Gary B. Puckett,
On Living in the Township of Heaven
(Owl Mountain, 2002)

Gary Puckett is a jack-of-all-trades with a master of divinity. He is also a gifted poet. When I realized that the entire book consisted of poetry relating in the main to his former vocation as a parish Lutheran pastor, I have to confess to an initial flicker of trepidation. Stay with me a moment longer! My uncertainty as to the tone of poems I would encounter soon vanished. For the non-Christian, the atheist or agnostic, this poetry is about life as a learning process; it is ordinary day-to-day existence, seen with 20/20 vision and expressed with thought-provoking yet quiet panache!

Puckett, inspired by his university professor regarding the role of poetry in the formation and expression of theology, began to incorporate poems into his parish newsletters and even the occasional sermon. Don't go away! These are the inner thoughts and conflicts of a man who was "dead set against becoming a parish pastor," yet who took on this onerous task anyway. The complete opposite of the tedious sermonizing sporadically inflicted upon me in my youth, these poems show the all-too-human face of the mind of this reluctant "shepherd." They are wry, even humorous, recognising the weaknesses of the human condition, exploring family interaction, faith, hope and charity.

He often uses his children and his take on their reaction to life for the basis of a poem, a risk to which the family of any writer or preacher is inevitably exposed. There are several particularly charming poems featuring his daughter Maggie ("No," "Restraint," "Suffer The Children," "Good Fall") as she struggles for her childish freedom and his reactions to try to curb her and teach her for safety's sake. He should be recommended reading for prospective parents, too, as his insights into his children's behaviour seem startlingly acute. Of course, some things apply no matter what our age -- "Living life abundantly / does not mean learning how not to fall / It means learning to fall well / and oftenÉ" was sage advice I have personally taken to heart!

The reader is allowed to experience the nervousness of a naturally shy preacher ("Spring Fever"), whether to "Drop in and risk intruding / Or to / Call ahead and seem too formalÉ" when visiting his parishioners. Puckett deftly describes the difference between stewardship and fund-raising ("Stewardship"); the entire poem is a rather tongue-in-cheek delight: "Fund-raising never ruffles feathers on geese laying golden eggs / Stewardship knows that its goose is already cooked." There is also an emotive poem about his son's first day at school, which will probably strike a tearfully reminiscent chord for most parents.

Gary Puckett's book will probably be read predominantly by fellow preachers, but I can hope that it does reach a wider audience, whatever the individual reader's religious viewpoint. His knack of putting the mundane under the magnifying glass and finding something worthwhile to ponder and project is uncanny. He views life with a different perspective, and whatever you believe in, in this modern world, this bit stayed with me" "Éan ongoing tale / of which we are merely a strand / and if we can bear to face / how short and frazzled the fibers / of our lives are / we might also notice / that we are God's yarn being spun." I had been going to give the book as a gift; I have now passed on the details of how to buy it -- this one's mine!

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 13 September 2003

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