Jesus is big. He always has been. The subject of songs, musical plays, books, and movies. His catchy handle used in the name of bands and once tactlessly uttered as a basis for comparison by John Lennon, bragging about the Beatles' level of fame.
Six or seven years ago, after seeing a plethora of Jesus poems in literary anthologies and magazines, Hollywood, Florida-based poet Denise Duhamel began collecting them in a file. Most of the works, she says, are "sort of irreverent or put Jesus in a new context, making him a pop culture figure." Inspired by the mid-Nineties rash of poetry books about pop legends such as Barbie, James Dean, and Elvis, Duhamel and her fellow-poet husband Nick Carbo decided the Son of Man should have his own edgy, literary moment in the sun, so they compiled the anthology Sweet Jesus: Poems about the Ultimate Icon. "We wanted to look at Jesus as a cultural phenomenon, rather than as a devotional figure, how he was infused in our culture," Duhamel says.
The couple reached into the saved file and pulled out some works, then tapped several other writers for input. The 60-odd contributors range from MacArthur Fellow Campbell McGrath and critical darling John Dufresne to Pulitzer Prize winner Maxine Kumin. Noted novelist and New Ager Dan Wakefield provides the introduction. Poems arise from many perspectives -- Jewish, Native American, gay, you name it -- and explore His many facets in serious, humorous, and even reverent ways. Popular subject matter notwithstanding, the book was still a tough sell to publishers, who feared political incorrectness and, worse, religious-right repercussions. Languishing in Duhamel's closet for nearly seven years, the collection was finally published last month by Anthology Press. ("If you keep the faith, it will really happen!" Duhamel quips.) It debuts locally next weekend at the Miami Book Fair International.
Up next for the couple? Readings in New York and Los Angeles and a possible sequel, or second coming, if you will. "Anthologies can introduce readers to a poet they may never have heard of," Duhamel notes. "And in turn they'll go out and buy that poet's book." As is said, the Lord works in mysterious ways.