Monday, August 8, 2022

Karen An-hwei Lee*

Karen An-hwei Lee is an American poet whose fifth collection has just appeared from Poiema/Cascade. What makes Duress unique is how throughout the collection Lee makes subtle references to what we all experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic. As you read you’ll encounter cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing an impromptu concert for those lined up to get their vaccine (“Songs of Comfort”), and passing mentions of mask wearing, video conferencing, and pandemic isolation. Duress is, however, not so much about the pandemic as it is of human experience during our season of pandemic.

Her care-filled yet prolific writing of these poems has produced this timely follow-up to Rose is a Verb: Neo-Georgics (Slant, 2021). Scott Cairns has written, “With formal elegance and visionary comprehension, the poems of Duress prove witness to the immensity occasioned in the small, and the particularity made manifest in the endless expanse before us.”

When I return to this collection years from now, I expect to find I will not only be saying, “Yes, that’s what it was like,” but the poems will continue to speak to me of what life is like. Duress will transcend the pandemic, as most good poetry transcends the times in which it is written. Karen An-hwei Lee is Provost and Professor of English at Wheaton College in Illinois.

I am honoured to have served as the editor for Duress from which the following poem is taken.

On Quarantine Dreams

I wake in the morning, facing the risk
of viral air wafting in open spaces
such as the market, gas station, or dog park,
daring to linger at the rows of fat peaches,
in no haste to choose one with a gloved
finger, a paper mask filtering the aroma
of ripening fruit palmed in my right hand.
The daily hours slow to the rate of dough
rising in an oiled bowl, the floured wood
petitioning silently for another round
of dimpling and kneading, for dinner rolls
instead of sourdough. Praying for beloveds
while making bread, I shape, proof, and sugar
kindred spirits with pleasure. In my dreams,
the loaves of bread fly all over the globe
like satellites radioing the old solace of toast,
the fierce reassurance of butterflies winging
south for winter in the mountains, their wings
fiery and crisp as buttered rye, oblivious
to the violence inflicted by an invisible
coronavirus wreaking havoc on civilization,
a virus so small, it is barely even a living thing.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Karen An-hwei Lee: first 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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Gerhard Tersteegen

Gerhard Tersteegen (1697―1769) is a German Pietist poet, and writer. He was influential through his sermons, hymns, poems, letters, and “reflections” ― some of which have been translated into English.

In his youth he had wanted to study theology, but couldn’t afford the tuition so he became apprenticed to a merchant. This didn’t suit him, so he worked on his own as a weaver in an isolated cottage where he would better be able to search for God. He read theological books, and became well-respected as a lay theologian. In 1727 his pursuit of solitude took a surprising turn. A revival took place and people started coming to him for spiritual guidance. He hosted home worship and prayer meetings, and became an itinerant preacher.

In addition to his own writing, Tersteegen translated French mystics and Julian of Norwich into German. Some of his hymns were translated into English by John Wesley.

The following poems are from The Spiritual Flower Garden as translated by Bill C. Hensel.

[Says] Jesus to the Soul (Part 1)

Oh, do not be disturbed, my child;
remain in your inner solitude,
with a gentle and quiet spirit
and undeluded senses.

Let come what may,
but guard your peace.

Nothing is worth
your disturbance,

for I, Jesus, am in you.

What good will the world
and all its devils
do for you?

Have peace in me
that I may rest
in you.

[Says] Jesus to the Soul (Part II)

You speak to me
that I might come to you
and prepare you;

now, stretch forth your hands
and let me make it so!

Your own will,
your own worry
your own striving,
your own work ―

all of this disturbs your peace

and makes it so that I
cannot work in you.

Only behold the little flowers
in clear, Summer weather:

they keep very still
then open their petals.

So the Sun shines upon them
and works its gentle way

and this, too, is what I would do
if only you would let me.

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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Hadewijch

Hadewijch (c.1200―c.1260) is a poet and Christian mystic who lived in what is now Belgium. She was head of a group of young beguines ― women who lived a life devoted to God in communal houses, although not as a religious order.

