priest is a mainstay of the literary/spoken word/music circuit both in Canada and abroad.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. Between Priest’s lyrical style and a voice that pulls every twist out of the words, there is a fantastic synergy that is far greater than the sum of the parts. The initial subject matter may turn some readers off. Writing the New Testament in reverse or the story of Lot in reverse may seem something more in line with Anton LaVey; Priest manages to use the material to teach or instruct or provide a moral. It is something to see Lot’s wife form from a pillar of salt and watch cities rise from destruction. On the other hand, he writes on the missing punctuation in the Bible, in particular, the question mark — Thou shall not kill? Thou shall not steal?

Priest likes to change the perceptions we have been led to believe by changing one word for a very similar word — sole for soul, angel and angle. In another poem, replacing the word children for bomb creates an entirely different response. In other poems, called meme splices, the reader will follow a familiar pattern of events until a twist is inserted. His control of language is stunning. The rhythm, rhymes, and alliteration are used sparingly but to great effect.

Having the poet read his own work offers the added advantage of the writer using his own voice inflections to highlight what he thought was most important or his meaning that is slightly hidden in words alone. One line that jumped out at me was:

Unleash the Dogs of Poetry
On the murderers of language.

“Bucket List”

It is an excellent set of lines, and even more so as the author’s voice seemed to emulate the late Jim Morrison.

This collection knocks at defiance’s door. Even the book cover that shows the vinyl album with the book’s title is reminiscent of the backward masking. If you play an album backward, you will hear a Satanic message; what happens when you play the Bible backward. Can anything good come from it? Also interesting is that part of the book was paid for by the Canadian equivalent of the National Endowment of the Arts. My thoughts were of the Maplethrope and the uproar over using tax dollars for “offensive art” or even a censorship test like Ginsberg and other authors. Those thoughts of this vanished when Priest turned to love poems and ended with the song “The Bomb in Reverse.” Priest is not trying to create controversy but instead deliver a message and encourage the reader to think. Reading the Bible Backwards has to be one of the most enjoyable poetry collections I have read in quite some time. There is just enough rebellion to keep it on edge and a writing style that captures the reader. Outstanding.

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