If god were gentle by D. R. James


There is, in D. R. James’s elegiac collection, If god were gentle, a surfeit of intelligence and sentiment even as he engages the most ordinary stations of our living. The familiar—parenting, loving, dying—is re-visioned with distinct poetic beauty that is preserved in the “salt and ice” of disciplined craft and gentle irony.  James is a reliable and consistent observer of our times who, thankfully, brings to his verse the welcome vulnerability demanded of truth-seekers. —Kwame Dawes

Category: Tag:


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 122
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: Dec. 2017
  • ISBN: 978-1-939929-93-8


While titles like “Writing My Way Out of This Paper Bag” and “Right Before Whatever the Next Thing Is Kicks In” are irresistible, at the heart of If god were gentle is a determination to confront pain and regret with language, language that slices away excuses and self-defense. This is an act of bravery. —Susan Blackwell Ramsey

Where were these poems when I was growing up and being filled with enough fear to have us in hell at recess while believing every platitude about God’s good will? In language as bracing as an astringent—“as [the sun] dripped from its last slip of cloud/like a tear from a bloody lid”—D. R. James has created a collection in which he sucks it up and walks unarmed into his past, knowing when he does it becomes “now,” relentlessly battering him. Never considering turning away, or back, James’s narrator trudges through one circle of soul-destructive experience after another. If you want your poems to save you, that ain’t gonna happen here. If you want lemonade out of lemons, you’ll end up with the bitterest of bitters. If you want “It was worth it in the end” you’ll be left with a question. What you will discover here, however, is a strangely comforting form of optimism, assuring that you really can just keep going on. —Jack Ridl


Right Before Whatever the Next Thing Is Kicks In

This minute—
exactly three months past
the thirtieth anniversary of half
my life ago (which was when my
number one son hit his first
one-third year and I was driving

a yellow piece of tin-can shit
across which Iowa dust
would rush to coat
the virgin-vinyl console, its
vapid-plastic captain’s chairs)

—yes, this very minute, I feel like
when a combine, which I wouldn’t know
from a baling harrowing windrower,
pulls out up ahead a-piece,

slows you to a bug-in-late-autumn crawl
(only it’s July and hot as Dante,
the AC ancient and on hiatus)
for the quarter mile it takes
before nosing back across the ditch
and switching on its whirl
of slashing dervishes;
i.e., it’s like I’m

slo-mo-ing amidst simmering oceans
of dangerous corn, sloughing off
the duff of go-west romance
for the Prairies and Plains, a fondness
for Indian-war ‘heroics’ stored away
since fourth grade, thanks
to my favorite, Mrs. Martin,
before she died and left me
sad and still a nonreader.
And this

is what I remember? Not much
to reassert a life upon that
doesn’t mimic what I didn’t know
I didn’t want.
Or is it?


D R JamesD. R. James is the author of the poetry collection Since Everything Is All I’ve Got (March Street Press) and five chapbooks, including most recently Why War and Split-Level (both from Finishing Line Press). Poems and prose have appeared in various publications, such as Caring Magazine, Coe Review, Diner, Dunes Review, Friends of William Stafford Newsletter, Galway Review (Ireland), HEArt Online, Hotel Amerika, North Dakota Quarterly, Passager, Rattle, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Sycamore Review, and Writer’s Digest, and anthologies, including Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford (Woodley) and Poetry in Michigan / Michigan in Poetry (New Issues).  James lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan, with his wife, psychotherapist Suzy Doyle, and together they have six grown children, two daughters-in-law, four grandchildren, and two cats. He has been teaching writing, literature, and peace-making at Hope College for 33 years.

Additional information

Weight 10 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in