Stan Rice (1942 - 2002) was the author of seven previous collections of poetry. For many years he was a professor at San Francisco State University. He received the Edgar Allan Poe Award of the Academy of American Poets, among other awards. Rice, who was also a painter, was a longtime resident of New Orleans, where he lived with his wife, the novelist Anne Rice, and their son, the novelist Christopher Rice.
Rice's final, posthumous collection comprises a series of voice-driven anti-psalms, which pick up numerically where the Bible leaves off (at number 151) and take shots at old-fashioned, Old Testament ranting, while at the same time exploring a more contemporary edge of personal uncertainty, skepticism and fear of death. Rice takes aim at some familiar bogeymen, including TV evangelists and hypocritical religious leaders. "I was a chef on the Lord's battleship," one speaker declares. "It was foul, it was slavery. Radios/ Played only the organ./ Repeating things was the only proof they were true." And while his slings and arrows often hit the mark, his attempts to evoke the tricky, meaning-laden riddles of ancient writing (more characteristic, actually, of the proverbs than of the psalms) are generally unsatisfying. Sweeping statements about "The nothing that everything comes from/ And the everything that from it comes" and weak exhortations, such as "If you want to go deeper,/ Rise," fall short of the sting of the ancient writing that they engage. The poems are most interesting when the speakers' attempts at spiritual introspection catapult them into realms manic, chaotic, melancholic and surreal: "I/ Reach down into the black jelly/ Of my heart and hold out a handful./ It is part me, and partly the big teeth/ And mad eyes of a horse." Rice died in December of last year and did not get the chance to edit a final version of this book. It serves as a compelling jumping off point for thinking about religion and rhetoric, and as a fitting capstone to a long and eclectic career in poetry and art. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In his eighth collection (published posthumously), Rice employs psalms to explore religious and interpersonal themes. He begins with "Psalm 151" in deference to the Old Testament (which ended at psalm 150) and moves forward, closing each poem with the word Selah, which most biblical experts believe indicates a pause in a song. Despite his choice of traditional biblical titles, Rice uses language in new and unexpected ways, as this example from "Psalm 151" shows: "He lay as a bear pulled in pieces./ The arrows of his quiver have entered/ my gravel." Despite the odd interplay of language and themes, many of the poems seem like prayers. "Psalm 158" concludes, "God knows I am flawed,/ But a straightforward discourse/ Is central to the long view of the Lord." Many others reveal a great vulnerability, almost as if the author foresaw his last, terminal illness. In "Psalm 175," he speaks of lying in bed with his wife (novelist Ann Rice), "Our arms lie turned like wrestled creatures./ There is babble like in a birdhouse." Rice also layers a deep sadness: "My face will be etched in the cave of life./ Consecrated airwaves will carry the cry/ Of my errant life, yet they/ Threaten to turn me from a creature/ Into a thing." This memorable collection is recommended for all poetry collections.-Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.