Monday, September 28, 2020

Tony Conran

Tony Conran (1931―2013) is a Welsh poet and translator. He was born in India, but due to the difficulties of cerebral palsy he was raised by his grandparents on the north coast of Wales. His reputation has predominantly come from his translations of Welsh poetry into English ― particularly at first for Welsh Verse (1967, Penguin). Until 1983 he taught in the English department at Bangor University. He was also a convert to Roman Catholicism. 

He published many books of his own poetry as well, including Spirit Level (1974), Visions & Praying Mantids (1997), and The Red Sap of Love (2006). 

Beyond This Divide 

Songs of the Cherubim 
Call us, green islands 
Beckon us, but once heart 
Hears, it’s as if 
We’ve been orphaned, lost 

To that grey rock and 
Lucid wave, shadowy with 
Saffron fish, 

Where great turtles clamber 
Down beaches and are 
Sure of tomorrow.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, September 21, 2020

William Langland

William Langland is the author of the alliterative poem The Vision of Piers Plowman, which was written in Middle English. There are three extant versions of the poem from the 1360s to the 1380s. The poem, which was an influence on Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, consists of eight dreams in which the narrator is on a quest for the true Christian life.

The following, from a translation by Peter Sutton, takes Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan to speak of the inadequacies of Faith and Hope for our salvation unless we rely on the blood of Christ. Faith and Hope ― personified in the roles of the two who passed by the injured man ― are also identified as Abraham and Moses.

from The Vision of Piers Plowman (Step XVII ― Lines 47 ff.)

As we went on our way, exchanging words,
We saw a Samaritan sitting on a mule,
And jogging speedily the same way as ourselves,
Coming from Jericho, as that country is called,
And trotting to a tournament in Jerusalem town.
The herald and Hope and he came together
Where a traveller lay wounded, attacked by thieves.
He was stripped and unable to help himself,
Or to stand and proceed, and no aid was at hand.
His limbs would not move and he looked half-alive.
The herald called Abraham, or Faith, saw him first
But refused to go nearer than nine plowed furrows.
Then along came Hope, who had loudly alleged
That he’d helped many men with the message of Moses,
But he steered well clear when he saw the scene,
Like a duck that is dodging a deadly falcon.
Then soon the Samaritan caught sight of the man
And leapt from his mount and led on the mule
As he went to view the victim’s wounds.
He deduced from the pulse that death was a danger,
And could tell at once that treatment was wanted.
So he hastened to his bottles and opened both
And washed the wounds with wine and oil,
Bandaged him, bound up his head and brought him
On the mule several miles to some houses near a market,
A cluster that was new and was called the Law of Christ,
Where he lodged him at an inn and alerted the landlord,
Asking him to treat him until his return.
“Here is money,” he said, “for medicine for the man,
And a few more coins for the cost of his keep.
And should he cost more I will settle it soon,
But I really cannot stay,” he said, and swiftly
He set off to ride the Jerusalem road.
Faith followed hastily, hoping to overhaul him,
And Hope hurried after, as fast as he was able,
Intending to catch him and talk as they travelled.
Seeing that, I scurried on too without stopping,
Pursuing the Samaritan who showed such pity
And pleading for employment as his page or groom.
“I fear not,” he said, “but you’ll find I’m your friend
In time of need.” So I thanked him and told him
How Faith and Hope had fled full of fear
When they saw the man and his sorrowful state.
“Excuse them,” he answered. “They would hardly have helped
For no medicine on earth could have mended the man,
Neither Faith nor Hope, for his hurts had so festered,
Without blood from a bairn that was born of a maid.
If baptized and bathed in that blessed blood,
And patched with penance and the Passion of that babe,
He’d be able to hobble, but he’ll never be whole
Till he’s swallowed the bairn’s sacred body and blood.
“No one wanders through the wilds of this world
Without running into robbers, riding or on foot,
Save a few such as Faith and his fellow, Hope,
And myself and now you, and such as pursue
Our ways and works, for the wood harbours outlaws
Who lurk on the look-out for likely prospects,
Checking who’s on horseback, ahead or behind,
Reckoning that riders are rougher prey.
When the robber saw me, a Samaritan on a mule,
Which is known as Flesh after fleshly human nature,
Following Faith and his fellow he fled
And he hid in hell, but within three days
I can vouch that the felon will be fettered with chains
And will trouble no travellers who take this road:
O death, I will be thy death.
“Then Faith shall perform a forester’s duties,
Guiding those folk who are foreign to the forest
And revealing the road to Jerusalem town.
And Hope shall be ostler at the inn, healing victims
And the feeble and faint whom Faith cannot teach,
Leading them with love, by the law of his writ,
Giving lodging and relief through belief in the Church,
Till I come once again to this country with comfort
And bring the salve that will save all the sick
Who crave it, covet it and cry to be cured.
Then the blood of the child in Bethlehem born
Shall save those who follow the faith of his friends.”
“Sweet sir,” I said, “should I accept
What Faith and his fellow have each affirmed?
Three separate persons, prime and perpetual,
Yet all one God, as Abraham argued,
While Hope then urged and exhorted me to love
One God above all and then everyone else
The same as myself with all my strength?”
“Fasten your faith and your firm belief
On Abraham,” he said, “the herald of arms.
And as Hope exhorted you, I urge you to love
Fellow Christians as kindly as you care for yourself.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Jack Stewart

