Joe DeRoche's poems are tough and tender minded--and tough and tender hearted. Artfully arranged from early to late, they begin by exploring contraries in conflict: ornamentation and spareness, say, or the starkly observed and the richly imagined. But their sharpest focus throughout is on the spiritual and secular frameworks used to assess the competing claims of body, mind, and soul, and of faith and doubt in divinity, love, and poetry itself. The collection's title says a sense of ritual unites the poems. It does, as their ceremonies lead from struggles between conflicting goods toward acceptance that the world and our experience of it is always sacred and profane: a place where Satan may be a saint and the light in an image of the infant Jesus Christ can seem as earthbound as celestial, where love can redeem and debase, where poetry can transform, disinfect, and merely feint or fail or cheat. DeRoche variously registers that acceptance in warm approval, bemused or startled recognition, or eerily calm alarm. Meanwhile, whether rhymed and metrical or
free, his gay devotional verse repeatedly achieves the mysterious interaction between prosodic shape and developing content Robert Hass says is meant by poetic form.
-Guy Rotella, professor Emeritus, Northeastern University, author of Castings: Monuments and Monumentality in Poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, James Merrill, Derek Walcott, and Seamus Heaney