This book is exactly what it claims to be: 108 short (very short) poems intended to get the reader to consider the sacred, the divine, and our relationship to the divine. In the forward, Jack Kornfield explains the concept of the prayer beads of the Mala.
Similarly, the editor’s introduction explains why 108 works were chosen. One puzzlement to me was their claim that the poems were ordered to loosely correspond to the chakras. It must be a very loose correlation, because I really didn’t see that progression. Someone with more experience and expertise in chakra work may find that sequence more easily than I, however.
In putting together the compilation, the editors were also conscious of including a variety of poets and eras in the book. They successfully brought in different philosophies and faiths (from Catholic saints to Inuit mystics), so each poem has a unique style - complementing the others, but each still singular. Several poets (in particular, Rumi) appear multiple times, but never back to back.
Short biographies of the poets, as well as documentation for copyright and translations are also provided at the end of the book. I found that very helpful in putting the poems into a better context, especially those that didn’t immediately resonate with me.
Which brings me to the poems themselves. I found most of them appealing, and several of them quite inspirational. In fact, I have a number of them bookmarked so I can return to them and spend more time contemplating and meditating on them. Some may even inspire you to other things - writing music, reaching out to others - who knows? If I had any negative criticism, it would be that these poems are, for the most part, exceptionally short. Some felt more like they belong on an “Inspiration a Day” calendar rather than in a poetry collection.
This could easily be a book for you to pick up and put down often. Keep it near your favorite chair and open it at random to see what touches you that day. It spans time and faith. In spanning different faiths, bear in mind that you will sometimes come across a reference to the divine with which you don’t necessarily agree. Each poet writes according to their faith and experiences, so St. Francis or Hildegard of Bingen will reference the Christian God, while Mahadeviyakka speaks of the White Jasmine Lord. These are only occasional references, however. Most of the poems don’t bother to name the divinity of which they speak. But if you are put off by these specific kinds of references to the divine, you may want to skip this book.
Initially, I thought the book was a little overpriced for what you get. Then I noticed that the book jacket states that “proceeds from Mala of the Heart benefit the good work of nonprofit organizations around the world,” and provides the web address for more information (www.goodworks108.com). That made me a little less critical of the price.
Until I went to the site, and realized the “proceeds” have nothing to do with utilizing monies from the retail sale of the book. I encourage you to visit the site, click on “Charity,” and decide for yourself the value of the “proceeds” from Mala of the Heart.
While this is a nice book, I might consider waiting to see if they distribute this book in paperback at a more reasonable price before purchasing it.
~review by KatSai
Editors: Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt
New World LIbrary, 2010
pp. 130, $17.00