At first glance, the Christian merchandise populating Jesus Merch: A Catalog of Poems (such as “Christian pumpkins,” “emoji angel necklaces,” or “personalized cross lollipops”) may seem solely humorous. In addition to delighting in this humor, Jesus Merch also sees its items as more than trivial or frivolous.
Its poems seek to uncover the potential meanings of objects spanning several centuries, at times highlighting their troubling theologies and other times finding surprising depth or possibility.
Christian games and toys, Sunday School supplies, and religious home decor serve as springboards for meditations on a variety of topics, including both large-scale theological concepts and more intimate personal experiences. Plush angels sold in bulk open up questions about the seemingly selective nature of God’s miracles, while a religious wedding cake topper provokes reflection on the role God plays, or doesn’t play, in romance. Temporary tattoos of women from the Bible evoke memories of the poet’s feminist theological awakening, and a fleece prayer blanket, memories of months of heartbreak. Jesus Merch holds together these items, and more, through the lens of “a faith / that is not scared of games or / the concept of playfulness.”
Poignancy, humor, and an eccentric array of Christian merch are all to be found in this lovely collection by Megan McDermott. Every poem will make you think, many will make you laugh, and some will settle in your soul. McDermott’s poetic eye is finely attuned to the mysterious life of the spirit, even within the oddest of religious signifiers. This poetry reveals the grace behind commercialism and illuminates the paradox of our human hearts, with all “the ways they must love / and break and love again.”
Sarah Law, author of Thérèse: Poems (Paraclete Press) and editor-in-chief of Amethyst Review
Who’d have thought that profundity could be woven out of kitschy catalogs? Megan McDermott is the high priestess of camp, able to hold earnest baubles aloft, then transubstantiate material goods into spiritual gifts. She nails some killer endings in these poems, which are as entertaining as they are thought-provoking. My heart hurt a little at the end.
Tina Kelley, author of Rise Wildly and Abloom & Awry (CavanKerry Press)
With tenderness and humor, Megan McDermott holds Christian capitalism up to the light in Jesus Merch, considering the effects of trademarking “Glory” in a game, the uses and marketing of items from a “JESUS WRECKS SINS” inflatable wrecking ball to Christian Plush Pumpkins to Fantastic Faith Tattoos. The poet asks thoughtful questions of the merchandise, as though in conversation with the physical objects-for example, in “Color Your Own Paul Speaks Boldly Megaphone-$7.29” she asks: “But how do you construct a craft / about sitting still or making space?” From vintage board games to a blow-up Jonah’s whale, the attention of this collection is richly curious, playful, and deep-hearted. What a joy to sit with these poems and the poet who muses of a Let’s Be Christian Soldiers coloring book, “Joan, the saint / I would date if I had / to date a saint.”
Han VanderHart, author of What Pecan Light (Bull City Press) and editor of Moist Poetry Journal
is a poet and Episcopal priest living in Western Massachusetts. She is the author of two chapbooks, Prayer Book for Contemporary Dating (Ethel Zine and Micro-Press, 2021) and Woman as Communion (Game Over Books, 2022). Megan has had poems published in The Christian Century, Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry, Rogue Agent Journal, Rust + Moth, The Night Heron Barks, and more. This is her first full-length collection. You can connect with her at meganmcdermottpoet.com or on Twitter @megmcdermott92.