Jack Stewart is the author of a debut poetry collection ― No Reason ―which has just appeared as the latest book in the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books. He and his family live in Coconut Creek, Florida, where he teaches literature and creative writing.

Having his home in Florida, and having his degrees from University of Alabama, and Emory (in Atlanta) may surprise you, in that Jack Stewart seems to love winter. In “The Shape of Cold” he sings his admiration, “…No snow is forecast, even though / It would be beautiful, slowly / Rippling the pond like what / Fish rise to, the subtlest // Light imaginable.
And in “The Elect” he paints for us:

-----All over this snow-laden town
-----Thousands of Popes have been elected,
-----The white smoke rising from what seem
-----To be every chimney…

No Reason does cover a lot of territory, though, including many ekphrastic depictions ranging from images of major artists such as El Greco, Michelangelo, and Turner down to a children’s book illustration of “the dark girl who pleased Pharaoh”.

I am pleased to have served as editor, for Jack, of this excellent new collection. His poems have appeared in such journals as Poetry, The Dark Horse Review, and Image.

Balancing the Flame

St. Stephanskirche, Vienna


Gothic grappling hook to heaven,
When it was rebuilt in the 14th century
The limestone must have shone brighter
Than the December snow.
Now soot-shadows climb the walls
And can’t be scrubbed away.
Inside, the light is also dim,
Even over the altar’s marble ember.
I drop a Euro in the cup.
In the musty oxygen,
The candle releases
A thread of smoke.
Most prayers begin in failure.
Like a match in an unsteady hand,
My amen always falters.
In what trembling air,
On what wick of words
Can I balance its flame?

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Afua Kuma

Afua Kuma (1900―1987) is an oral language poet of Ghana. Her parents were farmers of the Akan people. She grew up a Presbyterian, and worked as a farmer and midwife in her hometown of Obu-Kwahu, Ghana, where she was active within her church community. By the time she was seventy she was worshipping in a Pentecostal church, where ― although she was illiterate ― she was encouraged to participate in services by praying aloud.

Those in the congregation were astounded by the poetic skill and theological insight she used in corporate worship, which led to her being asked to participate in various events for Akan Christians.

One interesting aspect of her work is that she took the amoma poetic form ― traditionally used to praise chiefs by Akan male court poets ― and brought it into the church, bringing praise to Jesus as expressed by a female poet.

The following English translation is by Father Jon Kirby and published in the book, Jesus of the Deep Forest: Prayers and Praises of Afua Kuma (Asempa Publishers, 1981).

Chief Who Listens To The Poor

Chief who listens to the poor, humble King,
your words are precious jewels.
We don’t buy them, we don’t beg for them;
you give them to us freely!
Giver of good gifts, we are waiting for you,
And the sick are waiting for medicine.
O Jesus, you have swallowed death
and every kind of disease,
And have made us whole again.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Joseph Brodsky*

Joseph Brodsky (1940―1996) is a Russian poet whose Orthodox family baptised him in the tradition of that church in 1942. Although Brodsky’s poetry is not overtly political, he was arrested and eventually exiled. His focus on personal themes, and the meaning of existence, was unsettling to the Soviet authorities.

