Review of Zen Amen

By Murphy McCoy

Zen Amen is a two-part collection of poetry by Michael Kriesel, who expertly intertwines complex, and at times obscure, spiritual imagery into his work. These poems share a common theme of religiosity, relying on all that the word encompasses Kriesel is able to make an expansive world seem both distant and familiar.

An astonishing collection of poetry on its own, Zen Amen deserves recognition beyond its message. Kriesel takes up the task of adhering to a strict poetic form known as abecedarian poetry. Abecedarian poetry is an ancient poetic form in which the poet begins each line with the first letter of the alphabet, each stanza that follows beginning with the next successive letter. Kriesel’s devotion to this complex form proves to be even more enlightening when one learns that historically this poetic form was used in religious poetry. Unsurprisingly Kriesel’s short collection is centered around a profound sense of spiritual awakening that provides a fresh look at the most mundane of human experiences, each poem implores its reader to consider the metaphysical aspect to humanity. The poem Book of Wonders perfectly encompasses this plea in the closing lines:

“Cut yourself on your own argument’s edge.
But in the end, take it on faith. It’s all
About awe — this world’s sheer weight of wonder.”

While many may feel constrained by the strict structure of the abecedarian poem, Kreisel’s words flourish through his chosen form. At times the imagery compels the reader to see the intensity in the smallest of moments. Through these moments the reader is brought to feel a sense of reality that is both distant and ethereal. While at times Kriesel breaks from the severity of the form, the imagery presented will keep the reader moving through this short collection.  The beauty in Kriesel’s poems lies in the precision of his words, this can be seen in his poem “Ascetic Vacation” with the lines:

“…From here you can see
Heaven’s blue void on a clear day, before
Gorgeous skiffling clouds pull in like the fleet.
Fine. The world is Heaven manifest, and
Emptiness alone can bear burden
Demanded by eternal consciousness.”

Zen Amen is a challenging read, with complex metaphors and complicated word use. Yet Kriesel is not writing his poems only for the sake of enjoyment, he is yearning for meaning in a complicated sometimes distant world. Those who choose to take up the task of reading this poetry collection will be glad they have done so. Readers will come across stanzas that force them to put their book down and take pause for a moment. Perhaps this is Kriesel’s intent, to show his readers the calm that exists in between moments. 

Murphy attends Carroll University as a senior where she double majors in psychology and English and writing. She plans on attending graduate school in hopes of becoming a licensed counselor. While not in pursuit of expanding her fund of knowledge, she can be found building her literary collection, practicing the culinary arts, and collecting dictionaries.


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