Monday, May 25, 2015

William Jolliff

William Jolliff is a poet, English Professor at George Fox University in Oregon, and a bluegrass banjo player. His chapbook Whatever Was Ripe won the 1998 Bright Hill Press poetry chapbook competition. His new full-length collection Twisted Shapes of Light has just appeared as part of the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books. I am delighted to have been able to assist the poet as the editor of this book.

Jolliff is the editor of The Poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier (2000). He seems to have been particularly drawn to Whittier's verse because of their common Quaker heritage, and because 19th century American literature is a chosen field of study. Jolliff also edited the journal The Rolling Coulter which was published by Missouri Western State College. He has been playing five-string banjo and a variety of Appalachian folk instruments on stages around the US northwest for many years. (A Bill Jolliff You Tube search will prove rewarding.)

The following poem is from Twisted Shapes of Light and first appeared in Friends Journal.

The Hardness of the Pews

I didn’t mind the hardness of the pews then
and wouldn’t now. If you’ve been perched
on a tractor seat since dawn—or, worse yet,
if you’ve hopped off it half a hundred times
to change a shear bolt or clear a jam of stalks,
Good Lord, a walnut board with some curve
that’s shaped a little like a back is hardly short
of heaven. Or if you’ve been stacking hay,
packing back bales, the hottest, windless hours
of the afternoon, well, a seat in a church house
with a high ceiling and a window to the creek—
that’s likely the best rest you’ve found since dawn.

Especially Wednesday nights, pews didn’t matter.
You were shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip,
knees-to-linoleum beside those faithful few
who came to pray, to summon a God they not
only believed in, but who, you believed, cared;
to court the Divine with old familiar words of love.
Our thees and thous resounded off the walls.
Now I’m no longer quite that kind of faithful.
My theology? I suspect they’d hardly call me
in the fold. But I can think of far worse ways
to spend a summer evening, than kneeling
in the company of thirsty souls who want this:

to press their lips against the fleshy ear of God.

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.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Euros Bowen

Euros Bowen (1904—1988) is a Welsh poet who wrote in the Welsh language. He served as an Anglican priest in the Church of Wales. Bowen considered himself a Sacramentalist — writing poems which he presented as signs. He won the bardic crown at the National Eisteddfod of Wales both in 1948 and again in 1950. His four collections of poetry, were all written in Welsh, however in 1974 he produced a bilingual edition of selected poems with his own English translations. Bowen was the editor of the literary journal Y Fflam. His brother, Geraint Bowen, also wrote poetry.

The following poem was translated by Cynthia and Saunders Davies.

Gloria

The whole world is full of glory:

Here is the glory of created things,
the earth and the sky,
the sun and the moon,
the stars and the vast expanses:

Here is the fellowship
with all that was created,
the air and the wind,
cloud and rain,
sunshine and snow:

All life like the bubbling of a flowing river
and the dark currents of the depths of the sea
is full of glory.

The white waves of the breath of peace
on the mountains,
and the light striding
in the distances of the sea.

The explosion of the dawn wood-pigeons
and the fie of the sunset doves,
sheep and cattle at their grazing,
the joy of countless creeping things
as they blossom,
spider and ant
of nimble disposition
proclaim the riches of goodness.

The curse of life is to err.

The meadows and the yellow corn,
the slopes of the grape clusters,
the sweetness of the apple tree's fruit:

The provision on the tray
of the warm comely seasons
a part of each hard beginning:

The discretion that insists on respect
for all our partners —
all the creatures of our day
and our life in the world for ever.

Every land, every language,
became bread and wine:

Every labour,
railway stations,
bus stops
at the beginning of journeys,
every aviation:

Every art
under its own fig tree —
the vision of a man and a maid.
Lest treating
the misunderstanding between man
and his world, becomes
a giving way to meaninglessness:

And perchance we shall see the dancing
in the halls of the atoms
and the meddling with their temperament
as an art of the soul.

The coal in the bowels of the vale,
the clear water of the valleys
and the energy of machines' atmosphere:

The secret of fresh airs —
old meanings a cold well:

The delicate breeze
like the sun on the seagull's belly
awakening wings

All beneficiaries
(unless we spit the original terror of sin on it all)
resounded the Gloria of praise.

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, May 11, 2015

Paul Verlaine

Paul Verlaine (1844—1896) is a French poet — famous for his verse, and notorious for his drinking and debauchery. In 1870 he married 16-year-old Mathilde Mauté, who he believed would save him from his erring ways. Instead Verlaine became obsessed with poet Arthur Rimbald and travelled across France, Belgium and England with him. In 1874, he was imprisoned for having wounded Rimbald with a revolver in Brussels.

During this time he made a sincere return to Christianity, and upon release from prison he participated in a Trappist retreat. During this time (1873—1878) he wrote his book Sagesse (Wisdom), which expressed well his Catholic faith. In January of 1886, however — after the death of a pupil and an unsuccessful attempt to become reconciled to his wife — Verlaine descended into alcoholism and drug addiction, having abandoned hope of leading a respectable life.

Richard Wilbur has included a translation of a previously unpublished Paul Verlaine poem in his most-recent collection, Anterooms.

The Sky’s Above The Roof….

(Sagesse: Bk III, VI)

The sky’s above the roof

--------So blue, so calm!
A tree above the roof
--------Waves its palm.

