Poet Robert Lowes says that when it comes to faith, he’s as theologically incorrect as everyone else. That sly attitude informs his debut collection, An Honest Hunger, published earlier this year by Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
The topics and occasions of the poems in this collection are far-ranging: haircuts, astronomy (“Ex-god, the sun is just a giant/appliance in the sky”), gardening, museums (“I recognize the pains of chiaroscuro:/to ration light”), advertising, organized religion (the author confesses to being a “pissed cold pale one”), and medical dictionaries (“I’m awed by the bounty, how life goes wrong/a thousand ways”). The book’s title alludes to the underlying theme—a desire for intellectual and emotional honesty in the pursuit of God, who pursues humankind in turn.
Accordingly, skepticism abounds in An Honest Hunger. In a poem titled “The Blank that Follows I AM,” the speaker blasphemes “a new false God each morning,” such as the “idol…waving a rifle/and shouting about a homeland.” The poem affirms a less-than-know-it-all faith:
“How I worship the blank that follows
I AM: with empty-handed silence,
a lifetime of waiting for a knock
at the door, the face I’d recognize.”
Snark doesn’t rule out reverence. In “Yahweh Complex,” what begins as a theologically incorrect jest about God’s “monomaniacal desire/to hear his own name” evolves into praise for a deity who has “all the nerve/to swallow up our names/in a marriage of unequals:”
“God of Abraham, Isaac,
Becky, and Bob,
everyone in his Book of Names,
with none so extinguished
that it can’t burn like a bush
in the name of his outrageous,
The book’s reviewers have noted its comedic streak. An Honest Hunger is “full of faith and doubt, anger and suffering, but…still laugh-out loud funny,” writes poet and novelist Jesse Lee Kercheval, a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. St. Louis poet Marjorie Stelmach, the author of “Falter,” writes that the book “opens to us a world that is humorous and deeply serious, filled with signs and wonders, mischief and memories, unanswered questions and unexpected redemption—our world, the whole sweet ‘slapstick ballet.’ ”
Lowes, who lives in St. Louis, is a writer who specialized in healthcare journalism for some three decades, most notably for Medical Economics magazine and Medscape Medical News. Widely published in literary journals, he is a former president of the St. Louis Poetry Center and the coordinator of its annual high school poetry contest.