Heeding St. John Cassian's call, THE THIRD RENUNCIATION rejects classic depictions of divinity and religious dogma to see God more fully. Each poem begins with a proposition (e.g. "Say God is the music we strain to hear," "Say prayer is just a fire alarm," "Say faith can become like lackluster sex," "Say unarmed Black men herald His return"), or an explanation for a Biblical story (e.g. "maybe Jesus was having an off day," "Say Jonah was right and grace is wasted," "Say angels aren't always trustworthy."). Henry's poetry offers answers to the myriad whys at the center of faith and doubt, gives voice to the notion that both singing and screaming are authentic responses to suffering, and argues that "grace is a Twinkie or a cockroach—/something that never goes bad, can survive/anything the cold world throws.../ despite all our best efforts to quell it."
“In a tour de force of apophatic anaphora, Matthew Henry's new work offers profound—often comic, often severe, most often vertiginous—assistance in the hard work of compassion, the psalmist's and the prophet's indictment of the too often unapparent God, and the difficult descent to the heart, where we hope to find that very God who shaped us, the God who dwells within us. As Henry speculates, "Say Jonah was right and grace is wasted/on the unworthy...saving men who will/repent in sackcloth and ashes, only/to neck-drag Brown bodies behind pickups/between the sermon and Sunday supper," one cannot help but await the revelation.” —Scott Cairns, author of Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems
“Think the word ‘God,’ and the reality of divinity sidesteps our puny word choice. Say the word ‘God,’ and the sound of it sets off as many cartoons of divinity as there are ears to hear it. In his new collection, The Third Renunciation, poet/teacher/theologian MEH (Matthew E. Henry: MFA, PhD, MTh) invites us to join his deep, double-take dive into the words ‘God’ and ‘sonnet.’ Except for a handful of double sonnets, every other poem in the book has fourteen lines, virtually every line has ten syllables. But these are not your grandmother's favorite sonnets. While retaining standard punctuation, MEH plays fast and loose with capitalization, rhyme, and classical sonnet strategy (‘these inconsistent iambs’), as if to say ‘yeah, but’ to a tradition that all black and brown poets have received (or refused) from white poets whose forbears invented, popularized, and for which set strict rules which set strict rules back in 13th and 14th century Europe. This remarkable sonnet sequence constitutes a loyally oppositional update. So, say you were starving, and this book were your only bread. Say that my appreciation for these poems, which I will read again and again, were an obvious understatement. Say true divinity, whom MEH refuses to limit to his or my or your cartoon of Same (thus, the third renunciation), were to give legs to this wonderful body of work. May that it were so.” —Brad Davis, author of Trespassing on the Mount of Olives
“The Third Renunciation is spiritual poetry like you’ve never seen before. These poems are gritty, vulgar, and ceaselessly provocative, but they possess an unmatched earnestness, a genuine desire to know and understand God. With each ‘say’ and ‘maybe,’ Matthew E. Henry probes the darkest depths of both faith and doubt, hunting for the tiniest sliver of light. These poems are Jacob, bloodied and bruised, fighting for his life against the angel, and when the dust settles, it's the reader who walks away blessed.” —Matthew J. Andrews, author of I Close My Eyes and I Almost Remember
“Henry's poems articulate the thoughts we're afraid to chase and the prayers we dare not pray. Moreover, his language, imagery, and music are as riveting as the questions he asks. This book gripped me from the first page and will still not let me go.” —Whitney Rios-Ross, author of Birthmarks
Poetry. African & African American Studies.
Matthew E. Henry (MEH) is the author of the Colored page (Sundress Publications, 2022), and the chapbooks Teaching While Black (Main Street Rag, 2020) and Dust and Ashes (Californios Press, 2020). The editor-in-chief of The Weight Journal and an associate poetry editor at Pigdeonholes, MEH's recent poetry is appearing or forthcoming in Bending Genres, Frontier Poetry, Massachusetts Review, Ploughshares, Presence, Saint Katherine Review, Shenandoah, Solstice, Spiritus, and The Windhover. MEH is an educator who received his MFA from Seattle Pacific University, yet continued to spend Author City: QUINCY, MA USA