Monday, February 23, 2015

Denise Levertov*

Denise Levertov (1923—1997) was born in England. Her father was raised a Hasidic Jew, but had become a Christian and an Anglican parson. She, herself, became an agnostic. Her first book, The Double Image, appeared in 1946. She married an American and moved with him to New York City after WWII.

The process of Levertov coming to Christian faith was a long one, and so it should not be surprising to find glimpses of that process coming through in her earlier books. The following poem is from her 1964 collection, O Taste and See. This poem was selected by Mark Jarman, for his list of "Original and unorthodox poems about theology", for Poetry Magazine.

The Secret

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Denise Levertov: 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, February 16, 2015

Margo Swiss

Margo Swiss is a Toronto poet who has published two collections, Crossword: A Woman's Narrative, and her new book The Hatching of the Heart (Poiema Poetry Series/Cascade Books). It has been my privilege to work with Margo in bringing this book to publication. She is also the editor of the anthology Poetry As Liturgy (2007). She and her husband, David Kent, founded the St. Thomas Poetry Series in 1996—an important imprint for the growth of Canadian Christian poetry.

She has published essays on John Donne and John Milton, and teaches Humanities and Creative Writing at York University.

Living Water
(John 4:10)

Light rain—
soft, light rain rains.
Living water reigns.

Water
whether wanted
in storm

or warmed
still we are
watered

drenched
sometimes drowse
as roots

earthbound
feed, so we
night-long long

to rise,
to rain
to fall as

light rain—
soft, light rain rains.
Living water reigns.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Margo Swiss also contributed a poem to my blog The 55 Project, which consists of poems inspired by the 55th chapter of Isaiah.

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, February 9, 2015

Pavel Kolmačka

Pavel Kolmačka is a Catholic poet originally from Prague, Czech Republic. He has published two books of poetry, A ridiculous tailcoat fluttered behind me, and You saw that you are. His novel, Footprints leading beyond the horizon, appeared in 2006. He lives in the village of Chrudichromy with his wife and two sons. His poetry, according to Alexandra Bϋchler (who translated the following poem), "is about the presence of God in everyday things."

This poem comes from his poetry collection You saw that you are. This translation comes from the book Six Czech Poets (Arc Publications, 2008).

Still midday air

Still midday air,
the breeze asleep
in the nest of a tree.
Before long God will give us a sign
or trip us up in one of his traps.

On the village green a freckled boy
falls off his father’s bike.
In tears, nursing a grazed knee,
he’s dragging his feet home.

A drop of blood dries in the dust.
High up above the trees
the billowing blue of the sky,
the white rock of a cloud.

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, February 2, 2015

Jae Newman

Jae Newman of Rochester, New York, is the author of the new poetry collection Collage of Seoul from the Poiema Poetry Series (Cascade Books). I am honoured to have been able to help bring this book to publication.

He was born in South Korea and adopted into an American family. The poems in Collage of Seoul, in part, deal with his struggles for identity, including returning to Seoul to meet his birth mother, who hadn't named him. He teaches writing courses at Monroe Community College and Roberts Wesleyan College, and has had poetry appear in such journals as The Bellingham Review, The Cresset, The Korean Quarterly, Rock & Sling, and Ruminate.

Blue Periods

-------1.
There was a time when everything Pablo painted
was in blues.

Poor, desolate, warring with father,

his bearded self-portrait said something.
He was cold.

Out of exile, I heard my name. Not

the one the world knows, but a hushed whisper
traveling across

a no man’s land of self-indulgence. Indulging
in women, Pablo

painted them, his lovers, as monsters,

ghostly souls incarcerated in skin and
dark hair.

I call on the Lord, ask

to be hidden in the shadows of trees. Digging
my way through the earth, I find

my fingers are blunt, metal objects

that move through rock, through clay,
through lie and Juche. Slight of build,

I don’t care. I’ve got your divine mandate
right here.

-------2.
How shall I spread the Word

when the Word is love and needs translation?
How does one break a cycle?

Slash and burn?

