Monday, April 24, 2017

Wendell Berry*

Wendell Berry was born in Kentucky in 1934. Other than for occasional stints — such as when a 1961 Guggenheim Fellowship took him to Italy and France, or when he taught at New York University — he has lived there all his life. He and his wife Tanya — whom he married 60 years ago — bought a farm in 1965 in Henry County, Kentucky where they continue to farm. He has written more than 40 books, including poetry, fiction and essays.

Many of his recent poems are an extension of his tradition of what he calls Sabbath poems. The flyleaf of Berry's 2005 collection Given says, "Over the past twenty-five years Mr. Berry has been at work on a long sequence of poems that has resulted from his Sunday morning walks of meditation and observation..." One of his newest poetry collections is A Small Porch, which is primarily made up of his Sabbath poems from 2014 and 2015.

He is one of the poets featured in my new anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry, which came out in November — (available here) and through Amazon.

Berry is known for his opposition to corporate agriculture, and as an outspoken advocate of Christian pacifism, environmental stewardship and of living an agrarian lifestyle. A year ago a documentary film, The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, appeared. The following is from The Country of Marriage (1973).

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Wendell Berry: first post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Robert Lowry

Robert Lowry (1826—1899) is particularly remembered as a hymn writer. He was appreciated for his preaching too, and would have preferred this to have been his lasting legacy, as he was the pastor of Baptist churches in New York City, Brooklyn, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He served as a professor of literature at the University of Lewisburg (now Bucknell University) and later as its chancellor.

He co-wrote hymns with both Annie Hawks, and Fanny J. Crosby, and was also a music editor for the Biglow & Main Publishing Company. In this role he brought to light hundreds of other gospel songs. One of the books he edited, Pure Gold, sold more than a million copies. Some of his best known hymns include: "Shall We Gather at the River?" and "What Shall Wash Away My Sin?" The popularity of gospel hymns drew many Christian poets of the nineteenth century into this genre.

The following hymn I always associate with Easter, particularly from singing it as a child on Easter Sunday mornings at my grandparents' church in London, Ontario.

Christ Arose

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, April 10, 2017

G.A. Studdert Kennedy

G.A. Studdert Kennedy (1883—1929) is an Anglican priest and poet who was born and raised in Leeds. He served as an army chaplain on the Western Front during WWI. He had a reputation for going out during battles, into no-man's-land under the fire of the enemy, to comfort wounded soldiers. In 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross.

After the war he was drawn towards pacifism and socialism. His books include Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918), and The Unutterable Beauty: the Collected Poetry by G.A. Studdert Kennedy (1927). His proposed burial at Westminster Abbey was refused due to his socialist beliefs.

Indifference

When Jesus came to Golgotha
They hanged Him on a tree,
They drave great nails through hands and feet,
And made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns;
Red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days,
And human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham,
They simply passed Him by;
They never hurt a hair of Him,
They only let Him die.
For men had grown more tender,
And they would not give Him pain;
They only just passed down the street,
And left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them,
For they know not what they do.”
And still it rained the winter rain
That drenched Him through and through.
The crowds went home and left the streets
Without a soul to see;
And Jesus crouched against a wall
And cried for Calvary.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak (1890—1960) is a Russian poet and novelist. He is famous in the rest of the world for his novel Doctor Zhivago for which he was awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize. It had been rejected for publication in the USSR, but had been smuggled out and published in Milan. The Communist Party pressured Pasternak to refuse the Nobel Prize, which his son later accepted on his behalf in 1989.

In Russia he is better known for his poetry and his translations of Shakespeare, where he is considered by some to be the best Russian poet of the 20th Century. He was born to Jewish Ukrainian parents who had converted to Orthodox Christianity before he was born. His father Leonid Pasternak, a post-impressionistic painter, was friends with Leo Tolstoy, and illustrated his novels War and Peace and Resurrection.

In Chapter 12 of Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak encourages all Jews to "Come to your senses," and to become Christians.

Bad Days

When Passion week started and Jesus
Came down to the city, that day
Hosannahs burst out at his entry
And palm leaves were strewn in his way.

But days grow more stern and more stormy.
No love can men's hardness unbend;
Their brows are contemptuously frowning,
And now comes the postscript, the end.

Grey, leaden and heavy, the heavens
Were pressing on treetops and roofs.
The Pharisees, fawning like foxes,
Were secretly searching for proofs.

The lords of the Temple let scoundrels
Pass judgement, and those who at first
Had fervently followed and hailed him,
Now all just as zealously cursed.

The crowd on the neighbouring sector
Was looking inside through the gate.
They jostled, intent on the outcome,
Bewildered and willing to wait.

And whispers and rumours were creeping,
Repeating the dominant theme.
The flight into Egypt, his childhood
Already seemed faint as a dream.

And Jesus remembered the desert,
The days in the wilderness spent,
The tempting with power by Satan,
That lofty, majestic descent.

