Monday, November 23, 2020

Sarah Klassen*

Sarah Klassen is a major Canadian poet whose poems rise reflectively and naturally from her life and fascinations. Her eighth poetry collection The Tree of Life (2020, Turnstone) continues the trajectory of her excellent 2012 collection Monstrance. Carla Funk has said, “Tuned to time―ancient, apocalyptic, and current, these poems sing of pilgrimage…”

Here you’ll find several poems that find Sarah Klassen in her native habitat ― the banks of the Red River in Winnipeg. “Once you’ve lived beside a river,” she says, “you’ll always want to rest your burning eyes / on water.” And so, we’re invited to do so with her as her experiences regularly resurface.
----------“Before sundown on a spring evening,
----------I leaned over the balcony railing. Below me
----------The river slithered north, a grey-green, turgid serpent.”
She’s on the lookout for, “six half-grown foxes…yelping, chasing, / wrestling on the grass like children unrestrained…” (“In Passing”).

Similarly, in “Ritual” she begins, “Holy week and three buffleheads on the cold river / practice the right of baptism.” A few days ago, she mentioned to me by e-mail, “These past few days I've been entertained by a family of playful otters on the river,” so I’m hopeful that they too will make it into a poem sometime soon.

Often, too, the stories and language of scripture appear ― Elijah, Hagar, Esther, Mary, and seven poems for the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. Two sections of her reflection on the church in Ephesus, appears at Poems For Ephesians.

Refuge

What song do we sing when the journey ends
and we find ourselves in another country
with our exhausted children, our pitiful possessions,
a wardrobe all wrong for the climate,
a language no one understands? Our names
are known to no one, our gestures inappropriate

in this culture. We are naked. Nervous.
The overwhelming welcome breaks our hearts.
Each smile a shocking surprise.
A minivan opens its obedient doors and we ride
like royalty to light-filled rooms, furnished for us.
We are told: This is your home.

If we knew the language
and had breath to speak it,
we would ask: Where is that river
at whose ban
ks we may fall to our knees
and weep?


Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Sarah Klassen: first post, second 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, November 16, 2020

Lucille Clifton*

Lucile Clifton (1936—2010) is an American poet who grew up in Buffalo, New York. Her poetry is often concerned with family, community, racial identify, and hope. Frequently she includes biblical allusions, and speaks of deep spiritual beliefs. She is also known as an award-winning children’s author.

Clifton was a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2012, The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965–2010 (BOA Editions) brought together her previously published poems plus several that had not previously appeared.

God send easter

and we will lace the
jungle on
and step out
brilliant as birds
against the concrete country
feathers waving as we
dance toward jesus
sun reflecting mango
and apple as we
glory in our skin

the calling of the disciples

some Jesus
has come on me
i throw down my nets
into the water he walks
i loose the fish
he feeds to cities
and everyone calls me
an old name
as i follow out
laughing like God’s fool
behind this Jesus

won’t you celebrate with me

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Lucille Clifton: 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, November 9, 2020

Gerard Smyth

Gerard Smyth is a Dublin poet who has authored ten poetry collections, the most recent of which is The Sundays of Eternity (2020, Dedalus Press). His earliest poetry appeared in the late ‘60s, including his first book The Flags Are Quiet (1969, New Writers’ Press). He spent his entire professional life as a journalist with The Irish Times, where he still serves as Poetry Editor.

Three of his poems are included in the landmark issue of Poetry Ireland Review (#112 ― Name and Nature: ‘Who do you say that I am?’) edited by John F. Deane, which includes poetry by Seamus Heaney, Pádraig J. Daly, and Rowan Williams.

The first of the following poems was inspired by the large-scale painting “Blue Crucifixion” by Hughie O’Donoghue. The second one, written at the beginning of our current pandemic, has been set to music by British composer Philip Lawton for the choir of Berlin's Passionskirche (Church of the Passion).

Blue Crucifixion

for Clare and Hughie O’Donoghue

Not the crudely sketched
man of sorrows
from the cover-image
of the old school catechism
that was touched
and smudged so much
it lost its mystic fragrance.

And not Gauguin’s Yellow Christ
in the Breton countryside,
a Golgotha made strange
by those maids in attendance.
Or Poussin’s Redeemer
down from the Cross
under the gaze of the spellbound.

But the Blue Crucifixion
shows a fleshy semblance
of human wreckage that belongs
to a man who was counted
among the transgressors.
Our idea of him electrified
by such mystery as art requires.

Isolation

Bunched together like a gathering tribe
the daffodils rise again and there are signs
of sun behind the clouds.
We still have bread and books
and songs to keep the radio alive.
A note through the door is a kind surprise
and birds on the branches
of the trees outside stay up late.
The mornings are not so dark,
the internet takes us to the works of art,
tunes us in to Debussy or Paul Simon,
brings us close to the faraway country
where loved ones are.
A kite above someone’s back garden
rises and dips and gives a moment of joy
to a face in the window of isolation.

