New Poetry Speaking for a Rooted Renewal

The Slumbering Host | Ed. by Daniel Rattelle and Clinton Collister | Little Gidding Press

The editors of The Slumbering Host are not attempting to start a movement.

Released by Little Gidding Press in late 2019, the book is a collaborative project between established and rising formal poets of faith–an ambitious and exciting endeavor in a publishing landscape often devoid of either formal poetics or vibrant faith. Nevertheless, the editors dismiss the notion of a self-aggrandizing “revival” of Christian humane letters, and they shudder at the prospect of a pretentious and exclusive “literary Benedict Option.” “No,” insists co-editor and contributing poet Daniel Ratelle, “our task is, as it has always been, to make beautiful things.” Stripped of grandiose aspirations, Rattelle and co-editor/poet Clinton Collister offer instead a quietly profound collection of diverse poetry by new and seasoned Christian poets reflecting on subjects both human and divine. 

The cover of the slim volume is adorned with simple flowers and interlacing curves in muted colors, a fitting introduction to the understated grace–in all senses of the word–contained within its pages. With only thirty-three poems, the anthology is small, giving it an intimate solemnity as if we have been invited into an ongoing conversation about life’s permanent things between poets mutually chasing transcendence. Readers will find sonnets and odes, iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, Biblical allusions and T.S. Eliot references–a delight for those of us longing to encounter old and beloved goodness through the eyes of new creators.  

The Slumbering Host does not shy away from darkness. The poems reflect on universal dilemmas like grief, doubt, temptation, ennui, loneliness, and loss. Like all poetry worth its salt, the collection raises more questions than it answers, allowing the paradoxes and quandaries of human existence to stand exposed. Threads of faith anchor the poems to a redemptive–albeit often submerged–bulwark, while at the same time unflinchingly addressing suffering and (dare we say it?) sin. The result is no light-hearted jaunt, but a pithy volume of quietly powerful poetry that invites readers to attend to the mysteries of being human. 

Within the pages of this anthology, seasoned poets like James Matthew Wilson and David Middleton continue their trajectory of brilliance with poems like Wilson’s “The Weakness of Men,” in which he muses, “There is a reason that the natural law / says none may serve as judge in his own cause. / All men are made of glass.” Sally Thomas (whose delightful new collection, Motherland, is available now for pre-order) contributes three of her signature hermit sonnets which meditate on ordinary life lived in solitary attention to the liturgies of the natural and spiritual worlds. “Above the trees, a hawk’s thin cry / unspools, a silver thread of hunger.” Marly Youman’s layered contemplation of the violence of gardening in “Hydrangeas” stirs us with lines like, “Do this to resurrect: / Rinse and gash. Repeat.” Like all original poetry collections, The Slumbering Host contains both stronger and weaker offerings, but even the frailer poems are woven into the larger tapestry of meaningful reckoning at the heart of the editors’ selections. 

For readers who have pored over their underlined and dog-eared volumes of Auden and Eliot with sighs of longing for order and profundity amidst a clamorous generation of iconoclastic spoken word and free verse poetry, it turns out that you are not alone. Thoughtful poets and publishers are paying attention. The Slumbering Host is a slim but meaningful ray of hope from an independent publishing house which may not be starting a movement, but may indeed be speaking for one. 

Heidi White is managing editor of the FORMA, host of the FORMA Podcast, and a regular contributor to the Close Reads Podcast Network. She lives and teaches in Colorado Springs, CO.

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