Book Review: Divine Blue Light

Don't show this collection if you like to spread interest in poetry.

If someone had handed me the poetry book Divine Blue Light for John Coltrane by Will Alexander, I would have never read a book of poetry in my life. This book, by a person touted as a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is a bowl of cosmic slop trying to pass itself off as some intellectual manifesto with deep meaning. For me, it is a book of nonsensical poems that barely ever are strung together, even the most rudimentary thought. It is as if he took books by Brian Greene, Carlo Rovelli, and Ray Kurzweil, cut up all of the individual words in their books, threw them up in the air, and wherever those words landed, he declared them as poems, regardless of if those poems made any literal sense or not.

For poets and educators the world over, if you ever want to inspire someone to love or write poetry, please do not give them this book. I was gravely upset whenever I tried to read one of these poems. I was looking for just a little meaning or understanding, but when I would read each poem, I was sucked even further into the black hole where meaningless words floated in darkness on their own with no meaningful relationship to each other.

I do not expect the literal meanings to jump at me when I read poetry. It is not essential I totally understand a poet’s intentions or the literal meaning of their poems. I can enjoy and understand poetry by superimposing my own life experiences in the words of great poets. Sometimes I came away with meanings that would be totally foreign to the intentions of the writer of the poem. Just as we sometimes take the meaning of popular songs and add meanings that the songwriter never even thought about, we sometimes treat poetry the same way; we use subjectivity to parse out a meaning that would make sense to us.

Of course, some great poems are literal, and it does not take much interpretation to understand the meaning of poems by Langstone Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, or Edgar Allen Poe. Still, it is also fun, meaningful, and satisfying to take a beautiful poem and attach meaning that enhances our understanding of life and illuminates the small things in reality that we overlook but are nevertheless profound in its influence on how we experience life; a drop of water, a baby’s smile, a kiss. This is why the poems of Rabindranath Tagore and Lao Tzu, for instance, are still relevant, universal, and popular. Their words speak to people everywhere. Wisdom is universal regardless of time and place. Though meanings are sometimes elusive, we must realize that when we take meaning from them, we are not making a literal translation but rather an interpretation.

I am not questioning the skill of Will Alexander. Before I purchased this book, I had never heard of him. And this is the only book I have read of his. But this book reminds me of the impressive but often nonsensical raving of a book written by an AI program. I imagine some types of words fed into a program that uses an algorithm to produce poems with cosmic themes. It is like a literary version of the AI program DALL-E, where deep learning artificial intelligence is used to generate digital images from descriptions or “prompts.” I am not accusing Will Alexander of being (or using) an algorithm to write poetry. Still, his poems are so dense, cryptic, personal (I assume), secretive, and so opaque reading them is anything but a pleasant experience.

If you decide to read this poetry collection, please bring a dictionary with you. I had to grab my dictionary several times to find the meaning of words, many of those unknown words are French in origin, and maybe the author has spent some time there.

Here is an example of one of his poems titled Re-Extolling Barbarism

While feasting from a table scattered with worms & millet

I am thinking of astigmatism


staggered by nullification & grafting by methods rife with a

sojourn of blizzards

so that a dark & carnivorous testing path occurs

scripting a journal of spells according to unsparing density

according to the sonics of transparency

according to microbe warrens left as inferior forms of evidence

perhaps sounds from bodiless Martian ravines

perhaps s deafening colloquy by quarrel

The poem has meaning to someone beyond the writer. However, as a regular reader not taking acid or eating mushrooms, I do not want to do the work required to extrapolate meaning from a bunch of words that seemed to be strung along with little relationship to one another. AI may not have written these poems because an AI poem would have been more understandable even in its infancy stage. It is common for painters, musicians, and writers to hide their lack of talent by using words such as avant-garde, surrealism, free-jazz, and abstraction to describe their work. Great artists can express their talent in time. I may need to wait a few more years for this type of poetry to grow on me.



Humanist, educator, writer, photographer, and modern-day Luddite. My writing is a living organism.

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Thomas Holt Russell

Humanist, educator, writer, photographer, and modern-day Luddite. My writing is a living organism.