March 17th-19th, 2020

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, November 2, 2020

John Donne*

John Donne (1572―1631) is renowned as the preeminent metaphysical poet of his time. During his lifetime he was better known as a preacher ― elected as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1621.

His poetry was influential upon English poets of his day, and for about thirty years after his death, but it fell out of favour for most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was little read until championed by such modernist poets as W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot.

Rather than writing his poems for publication, Donne released his poems by sharing them in manuscript form, from which they were often copied by his admirers. Before his death, he had only authorized the publication of two of his poems, although two years after his death the first printed edition of his poetry appeared.

Most of his poems were written before he overcame his feelings of unworthiness enough to become an Anglican cleric. In his latter years he focussed on his prose writing, including Devotions upon Emergent Occasions which were published in 1624, and on writing his sermons. When Donne’s Sermons: Selected Passages, were published in 1919, they were praised in the secular literary world as “the very genius of oratory... [and] a masterpiece of English prose.”

The following poem is from his Holy Sonnets.

X

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about John Donne: first post, second 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, October 26, 2020

Catherine Chandler

Catherine Chandler is a Canadian poet who was born in New York City, raised in Pennsylvania, and then emigrated to Canada in 1971. Until her retirement, she was a lecturer in Spanish in McGill University’s Department of Languages and Translation, in Montreal. She and her husband divide their time between Quebec and Uruguay.

She is the author of three chapbooks, and four full-length poetry collections ― most recent of which is Pointing Home (2019, Kelsay Books). She won the Richard Wilbur Award for her book The Fragile Hour. Along with her own poems, Pointing Home also includes ten poems Chandler translated from Uruguayan women poets.

Catherine Chandler’s poetry is characterized by forms ― such as the sonnet, pantoum, villanelle, and cento. Three of her poems have been included in the National Poetry Registry in the Library of Parliament in Ottawa.

The following poem first appeared in The Agonist, and is from Pointing Home.

Matthew 7:1-5

The fix. The stealth. The stoop. The swoop. The kill—
a barb more brutal than a falcon’s bill.

Words meant to wound. What are you on, some kind
of guilt trip?
(So much for the ties that bind).

Yet I, the speck-eyed sister, turned away,
keeping my counsel till another day,

trusting my mother hadn’t heard, although
her sense of hearing was the last to go.

-------------------------—Hospice of the VNA, Heritage House, July 2011

Posted with permission of the poet.

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, October 19, 2020

Catherine of Siena

Catherine of Siena (1347―1380) has been honoured by the Catholic Church throughout the centuries. She was canonized in 1461, declared a doctor of the church in 1970, and a patron saint of Europe in 1999.

Born Caterina Benincasa, the 23rd of 25 children, she claimed to have seen a vision of Jesus, when she was just seven and told her parents she would dedicate herself to a religious life. At fifteen she cut off her hair to scuttle their plan to have her married. She was a mystic, and an ascetic who served the poor and sick.

In 1374, when most residents fled the Black Death, she and her followers remained in Siena to nurse the sick and bury the dead. Once the pandemic waned, because she was distressed by corruption in the church, Catherine visited Pope Gregory XI in Avignon, France. She believed this exile was part of the problem, and in 1377 he followed her advice and returned to Rome.

In The Dialogue ― her collected letters ― she wrote that God told her "not to love me for your own sake, or your neighbour for your own sake, but to love me for myself, yourself for myself, your neighbour for myself."

Consecrated

All has been consecrated.
The creatures in the forest know this,
The earth does, the seas do, the clouds know
as does the heart full of love.

Strange a priest would rob us of this knowledge
and then empower himself with the ability
to make holy
what already was.

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, October 12, 2020

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens (1879―1955) perhaps has no business being mentioned in a blog about Christian poetry. He grew up in a home from which the children were sent to schools connected with local Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, and in which his mother read a chapter every evening to them from the Bible. When he attended Harvard as a young man, he became an outspoken skeptic.

He was prone to depression, and became an insurance executive in Hartford, Connecticut ― busying himself with a drudgery that gave him stability, but interfered with his literary output. Stevens’ first book Harmonium (1923) contains most of his frequently-anthologized poems. His second book Ideas of Order appeared thirteen years later.

Biographer Paul Mariani sees evidence of a religious turn occurring in Stevens’ latter poems, which suggest the poet was becoming skeptical of his own skepticism.

In a review of the Mariani’s biography The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens (Simon & Schuster) in The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl writes of Stevens:
----------“Before he died, in 1955, he accepted Catholic baptism
----------from a hospital chaplain, who said that Stevens hadn’t
----------needed 'an awful lot of urging on my part except to be
----------nice to him.' The conversion was more poetic than devotional
----------in spirit, Mariani speculates, but, perhaps, 'being a surety
----------lawyer—he opted to sign on the dotted line at the end.'”

The following poem is from 1954.

Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one...
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

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.