Review: Help Me Be: Praying in Poems by Dale C. Frederickson

This review is long overdue. My apologies to the folks at Speak Easy and to Dale Frederickson for taking so long to post one.

I tend to have an on again/off again relationship with poetry. A friend of mine often picks up poetry collections for me for Christmas, and I do read them (I’ve reviewed some of them here), but it’s not something I go out of my way to study or spend a lot of time pouring over.

Perhaps that’s why I took so long to read Help Me Be. There was a move from Enola to Middletown in there, not to mention getting sick and finding out I have Lyme disease, but even with all of that, surely I would have had time to really give this a good going-over. Contractual obligations to the Speak Easy require that.

The problem is that you can’t do that with poetry, at least I don’t think so. There’s no once-through, followed by revisiting parts that stood out to you. In my mind, poetry you read one piece at a time and let it sink in. If you’re not getting much from one piece, that’s cool; go on to the next one. That’s how I tend to read poetry collections. Some I get a lot out of; some go right back on the shelf.

Help Me Be, however, seems to serve a much different function, though. Inspired by the Psalms, Frederickson writes poetry for our being as Christians, writing praise to God, as well as woes. It’s like he’s doing all he can to be outright honest with God through rhyme and stanza, and I love that. Christian art still has the horrible hang-up of being far from genuine about the Christian walk, on a level where I start to wonder if the artist has ever actually left the church building and experienced reality. I don’t get that impression from Frederickson, who has no problem expressing doubt and despair to God (and neither did his inspiration, King David).

I’m not one to comment on the style of a poet because I know very little about that sort of thing. What I want to comment on is the purpose I think this book can serve, that being something like a Book of Common Prayer. Poetry is best when read out loud, and I could think of no better place to utilize Help Me Be than in a gathering of Christians, helping them learn to express themselves to God and to others, some faith communities desperately need. This book can not only help with that, but also help teach the community about group worship as they read and sing together.

Overall, great collection, Mr. Frederickson!

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