It is believed she came from a wealthy family, because her writing demonstrates a wide knowledge of theology, languages, and literature ― including French courtly poetry.

The following English version was translated by Columba Hart. The Latin, as carried over from the original Dutch poem, basically means ― "Ah, if I wish you a thousand times happiness, it would not be enough."

God Must Give us a Renewed Mind (from Vale Millies)

God must give us a renewed mind
--------For nobler and freer love,
To make us so new in our life
--------That Love may bless us
And renew, with new taste,
--------Those to whom she can give new fullness;
Love is the new and powerful recompense
--------Of those whose life renews itself for Love alone.
― Ay, vale, vale, millies ―
--------That renewing of new Love
― Si dixero, non satis est ―
--------Which renewal will newly experience.

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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Sarah Law

Sarah Law is a London poet who grew up in Norwich and once worked in the Julian Centre, next door to St Julian's Church. Her natural interest in the medieval anchoress Julian of Norwich was a starting point for further investigations into Christian mystics.

She is the author of several poetry collections, including her sixth: Thérèse (2020, Paraclete) in which she shares her poetic reflections on the life and writings of the Carmelite nun Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-97). Marjorie Maddox calls the book “A biography-in-verse that brims with beauty, pain, insight, and humility…”

Sarah Law teaches at the Open University, and is editor for the online journal Amethyst Review, which focuses on new writing engaging with the sacred. Her new novel Sketches from a Sunlit Heaven is soon to appear from Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Grace Drifts Down Like Dust

Grace drifts down like dust
over the soul’s rough rocks,

settles in its crevices, scintilla
where even the light is blocked –

grace like fine flour sifting through
a grille to the lumpen heart.

I sit in the back pew (sunshine shears
into the evening church) and see

that motes are always falling –
each particle is gentler than confetti,

hallowing the human, the unready;
its glinting traces bless us unawares.

Grace is manna for an outpost life,
is unconditional and borderless –

there is only the reception of its calling,
all I can do is raise my empty hands.

Posted with permission of the poet.

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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Vedanyakam Sastri

Vedanyakam Sastri (1774―1864) is an Indian poet and lyricist who served as court poet in the palace of Serfoji II ― who was the ruler of the Bhonsle dynasty of the Maratha principality of Tanjore (now known as Thanjavur). His name is alternately spelled Vedanayagam Sastriar as well. He was born into a Catholic family, but embraced Protestantism at the age of twelve. Sastri’s poetry became very popular, however, many missionaries felt he went too far to contextualize Chrsitanity to the Indian culture.

His poetry draws together Christian imagery with traditional Tamil literary structures. He performed dramatic versions of stories from the creation of the world right through to the return of Christ. Some of his works include The Garland of Prayer, The Drama of the Crippled Hero of Wisdom, and Bethlehem Kuravanci.

After years of respected service to the king, several powerful individuals in the palace showed intolerance toward Christianity. Sastri, however, remained outspoken about his faith, while showing respect for the faith of others.

The United Theological College in Bangalore, preserves some of the original manuscripts of his writings, as part of their collection of ancient palm-leaf manuscripts and rare books.

from Song #153

Pallavi:---------I love you, O my king
------------------A thousand praises sing!

Anupallavai:---To Jesus Christ the God of my tremendous salvation!
------------------You alone are the one who sustains me!

Saranam 1:----Word of God, Heavenly Bridegroom, Father Lord,
------------------You are the source of all life
------------------Well spring of divine joy, Sachidanandha!

Saranam 2:----King of Canaan, you who are worshipped in heaven
------------------With desire I search for you
------------------Pray and praise you.

Saranam 3:----Wasted are the years when I did not seek you
------------------Bewildered at my hapless state was I
------------------You rescued and brought home safely the abandoned
------------------Sheep that I was, do you correct me.

Saranam 4:----Praise and worship be to you
------------------O Jehovah you protected me for ever and ever
------------------I wonder I worship you
------------------The Holy Word, Christ Jesus!

