Franciscan University Press has just published University of Southern Mississippi English professor Dr. Philip C. Kolin's sixth collection of poems entitled In the Custody of Words. The cover art comes from 15th century painter Botticelli 's "The Madonna of the Boo," showing Mary holding the baby Jesus on her lap and as she reads sacred Scripture, his hand is resting on hers.
The painting is most appropriate for Kolin's poems. The 21 poems that comprise the collection explore the various symbolic meanings of "word"--e.g., the "word made flesh," "the Word was God," and the "Word came in the fullness of time, " as Jill Baumgaertner, the poetry editor for Christian Century pointed out in her comment on the works.
Kolin's poems focus on Biblical themes and characters as well as modern figures who have been influenced by the Word. There are poems on St. Joseph, Pilate's wife Procula, the Samaritans, Ananias who tried to cheat St. Peter and St. Paul.
But there are also poems on early modern theologian Thomas a Kempis who was buried alive and "who scratched words . . . on the lid of [his] splintering coffin/still trying to turn [himself] into a prayer," and on Francisco Marto who was at Fatima and "saw an angel's wings brighten/with the glow of goldenrod." Kolin also includes poems about Emmett Till, Padre Pio, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Kolin's collection contains a variety of poetic forms--prose poems, lyrics, obsequies, antiphons, three-line stanzas, among others.
One of Kolin's poems "Fish," exploring the theological significance of ichthus gloriosus with their "sleek skin speckled with roses/ their mouths breathing the mystery of air," is dedicated to Southern Miss biology professor Sandra Leal.
Three of the poems include running metaphors from the Bible to show the power of the Word -- "Creation," pecata mundi" (sins of the world), and "kingdom come." In "Creation," Kolin describes how God "peoples the darkness with stars/Eyes in all that vastness," and how "the seasons speak through him"; "pecata mundi" catalogues the major sins ranging from the fall ("bitter apples and serpent tricks") to the murder of Abel ("firstlings with slit throats") to idolatry, to lust (which Kolin symbolizes through "Rehab's rambling smiles" to blasphemy to greed where "men with thin souls . . . sell their bones for firewood and their eyes/for rich men's buttons."
In the poem "kingdom come," which concludes the collection, Kolin stresses the need for "charity, the greatest of the gifts," as a "theology in three syllables." The Word creates words that become powerful metaphors in Kolin's poetry.
The collection has received praise from various scholars and poets, including from Jack Bedell, the editor of Louisiana Literature, who said Kolin's poems "nourish my soul" and "shed light on the spirit of life." Joseph Pearce, editor of the St. Austin Review, commented on the "peaceful beauty" of Kolin's words and praised them for their "piercing brilliance."
Kolin is a University Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Letters and the editor of the Southern Quarterly.