The bell in the sky you see
--------Gently rings.
A bird on the tree you see
--------Sadly sings.

My God, my God, life’s there,
--------Simple and sweet.
A peaceful rumbling there,
--------The town’s at our feet.

— What have you done, O you there
--------Who endlessly cry,
Say: what have you done there
--------With Youth gone by?

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, May 4, 2015

Margaret Avison*

Margaret Avison (1918—2007) is a Canadian poet who has been describe in large language by many. George Bowering, Canada's first Poet Laureate, referred to her as, “the best poet we have had,” and Michael Higgins, of St. Thomas University, has called her “arguably Canada’s pre-eminent poet writing in English.” Judith Fitzgerald, writing in the Globe and Mail, described her as: “An original, an authentic visionary without the flashily splashy trappings so often accorded those whose egos impose themselves upon others in their dubiously designated ‘poetry,’ Avison praises Creation in all its transplendent awesome/awful mutations.”

The following poem comes from her posthumous book Listening: last poems (2009). My review of that collection, for Trinity Western University's journal, Verge, is available here.

The Eternal One

can winkle out
an unacknowledged
doubt, or a hedged memory
in the dim way of being
between His timelessnesses.

His nestlings are
sheltered within
deep-bosomed trees;
these raise soft domes, care
for the air. We breathe.
Underneath, when
stunned by sunmelt
their felt dimness
is shimmery rest.
Unquestioning at last,
much, lost or unremembered,
murmurs peacefully
under His
timeless largesse.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Margaret Avison: 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 27, 2015

Aleksey Khomyakov

Aleksey Khomyakov (1804—1860) is a Moscow poet, Orthodox theologian, philosopher and political theorist. He founded the Slavophile movement which believed Russia should not look to the West as a model for modernization. His theological writings were particularly influential on the thinking of such writers as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vladimir Solovyov. His poetry also inspired music by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.

He was a member of the landed gentry. After serving with distinction in the Russio-Turkish War (1828–9), he sought to improve the living conditions for serfs, and eventually advocated for the abolition of serfdom.

The following poem was translated by Dmitry Shatalov.

Dawn

A timeless borderline you are
That God twixt night and day put down;
He clothed you in a scarlet gown,
He gave you a companion in the morning star.
When in the heavenly azure
You give off light and calmly fade,
I look at you and ruminate:
We are like you, the Dawn of day—
A mix of blazing flames and cold,
Of heaven and the underworld,
A blend of light and shadows grey.

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 20, 2015

Anne Porter*

Anne Porter (1911—2011) has left us two collections of her poetry. When her first book, An Altogether Different Language, was honoured as a finalist for the National Book Award, she was 83 years old. Her second book, Living Things (2006), is her collected poems, so includes the first book in its entirety.

Although she wrote poetry all her life, she rarely found time — being married to accomplished painter Fairfield Porter, and raising their five children. She can often be seen as a model in her husband's paintings, although she saw herself more as an object in the scene than as the subject. Other than entertaining friends — such as painter Jackson Pollack, and poet Frank O'Hara — her social life centred on the local Methodist church. After her husband died in 1975 she moved on from what she had taken as her vocation to another — beginning to write poetry more seriously.

David Shapiro, in his introduction to An Altogether Different Language, describes her as: "...an ecstatic exception, an American religious poet of stature who reminds us that the idea of the holy is still possible for us." He writes, "For Anne Porter, the holy is found in a commitment to Christ the Mediator and his triumph in suffering for a suffering world."

She died in 2011, just a month shy of her 100th birthday.

Listening To The Crows

Infant in a pinewood
Lying in a basket
Not owning anything
Not knowing
A single word

I listened to the shiny
Crows outside my window
As they spoke with one another
In a strange tribal language

And even now
When I wake up early
And overhear the crows
Calling to one another
In the cool floods of the air

The deeps of infancy
Open within me
Their wonder washes me
And instantly

My heart grows light
As light as if the world
Had never fallen.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Anne Porter: 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 13, 2015

John Greenleaf Whittier

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807—1892) is a Quaker poet who advocated for the abolition of slavery. He was particularly influenced by the poetry of Robert Burns. Whittier's first poem was published in 1826 when his sister sent it to The Newburyport Free Press without his permission.

He became a newspaper editor and rose quickly to the influential New England Weekly Review where he became an outspoken critic of President Andrew Jackson. He had been interested in a career in politics, but his outspoken 1833 abolitionist pamphlet Justice and Expediency marginalized him from the mainstream. In 1857 he was one of the founding contributors to The Atlantic Monthly.

Up until the end of the Civil War, Whittier's writing focussed on bringing an end to slavery. Once that was accomplished he turned his attention to poems expressing faith, love of nature, and the experience of rural life. The publication of his long poem Snow-Bound in 1866 made him a household name and brought him a comfortable income.

Forgiveness

My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
The green mounds of the village burial-place;
Where, pondering how all human love and hate
Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
And cold hands folded over a still heart,
Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

By Their Works

Call him not heretic whose works attest
His faith in goodness by no creed confessed.
Whatever in love's name is truly done
To free the bound and lift the fallen one
Is done to Christ. Whoso in deed and word
Is not against Him labours for our Lord.
When he, who, sad and weary, longing sore
For love's sweet service sought the sisters' door
One saw the heavenly, one the human guest
But who shall say which loved the master best?

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.