Saranam 5:----You of whom man has searched from the beginning
------------------You who rejoice with us in our celebrations
------------------According to Vedanayagam’s praises
------------------I long to embrace you…

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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Dragan Dragojlović

Dragan Dragojlović is a Serbian poet of the Orthodox Christian faith. He has served in various official roles for the Serbian government, including as ambassador to Australia from 1997 to 2001.The title of his 2017 collection Patriarch’s Ladders, refers of the ladder to heaven, and honours the late Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Dragojlović’s best known book, in English translation, Death’s Homeland (2008) is a collection of anti-war poems. He finds people’s religious motivations for war particularly appalling, and has emphasized “the tragic enigma of how people who believe in a loving God can murder each other…” At the Ecumenical Dialogue on Reconciliation in Belgrade in 1996 ― in his alternate role as Minister of Religions in the Serbian government ― he commented on the religious nature of the war in the former Yugoslavia: “Not that many combatants were devout believers, but they made little if any distinction between national and religious identity, nor did their religious communities encourage them to make such a distinction.”

Dragojlović has translated contemporary Chinese poet Zhao Lihong into Serbian, while his own Book of Love has been translated into Chinese.

If I Succeed in Producing a Poem

If I succeed in producing a poem
then I will not rue missing out the exhibition
of inanimate objects in sfumato technique
that brings our inner and painful side
closer to the light.

A poem need not be
similar to some paintings,
a limitless geometry of inexpressible beauty
born out of a marriage
of mutually remote words,
like the blending of colours on the canvas,
or like distant stars
that engender the sky
disclosing fragments of the principle
controlled by God.

Despite his faltering pen,
despite his self-consuming thoughts,
a poet touches upon the intangible
contained in each endless moment
as occasionally happens
on a painter’s canvas.

Essentially, the painting and the poem
are two forms of the same language
that can at times convey Perfection.

Humility forbids us to wonder
what God’s judgment of that would be.

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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Ben Jonson*

Ben Jonson (1572—1637) is a British playwright and poet who spent time in prison on several occasions, both for his actions and for what he had written. In 1597 he was imprisoned for alleged seditious content in the unfinished satire The Isle of Dogs which Jonson had been hired to complete — and in 1605 for the collaboration Eastward Ho! which included a joke at the king’s expense.

Early on he found popularity with such satirical plays as Every Man in His Humour (1598), and Bartholomew Fair (1614). He later became popular in the court of James I, becoming unofficial Poet Laureate in 1616; for several years after this he focused on writing masques for presentation at court.

His early poetry, like his plays, often create witty portraits exposing human follies and vices. To me, his most-engaging works for today’s readers are his rich devotional poems which express the depth of his personal faith.

Jonson admired, and was admired by, such contemporaries as John Donne, and William Shakespeare; he was also influential on the generation of younger poets that followed, including Robert Herrick, and Richard Lovelace. A large crowd of mourners attended his funeral; his body is buried at Westminster Abbey.

To Heaven

Good and great God, can I not think of thee
But it must straight my melancholy be?
Is it interpreted in me disease
That, laden with my sins, I seek for ease?
Oh be thou witness, that the reins dost know
And hearts of all, if I be sad for show,
And judge me after; if I dare pretend
To ought but grace or aim at other end.
As thou art all, so be thou all to me,
First, midst, and last, converted one, and three;
My faith, my hope, my love; and in this state
My judge, my witness, and my advocate.
Where have I been this while exiled from thee?
And whither rapt, now thou but stoop'st to me?
Dwell, dwell here still. O, being everywhere,
How can I doubt to find thee ever here?
I know my state, both full of shame and scorn,
Conceived in sin, and unto labour borne,
Standing with fear, and must with horror fall,
And destined unto judgment, after all.
I feel my griefs too, and there scarce is ground
Upon my flesh to inflict another wound.
Yet dare I not complain, or wish for death
With holy Paul, lest it be thought the breath
Of discontent; or that these prayers be
For weariness of life, not love of thee.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Ben Jonson: first 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 Wipf & Stock.