Elijah called upon the Lord, said,
“Let this boy’s life return”

and of course it did. Of course

I could say
I’ve felt like a puppet, a boy bound by string,

arms, legs, and mouth moving

almost like a real boy.
A real boy is something I can’t quite fathom,

can’t quite reach.

It is how a man feels when he thinks of Eden,
thinks of the Tree,

thinks of the Lord’s breath

hovering the darkened seas. Let there be light,
a whisper said.

Can I do that?

Can I learn to whisper?
Learn to be present in the absence of action?

-------3.
If Adam and Eve had the will to forsake Eden,
to open a box,

then why can’t someone return to close it?
For me, all blackness is the same.

If I come from a man, as biology says,
then prove it.

If I come from sperm and egg, prove it.

Show me the hand that charmed a cheek.
Show me that love exists and that sex

isn’t just another way unity won't work.
Angel, I am waiting.

Histories conceal our perfect lies.
How can I attack a hermetic pride?

Slash and burn?

Mighty is the Lord whose hands
hold an infinite number of bombs,

little sneezes bursting in palms. He,
who holds my sorrow in the wind. He,

who loves the hungry, the farmer,
the fisherman eating his ration of rice.

-------4.
There was a time when everything Pablo painted
was in blues. Fishermen standing,

marveling at the blue shore.

I cannot say that this blue is the same.
Sadness is personal, a fleeting stone whose ripples

do not flow evenly.

To change the face of his art, Pablo removed
his heart,

wrapped it in newspaper,
tucked his shame in the shallowness of ego.

How could one man love himself so?

Who can accept the joylessness of children?
Brilliant or not,

art is not enough. It never has been.
Creation bored the lovers

who walked with God through morning

into this dawn where we exist, we think,
in a sort of litmus test.

I don’t care what the poem wants.

I want to take the children of North Korea
food shopping.

Let them each have a cart,

open boxes of chocolates,
eat grapes right out of the bags,

let them try every kind of cookie.

Grace unites me to you and him to us.
It isn’t my law: forgiveness.

It is not my way.

My father says I hold on to grudges.
That is true.

But what’s a grudge but love denied?

And what’s love denied but love saved
for eternity,

for one woman, for all 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, January 26, 2015

Edwin Muir*

Edwin Muir (1887—1959) is a Scottish poet, critic, and novelist. He is a major figure of the Scottish Literary Renaissance. Muir expressed that Scottish Literature should be written in English if it is to gain International attention; this was the opposite view of fellow-poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who wanted a return to Gaelic.

Muir and his wife, Willa, collaborated on many influential translations of German-speaking authors, including the first English translations of Franz Kafka's stories. He once wrote, "My marriage was the most fortunate event of my life." In the early 1920s, the Muirs lived in Europe—Prague, Dresden, Salzburg, Vienna and Rome—before returning to England.

His Selected Poems, edited by T.S. Eliot appeared in 1965. At that time Eliot wrote, "Muir will remain among the poets who have added glory to the English language. He is also one of the poets of whom Scotland should always be proud."

The Transfiguration

So from the ground we felt that virtue branch
Through all our veins till we were whole, our wrists
As fresh and pure as water from a well,
Our hands made new to handle holy things,
The source of all our seeing rinsed and cleansed
Till earth and light and water entering there
Gave back to us the clear unfallen world.
We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness,
But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance,
And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us
Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined
As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
And nowhere? Was the change in us alone,
And the enormous earth still left forlorn,
An exile or a prisoner? Yet the world
We saw that day made this unreal, for all
Was in its place. The painted animals
Assembled there in gentle congregations,
Or sought apart their leafy oratories,
Or walked in peace, the wild and tame together,
As if, also for them, the day had come.
The shepherds’ hovels shone, for underneath
The soot we saw the stone clean at the heart
As on the starting-day. The refuse heaps
Were grained with that fine dust that made the world;
For he had said, ‘To the pure all things are pure.’
And when we went into the town, he with us,
The lurkers under doorways, murderers,
With rags tied round their feet for silence, came
Out of themselves to us and were with us,
And those who hide within the labyrinth
Of their own loneliness and greatness came,
And those entangled in their own devices,
The silent and the garrulous liars, all
Stepped out of their dungeons and were free.
Reality or vision, this we have seen.
If it had lasted but another moment
It might have held for ever! But the world
Rolled back into its place, and we are here,
And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn,
As if it had never stirred; no human voice
Is heard among its meadows, but it speaks
To itself alone, alone it flowers and shines
And blossoms for itself while time runs on.

