Monday, October 18, 2021

Brad Davis*

Brad Davis is the author of three poetry collections: Opening King David (2011), Still Working It Out (2014), and his new book Trespassing On the Mount of Olives (Poiema/Cascade, 2021). Similar to how his first book consisted of poems in conversation with the Psalms, his new book’s poems are in conversation with the gospels. He has taught creative writing at the College of the Holy Cross, Eastern Connecticut State University, The Stony Brook School, and Pomfret School, where he served as school chaplain.

Marjorie Maddox has said of this new collection, “…Through persona poems and first-person narratives, the contemporary and biblical intersect with insight and humor. . . . What follows are spiritual and social examinations: ‘How to clear out a self from a self,’ how to protect the environment, how to face doubt and mortality, and, ultimately, how to ‘do whatever he tells you,’ even if that means, according to Davis, writing poems. Thank God for the latter.”

I am honoured to be the editor of the Poiema Poetry Series, and to have worked with Brad Davis on both Still Working It Out, and Trespassing On the Mount of Olives.

The following poem first appeared in Ekstasis, and is from his new poetry book.

The Generative Influence of Q on John’s Gospel

Luke 5:1–11

The fragment is on the mark.
Whoever wrote it down got it right,
and I should know.
From a boat offshore,
my younger self watched it happen:
the crowd pressing upon the Teacher
as he taught on the beach;
he commandeering Peter’s boat
and telling him to put out into deep water;
we rolling our eyes
when he instructed Peter to let down his net,
yet then having to help him land
that crazy haul of fish;
and finally back on the beach, the Teacher
announcing, From now on, you will catch men.
Ever since it was entrusted to me,
I have treasured this fragment,
holding it as first among the other fragments
I keep rolled in a scrap of leather.
And there’s a new reason I hold it dear.
Early last Sabbath, the rains dampening
my eagerness for eldership here in Ephesus,
I unrolled the fragment
to refresh my sense of commissioning—
you will catch men—
when suddenly the words
turned themselves inside out
and I became dizzy, like that day
in the upper room with the Spirit-fire.
Suddenly the crowd on the beach
listening to Jesus teach the word of God
became a crowd on a beach
listening to God.
I felt myself melt, as if into a glorious light.
Then later in the day words occurred to me—
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was—

along with a compulsion
to write them down
and follow them with other words.
And it was as though I were once again
following Jesus up some rocky path
between small towns on the way to Jerusalem.
I’m telling this to all of you
because the idea these words convey
will be called blasphemous.
I may suffer for having written them.
But I know and trust their source,
and when I’m done they must
be sent around to all the Teacher’s friends.
Which makes me nervous
how even they will receive them,
for none of the others have spoken as plainly
of the Teacher in this way—
as the great I AM. So I have awakened you,
the moon still bright above the city,
because I want you to sit with me and pray
as I write what I will write.
You know how tired I become by early afternoon,
and how I have needed your help
shepherding our little flock here in Ephesus.
Well, now I will need you even more
to help complete the new work. Please,
someone bring me my pen, ink, and parchment.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Brad Davis: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Elizabeth Barrett Browning*

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806―1861) is one of the nineteenth century’s greatest poets. She was outspoken against many abuses of human rights ― including against slavery, and the reliance upon slave labour on her family’s Jamaican sugar plantations. She also boldly expressed her Christian faith, and spoke out against issues such as child labour, even though these were not popular with many readers.

Her 11,000-line epic poem Aurora Leigh (1856) ― which is described as a novel in blank verse ― tells the story of the young woman, Aurora, who aspires to be a poet. One important focus of the story is the difficulty for women to have artistic ambitions, due to the restrictive expectations of women’s roles, and limited opportunities for education. Browning saw it as the most mature of her works. The critic John Ruskin called Aurora Leigh the greatest long poem of the nineteenth century.

The opening setting for Aurora Leigh is Florence, where Elizabeth and her husband Robert Browning primarily lived from 1846 until her death.

