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Bill Spratley
Desert Plains
The desert. Dry, barren, and dangerous. Disorienting, extreme, and raw. For many, a metaphor of life. For others, a metaphor of following Christ. Dashed hopes. Fear. Impending doom. So many threats in those plains. But a surprise in those plains as well. Planes. So many planes. Planes of the human heart that are exposed to the elements. Planes of awareness. Perception. And with it, new perspectives. Perspectives that reveal the hope, purpose, and beauty within the desert. Desert Plains–in poems and photos–image and verse.
Spratley’s lyric debut opens with an invitation into a symbolic desert, a “barren” and “dangerous” place that operates throughout the collection as a plane of spiritual existence in which “constant sorrow” is a companion and hope has all but vanished. That might sound bleak, but none of these poems is without a silver lining, and over the course of Desert Plains, a book whose heart is in the poet’s faith in Jesus Christ, that brightness expands and becomes more clear because the “darkness brought the contrast.” By accepting the invitation to the desert, the narrator embarks on a journey through suffering that is often existential, exploring the “age-old question of who I am” and receiving no clear answer in response.

Yet there is purpose to this yearning, suffering, and questioning, just as Jesus had purpose in the Gospels to seek a desert of solitude, too, and face trials there. “All the pain and sorrow” Spratley writes in “Perspectives,” “served as a tool” to look inward and find a spiritual awakening and a new purpose in life: creativity, generosity, and love. The narrator’s outlook shifts from a state of longing for answers and connection toward a state of curiosity in which there’s “much to discover but even more to create” and a willingness to help others who are walking through the desert, seeking the other side.

Paired with each of these somber yet hopeful verses are often oversaturated landscape photos and contrived works of surrealist digital art from the public domain whose inclusion appears largely extraneous, though at times they offer a striking visual complement to Spratley’s poems. But it’s in the poet’s own words and ruminations—and in the aching spiritual journey the narrator takes through them—that is where Desert Plains shines. Readers seeking accessible but not simple poems that delve deeply into the complexities of Christian spirituality will find Spratley’s debut validating and inspired.

Takeaway: Poems of faith exploring suffering, raw landscapes, and spiritual awakening.

Comparable Titles: Daniel C. Colesworthy, Greta Zwaan

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: B
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-