Monday, May 22, 2017

Michael Symmons Roberts*

Michael Symmons Roberts is Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. His most-recent poetry book is Selected Poems (2016). He tells me his next collection, Mancunia, is scheduled to appear in August of 2017. Robert Potts wrote for The Guardian, “He reflects on the world in a way that is informed by a sense of grace, of transcendence, but the pieces are grounded in detail, beautifully expressed, subtly luminous.”

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

Besides being a poet, Michael Symmons Roberts is a novelist and librettist. The opera The Sacrifice, which he wrote with composer James MacMillan won the RPS Award for opera in 2008.

The following poem is from Drysalter and his Selected Poems — both published by Jonathan Cape.

World Into Fragments

Small breaks first: cup on marble floor,
mirror on staircase, cracked watch-face,
hairlines in roof tiles. Then it escalates.

Plate windows shiver into diamonds,
smoked office towers smoke into tobacco heaps,
screens give way to white noise, then blow.

Reasons for this shattering include
too great a tension, too much shrill,
a world more fragile than we thought.

Yet still it goes, ear-splitting, as
great forests disassemble like mosaics,
sugar-glass trees turn shingle, then the sky,

sun and moon as vast burst bulbs,
hot torrential hail. And when it stops,
we see for real, as if through mud and spit.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Michael Symmons Roberts: 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, May 15, 2017

Benjamin Myers

Benjamin Myers is the author of two poetry collections, Elegy For Trains (2010, Village Books Press) which won the Oklahoma Book Award, and Lapse Americana (2013, New York Quarterly Books). He has also received a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He is the 2015-2016 Poet Laureate for the State of Oklahoma.

His poems have appeared at Verse Daily, and in Yale Review, Nimrod, and Poetry Northwest. Myers is the Crouch-Mathis Professor of Literature at Oklahoma Baptist University.

The following poem is from Elegy For Trains.

On Taking Communion with My Students

Let greasy spikes be caught in halos
thrown from chapel windows
and the lazy shuffle of saints
trace the body of Christ down the chapel alley.

Let this one,
paper late,
eyes avoiding mine
like two blackbirds in sudden flight,
receive.

And let this one,
absent a week
only to resurface
as the sinking vessel rises
one last time from ocean’s deep midnight,
also receive.

The wind empties itself
outside the chapel,
madly hurls the vowels and consonants
collected all its lifetime
ceaselessly
at the stones.

I hear on the gale
my words
from the morning’s lecture:
the world is text.

I, too, am reading it for the first time.

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 8, 2017

Joost van den Vondel

Joost van den Vondel (1587—1679) is considered to be Holland's national playwright, and the most prominent Dutch poet of the 17th century. Although his Dutch contemporaries — the painters Rembrandt and Rubens — are known internationally, Vondel is little known outside of Holland.

The most valued of all his thirty full-length dramas is Lucifer, which opened at the Amsterdam City Theatre in February of 1654. The play was boycotted and protested by Calvinists who felt Vodel's treatment of scripture was outrageous. Some critics have even suggested that Milton's portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost (1667) is influenced by Vondel.

The following is from Noel Clark's translation of Lucifer. These lines are spoken by the angel Gabriel.

from Lucifer Act One

Hearken ye Angels! All ye Heavenly bands!
The Supreme Godhead from whose bosom flows
All that is good and holy, who no respite knows
From mercy, but whose store of grace grows greater —
(No creature yet can fathom the Creator!)
This God, in His own image, fashioned Man
So he, together with the Angels can,
By honouring God’s laws with zealous care,
His everlasting Kingdom hope to share.
Earth’s universe God wrought – a wondrous sight,
Both Man and his Creator to delight …
As Eden’s ruler, Man should multiply,
With all his offspring serve the Deity,
Knowing and loving Him, Earth’s stairs ascending
Towards perpetual light and bliss unending.
Long did the Spirit-world all else outshine,
Now, to exalt Mankind is God’s design:
Preferred to Angels even, Man will be shown
A path to splendour equalling God’s own.
Bedecked in flesh and blood, anointed Lord
And Master, passing judgment on the horde
Of Spirits, Angels and Mankind, you’ll see
The King of Heaven come in majesty.
There stands His Throne, already sanctified!
Let Angels all in earnest prayer abide
Till He appears, whose choice of human stature
Sets Him above all beings of our nature!
Then shall the Seraphim less brightly shine,
In human light and radiance divine.
God’s grace puts Nature’s brilliance in the shade:
That is the future. The decision’s made!

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, May 1, 2017

Mischa Willett

Mischa Willett teaches English at Seattle Pacific University, where his specialty is nineteenth century poetics. He has taught at Washington University and Northwest University, and has served as Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Tuebingen in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. His poems have appeared in Books & Culture, Christian Century and Grain, and in his 2013 chapbook, Lunatic.

Scott Cairns has said that, "Mischa Willett has a music all his own, albeit a music informed by years of his attending to the inexhaustible songs that comprise both world poetry and sacred text."

Willett's first full-length poetry collection, Phases, is the newest book in the Poiema Poetry Series. I am pleased to have assisted him as the editor for this collection. Many poems in Phases interact with the classical period or are set in Rome. It is, therefore, note-worthy that this summer he and poet Jennifer Maier will be leading a study trip to Rome with Seattle Pacific University.

Pastoral

Let us not overlook, he says looking out over
us from the lectern like a shepherd
with a crook of words bent on folding
us back into our pen, or penning
us back to our fold, the stupidity
and defenselessness of sheep.
We bleat: in this analogy, who
are we?
He proceeds. Goats, you
see, can handle themselves. Horns
and hoofs, cranial helmets they ram
full tilt into posts, or other goats. But sheep
mind you, sheep have no homing device,
which is why stories begin with a lost one;
they’re even known to head toward danger
—oh look, a wolf! Let’s check it out!— in dumb
allegiance to the interesting, which I find
interesting, and think: how to amend
our sheepish ways? But he, to drive
home both the point and oh ye,
sighs it’s beyond you; beyond me.

Phases is available from Cascade Books.

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, 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.