Through lyric and narrative sequences of great variety, Robert Peters becomes Ann Lee, the Mother Founder of the Shakers. He imaginatively relives her extraordinary life, from her childhood to her arrival with the first Shakers in American two hundred years ago. Visionary, full of craft and song, The Gift to Be Simple is a poem made of poems that stand on their own. Taken as a whole, they make a reading experience of unforgettable vividness.
Simple is what this cycle of songs and poems is: short visionary lyrics in tribute to the Female Christ of the Shaker community, Ann Lee, who was traumatized by witnessing an orgy at an early age and further disturbed by the loss of four children in infancy. She subsequently became the founder of a sect of celibates, was persecuted, imprisoned in a madhouse and stoned to death. Curious subject that she is, Peters accepts her, her beliefs, her piety, at face value and renders her psychology in chanting, childlike sugarplums (after the Shakers' own songs) with a level of poetic sophistication comparable to London Bridge is Falling Down. Mystic visions aren't created through mimicry (Yeats, for one, was the genuine article) and Peters' attempt remains an interesting exercise with an intangible point of view on a character who seems, in the last analysis, perhaps not quite as elementary as all that. (Kirkus Reviews)