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Psalms for the Secular

Psalms for the Secular
A collaboration between Stewart Levitt, Poet and Geoff Todd, Artist (and works by Rodney Overby II and Odelia Carmon)
Saray Publishing (2005).
RRP $34.95

Psalms for the Secular is a beautifully crafted book. It is a pleasure to hold this small book and let the pages fall open at random for reading a poem and looking at a related image.

It is a book of poems, mostly by Stewart Levitt, accompanied by images reproduced from drawings and paintings by Geoff Todd. A few of the poems are by Rodney Overby II (Rodney “O”) and Levitt’s wife, Odelia Carmon. The foreword is by Tim Costello.

The title “Psalms for the Secular” refers not to the poems as prayers, which they are not, but to the way that they evoke a very wide range of human experience and raise many questions of justice, as do the biblical Psalms. Levitt is Jewish, and these poems, well crafted in sparse, evocative language, frequently reflect this heritage, together with a broad interest in world issues and the experience of much traveled thinker. (Professionally, Levitt is a Sydney lawyer.)

The images are also evocative of many settings and human stories. They are originally crafted in a range of different media, and are often also given a simple treatment, which sensitively corresponds to the poems.

The two images selected for the cover are suitably representative of the collection. “Wayang Kulit” is a drawing of the figure of an Indonesian shadow puppet, it uses broad areas of primary colour, yellow and blue with an oval of brilliant red, and employs lines of various thickness which wander across the image. In the text it is coupled with a poem, written after a visit to Spain by Levitt, reflecting upon the art of Miro which he viewed in a gallery there. The poet particularly notes Miro’s use of line.

“Mandela” is an ink and acrylic work on canvas, monochromatic in treatment. It is a portrait of Nelson Mandela, just over a metre square in the original. It is reproduced with the poem “Change of Heart/Cape of Hope”, which addresses the nation of South Africa, reflecting upon how that nation developed apartheid and then called upon Mandela, released from prison, to forge the changing nation.

The poems and images in this book are not conventionally “religious” but they plumb the depths of human experience and are at times cries from the heart for those who are denied freedom, understanding and human rights.