His poetry is not overtly religious, in most cases. Moscow writer and literary critic Vladimir Bondarenko, however, is convinced that the Christmas poems Brodsky wrote annually for thirty years express a faith which is “the key line and motif of his poetry and possibly the only thing he reflected about in earnest without a shade of irony, so inherent to him.” His Nativity Poems were published posthumously as a collection in 2001.

Brodsky’s Selected Poems (1973), translated by George L. Kline, incudes the notable 213-line poem “Elegy for John Donne.” The following poem was also translated by George L. Kline

In villages God does not live only...

In villages God does not live only
in icon corners, as the scoffers claim,
but plainly, everywhere. He sanctifies
each roof and pan, divides each double door.
In villages God acts abundantly―
cooks lentils in iron pots on Saturdays,
dances a lazy jig in flickering flames,
and winks at me, witness to all of this.
He plants a hedge, and gives away a bride
(the groom's a forester), and, for a joke,
he makes it certain that the game warden
will never hit the duck he's shooting at.
The chance to know and witness all of this,
amidst the whistling of the autumn mist,
is, I would say, the only touch of bliss
that's open to the village atheist.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Joseph Brodsky: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova (1889—1966) is a Russian poet who suffered extensively under communism. In the ‘20s she was officially criticised for her poetry’s preoccupations with love and God. Her first husband was executed on trumped-up charges, she was present at the arrest of her friend Osip Mandelstam (who died in a concentration camp), her son was twice imprisoned (the second time serving five years in a gulag), and her work was often kept from the public. In 1946 she was denounced by the communist party for “eroticism, mysticism, and political indifference.”

Extensively, between 1935 and 1940, she worked in secret on her long poem Requiem which she finally completed in 1961. It appeared in book form in 1963, but wasn’t published in the Soviet Union until 1987. Requiem uses Biblical themes, such as Christ’s crucifixion, to reflect the situation in Russia ― particularly using images of Jesus’ mother and of Mary Magdalene to express the suffering of women under the Stalinist government.

In 1950 she wrote a few poems praising Stalin, in an attempt to gain her son’s freedom and to gain favour with the authorities. These poems were eliminated from all Russian editions of her work after the Soviet premier’s death.

She was short-listed for the Nobel Prize in 1965. At the time of her death she was recognized as the greatest woman in Russian literature.

I Taught Myself to Live Simply

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life's decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.
If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Coventry Patmore*

Coventry Patmore (1823—1896) is an English poet and essayist. From 1846 to 1865 he worked for the British Museum. He was best-known in his day for his four-volume Angel in the House which presents an idealized view of married life. Critics, however, suggest that The Unknown Eros, and Other Odes (1877), through never as popular, contains his best work.

Dana Gioia — in a recent interview for Catholic World Report — said, “The best religious poems give us a vividly authentic experience of the divine and the divine order of creation.” He went on to recommended three poems for readers to consider. The least known of these was Coventry Patmore’s “The Toys.” Gioia commends it as “a profound and troubling view of parenthood. As a widower, Patmore had to raise his children without a mother. He was a loving but imperfect father. This touching poem ends in one of the best depictions of God’s mercy in English literature.”

The Toys

My little Son, who look'd from thoughtful eyes
And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,
Having my law the seventh time disobey'd,
I struck him, and dismiss'd
With hard words and unkiss'd,
His Mother, who was patient, being dead.
Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep,
I visited his bed,
But found him slumbering deep,
With darken'd eyelids, and their lashes yet
From his late sobbing wet.
And I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;
For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-vein'd stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I pray'd
To God, I wept, and said:
Ah, when at last we lie with tranced breath,
Not vexing Thee in death,
And Thou rememberest of what toys
We made our joys,
How weakly understood
Thy great commanded good,
Then, fatherly not less
Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay,
Thou'lt leave Thy wrath, and say,
"I will be sorry for their childishness."

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Coventry Patmore: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.