But he will come again, it’s said, though not
Unwanted and unsummoned; for all things,
Beasts of the field, and woods, and rocks, and seas,
And all mankind from end to end of the earth
Will call him with one voice. In our own time,
Some say, or at a time when time is ripe.
Then he will come, Christ the uncrucified,
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His agony unmade, his cross dismantled—
Glad to be so—and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree
In a green springing corner of young Eden,
And Judas damned take his long journey backward
From darkness into light and be a child
Beside his mother’s knee, and the betrayal
Be quite undone and never more be done.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Edwin Muir: 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, January 19, 2015

Micheal O'Siadhail

Micheal O'Siadhail is an Irish poet who has published fifteen books of poetry, including his Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2013). His first collection, The Leap Year, appeared in 1978. His 2005 collection, Love Life, is about his relationship with his wife, who recently died in June of 2013 after 43 years of marriage.

He quotes Patrick Kavanagh, who he calls the best Irish poet of the 20th century, as saying "that any poet worth his salt is a theologian. He added, "I think he means that what a poet would have in common with a theologian is dealing with questions of meaning and of context, the context of our lives. I often use the phrase 'the ministry of meaning,' and I see an artist as a minister of meaning in many ways. I'm trying to ask the big questions about why we're here, what we're doing."

The following poem is one of three written by Micheal O'Siadhail for N.T. Wright's book Paul and the Faithfulness of God (2013).

Collection

Earlier three birds on a tree
But now only one.
Imagine swoops of homing rooks
As evening tumbles in
Cawing and wheeling to gather
In skeleton branches
With nodes of old nest blackening
Into the roosting night.

Treetop colony
A rookery congregates.
Dusky assemblage.

Whatever instinct makes us hoard,
A desire to amass,
Toys, dolls, marbles, bird’s-nests and eggs
We fondle and brood on
Or how we’d swoop like rooks to nab
Spiky windfalls stamping
Open their milky husks to touch,
Smooth marvels of chestnut.

The collector’s dream
To feel, to caress, to keep.
A bird in the hand.

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, January 12, 2015

T.S. Eliot*

T.S. Eliot (1888—1965) is not only known as the author of such influential poems as The Waste Land (1922) and Four Quartets (1943). He is also known for such plays as Murder in the Cathedral (1935), and for his literary criticism, including the influential essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1920). The whimsical poems he originally wrote for his godchildren, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939), were eventually transposed into the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, which premiered in London's West End in 1981. In 1948 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

His "Choruses From 'The Rock'" were written for a pageant play in 1934, and yet seem to have been written for the twenty-first century.

from "Choruses From 'The Rock'" (II)

Thus your fathers were made
Fellow citizens of the saints, of the household of GOD, being built
-----upon the foundation
Of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself the chief corner¬stone.
But you, have you built well, that you now sit helpless in a
-----ruined house?
Where many are born to idleness, to frittered lives and squalid
-----deaths, embittered scorn in honey-hives,
And those who would build and restore turn out the palms of
-----their hands, or look in vain towards foreign lands
-----for alms to be more or the urn to be filled.
Your building not fitly framed together, you sit ashamed and
-----wonder whether and how you may be builded together
-----for a habitation of GOD in the Spirit, the Spirit
-----which moved on the face of the waters like a lantern
-----set on the back of a tortoise...
You, have you built well, have you forgotten the cornerstone?
Talking of right relations of men, but not of relations of men
-----to GOD...

Of all that was done in the past, you eat the fruit, either rotten
-----or ripe.
And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying.
-----and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of God.
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the inheritance.
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone, when he stands
-----alone on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that
-----was done by those who have gone before you...
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble
-----repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers...
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying
-----within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while
-----there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity
-----they will decry it.

What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD...

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about T.S. Eliot: first post, second 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.