He thought of the wedding at Cana,
The feast and the miracles; and
How once he had walked on the waters
Through mist to a boat, as on land;

The beggarly crowd in a hovel,
The cellar to which he was led;
How, started, the candle-flame guttered,
When Lazarus rose from the dead…

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Gerard Manley Hopkins*

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844—1889) was not a popular poet in his own lifetime, perhaps because his idiosyncratic style was not like that of his contemporaries. None of his now-famous poems were even published until well after his death. He was raised in a family that valued both faith and artistic expression. In 1867 when he became a Catholic priest, he burned all of the poetry he had written to date, saying he would not write unless it was by the wish of church authorities. It wasn't until 1875, with the encouragement of his superior, when the German ship "Deutschland" was wrecked in a storm, that he began writing again.

Hopkins' poems finally appeared in book form in 1918, but did not begin selling well until after the second edition appeared in 1930. He became a major influence on the development of poetry in the twentieth century, including upon such poets as T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and Dylan Thomas.

Spring

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring —
----When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
----Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
----The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
----The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
----A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
----Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
----Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Gerard Manley Hopkins: first post second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sweeney Astray

Buile Suibhne is an ancient Irish tale of a king, often referred to as Mad Sweeney, who is driven insane by the curse of St. Ronan. Suibhne's name appears as early as the ninth century, and the tale is believed to have taken on its current form by the twelfth. It represents the conflict between paganism and the rise of Christianity. Seamus Heaney entitled his English translation Sweeney Astray. Sweeney is also the central character in T.S. Eliot's incomplete verse drama Sweeney Agonistes.

In the legend, Suibhne, trying to prevent the building of a church in his territory, threw Ronan's Psalter into the lake, and tried to drag him away. At the Battle of Mag Rath (637 A.D.) Suibhne speared to death one of the saint's psalmists who was blessing the troops with holy water. Ronan cursed him, saying he would wander like a bird and die by a spear.

Heaney says in his introduction, "For example, insofar as Sweeney is also a figure of the artist, displaced, guilty, assuaging himself by his utterance, it is possible to read the work as an aspect of the quarrel between free creative imagination and the constraints of religious, political, and domestic obligation..."

At the end of Heaney's translation St. Moling speaks the following words:

from Sweeney Astray

I am standing beside Sweeney's grave
remembering him. Wherever he
loved and nested and removed to
will always be dear to me.

Because Sweeney loved Glen Bolcain,
I learned to love it, too. He'll miss
all the fresh streams tumbling down,
all the beds of watercress.

He would drink his sup of water from
the well beyond that we have called
The Madman's Well; and now his name
keeps brimming in its sandy cold.

I waited long but knew he'd come.
I welcomed, sped him as a guest.
With holy viaticum
I limed him for the Holy Ghost.

Because Mad Sweeney was a pilgrim
to the lip of every well
and every green-banked, cress-topped stream,
their water's his memorial.

Now, if it is the will of God,
rise, Sweeney, take this guiding hand
that has to lay you in the sod
and draw the dark blinds of the ground.

I ask a blessing, by Sweeney's grave.
His memory rises in my breast.
His soul roosts in the tree of love.
His body sinks in its clay nest.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Marjorie Stelmach

Marjorie Stelmach is the winner of Beloit Poetry Journal's 24th annual Chad Walsh Prize, for a poem of hers which was selected as the best published in the journal in 2016. Her fifth poetry collection Falter, has just appeared as part of the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books.

I am honoured to have contributed as the editor for this collection, and to have Marjorie Stelmach as one of the poets featured in my new anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry, and in my forthcoming second anthology Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

She was a high school English teacher for 30 years, and has served as visiting poet at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and as director of the Howard Nemerov Writing Scholars Program at Washington University.

The following poem is from Falter.

On Departure

------El Shaddai, Elohim, and Adonai . . .

A profligate bird I can’t yet name ripples at intervals
outside the window I’ve raised to the rain.

Soon the heater clicks itself on against April’s chill,
------a comforting drone and a warmth we’ll pay for

on departure, along with the firewood we’ll likely consume,
------the local phone, any damages done to the furnishings—

all such accounting deferred by Laura, who late last evening
------welcomed us to Santa Maria and now returns to explain

the rules: first, she asks us not to burn the furniture
------or the cats; second, to help ourselves to the garden.

And it seems that’s it. When we ask about last night’s
------late-night laughter, first night with all of us back together,

our voices rising toward a keening hilarity, her smile widens:
------“Make a joyful noise,” she says, “Rule Three,”

and flings out her arms with such abandon my own arms lift
------as if to follow, wanting more than I’d known for a joyful noise

to rise in me, unconsidered as the sheer of nesting swallows
------planing into the rain; nameless as that profligate bird,

its melody catching over and over in its own throat, an echo of
------the Passage Song we’d lifted through similar catches

beside my brother’s deathbed weeks ago, voicing all the names
------of God we knew, a litany gathered over ages: names

for the going, for what it is we go into; names we hoped
------might also serve for his welcoming song in ceremonies

we can’t attend, or envision, or begin to name. A joy
------in the syllables, even then, even in the rasp

of his laboring breaths, nested within our circled chants, even
------in the first hard silence after, a caesura that began our long

release into the world he’d left, an unaccountably joyful noise
------I’m only beginning to understand, but, at any price,

will gladly pay for on departure.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.