From Aurora Leigh ― Book VII

And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing's small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

*This is the fourth Kingdom Poets post about Elizabeth Barrett Browning: first post, second post, third post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Jacopone da Todi

Jacopone da Todi (ca. 1230―1306) is an Italian poet and Franciscan friar. The existence of hundreds of manuscripts of his Laud, point to the popularity of these poems. They were written in his Umbrian dialect of Italian. Along with many beautiful poems of rich faith, there are some expressing more extreme views, including glorifying the notion of madness for the sake of Christ. It is commonly thought that Jacopone also wrote the celebrated Latin poem “Stabat Mater Dolorosa,” although this is still in question.

He wrote many satirical poems, critical of corruption within the Catholic Church. He believed in the necessity of ascetic poverty for priests, and was critical of Pope Boniface VIII, whom he did not consider to be the legitimate pope. He was excommunicated and jailed, although later released and reinstated during his seventies by Pope Benedict XI.

Irish poet Pádraig J. Daly has just sent me a copy of the very enjoyable book, The God-Madness (2008, Dedalus Press), his translations from the Italian of several of Jacopone da Todi’s particularly devotional laud. The following poem is from this book.

Laud 82: The Siege of Love

LOVE O LOVE DIVINE,
Why have you laid siege to me?
You have fallen for me madly and cannot let me go.

From five directions you besiege me:
Through sight and hearing, taste and touch and smell.
If I emerge, I am caught: I cannot hide from you.

If I go out through my eyes, all I see is Love,
Depicted in every form, in every colour,
Reminding me over that I must live still with you.

If I go through the gate of hearing,
What does sound tell me? Sir, only of you.
I cannot exit here, for all I hear is bitter.

I cannot go through taste, since what I savour proclaims you:
Love, Love Divine! Love, Hungering Love,
You have hooked me that you might rule me!

If I go through the gate of smell,
Every creature has scent of you.
return wounded, tangled in every odour.

If I go through the gate they call touch,
I trace you in every creature;
It is madness, Love, to try to escape you.

Love, I try to flee,
Not willing to yield my heart:
But I have lost, and cannot find, myself.

If I see evil in anyone, fault or weakness,
You transform me into them and make my heart heavy.
Love I immeasurable, who is it you choose for loving?

Take me, Dead Christ; haul me from sea to sand,
Where I may grieve to see you so full of wounds,
And why it is you have been wounded? Only that I be healed.

Posted with permission of the translator.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Kim Hyunseung

Kim Hyunseung (1913―1975) is a Korean poet ― also known by the pen name Da Hyoung ― who was both influential as a poet and mentor. He was born in Pyongyang, North Korea, but moved with his family to Gwanju in South Korea during early childhood. He made his literary debut in 1934 with a poem in the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper.

He founded the literary journal, New Literature in 1951, and taught creative writing at Chosun University in the 1950s. He was a faithful Christian all his life.

A 40th anniversary memorial service was held in 2015 at Soongsil University featuring readings of Kim’s work and a musical setting of several of his poems.

The following was translated by Cho Young-Shil.

Autumn Prayer

In Autumn
let me pray . . .
Fill me with the humble mother tongue
bestowed on me at the fall of the leaves in time

In Autumn
let me love . . .
Embrace one only—
Plow this fertile
hour for the most beautiful fruit—

In Autumn
let me be solitary . . .
My soul,
like a raven who’s come through the sinuous waters
and the valley of lilies
to alight on a sapless bough

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Karol Wojtyla

Karol Wojtyla (1920―2005) is better known as Pope John Paul II. He was born in Poland and became the first non-Italian pope in 500 years. At the time of his death he had served in this role for 26 years.

When he was 21, Wojtyla co-founded a theatre and worked as an actor, but he gave this up to become a priest. Even so, he continued to write extensively, including poetry and plays. He also became a full university professor in philosophy and theology. He was particularly drawn to the writings of John of the Cross. His own poetry has been described as “…philosophically visionary, mystical and metaphysical.”

In her book, Wind From Heaven: John Paul II ― The Poet Who Became Pope, Monika Jablonska says, “Chronologically, Karol Wojtyla was first a writer, then a Catholic priest, and finally the pope…” She considers his writings to have contributed significantly to his selection as pope.

When his poems (including these two) first appeared in Polish journals Wojtyla was a parish priest and auxiliary bishop in Krakow, who wrote using the pseudonym Andrzej Jawien. These poems have been translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz, and are from The Place Within: The Poetry of Pope John Paul II (Random House).

Actor

So many grew round me, through me,
from my self, as it were.
I became a channel, unleashing a force
called man.
Did not the others crowding in, distort
the man that I am?
Being each of them, always imperfect,
myself to myself too near,
he who survives in me, can he ever
look at himself without fear?

Girl Disappointed in Love

With mercury we measure pain
as we measure the heat of bodies and air;
but this is not how to discover our limits―
you think you are the center of things.
If you could only grasp that you are not:
the center is He,
and He, too, finds no love―
why don't you see?
The human heart―what is it for?
Cosmic temperature. Heart. Mercury.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Margaret Avison*

Margaret Avison (1918—2007) is one of Canada’s most-celebrated poets. She received the Governor General’s Award twice ― for her collections Winter Sun (1960) and No Time (1990) ― was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1984, received the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2003 for Concrete and Wild Carrot, and the Leslie K. Tarr Award (2005) for outstanding contribution to Christian writing in Canada. Her archives are held at the University of Manitoba.

I had the privilege of contributing twice to presentations she gave at a writers’ conference near her home in downtown Toronto ― first in November of 2003 where I read a few of her poems for her (including the one in this post) as extended readings were becoming taxing for her ― and again one year later when I interviewed her. That interview (which I believe is the last she ever gave) appeared in Image, and was later included in her autobiography I Am Here And Not Not-There (2009, The Porcupine’s Quill).

The following poem is from her collection Concrete and Wild Carrot (2002, Brick Books). It also appears in my anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry (2016, Poiema/Cascade).

On a Maundy Thursday Walk

The Creator was
walking by the sea, the
Holy Book says. Finely-tuned
senses — flooded with
intense awareness — tested
a clear serene constancy.

Who can imagine it, sullied
as our senses are? Faulty as are even our
most excellent makings?

The perfection of
created Being, in the perfect
morning was born from the walker-by-the-sea's
imagination. At a word —
the hot smell of sunned rock, of
the sea, the sea, the sound of lapping, bird-calls,
the sifting sponginess of sand
under the sandals, delicate.
April light—all, at a word
had become this almost-
overwhelming loveliness.

Surely the exultation —
the Artist
Himself immersed in
His work, finding it flawless —
intensified the so soon
leaving (lifted out of
mortal life for good
forever).

That too eludes
us who disbelieve that we
also shall say goodbye to
trees and cherished friends and
sunsets and crunching snow
to travel off
into a solo death.

How much more, that
(suffering this
creation to go under
its Maker, and us all)
He, the Father of love, should stake it all
on a sufficient
indeed on an essential
pivot.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Margaret Avison: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, September 6, 2021

John the Apostle

John the Apostle (c. 6 AD―c. 100 AD) is one of Christ’s original twelve disciples, and the author of the Gospel of John, three New Testament epistles, and the Book of Revelation. In his gospel, John frequently refers to himself simply as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He and his brother James, the sons of Zebedee and Salome, were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, and were referred to by Jesus as "Boanerges" that is "sons of thunder". The two brothers, along with Peter, formed Christ’s inner circle.

John was the only one of the disciples who remained at the foot of the cross, along with the women, to witness the death of Jesus. He is also the only disciple, according to tradition, to die of natural causes ― each of the others (besides Judas) dying as martyrs. John had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos, as part of the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian, and there received his vision which he records in the Book of Revelation.

In the following opening to John’s Gospel (King James Version), the John mentioned is John the Baptist, not John the Apostle.

From The Gospel of John

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God.

2 The same was in the beginning with God.

3 All things were made by him; and without him
was not any thing made that was made.

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness
comprehended it not.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the
Light, that all men through him might believe.

8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness
of that Light.

9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man
that cometh into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him,
and the world knew him not.

11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power
to become the sons of God, even to them that believe
on his name:

13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,
(and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten
of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.