Monday, June 18, 2018

Rod Jellema*

Rod Jellema (1927—2018) was born in Michigan. His poetry often circles back there although he has lived most of his adult life in the Washington, D.C. area. He founded the Creative Writing Program at the University of Maryland, where he has been Professor Emeritus of English. Jellema is known both for his original poetry, and for his translations of Frisian poetry — for which he has won the Pieter Jelles Prize and the Columbia University Translation Prize.

Rod Jellema is one of the poets included in my anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry (2016), and wrote the lead poem in my anthology Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse (2017) — both available through Wipf & Stock.

This week I sent Rod an e-mail, admitting that it was high-time I posted again about his poetry. The reply came from his wife, Michele, saying — "Rod passed away four weeks ago." Here I seek to honour him, and the exceptional poetry he has written. For those who don't realize what a significant contribution he has made to Christian poetry, I would encourage you to purchase one of his poetry books today.

The following poem is from Jellema's collection A Slender Grace (2004) and is also included in Incarnality: The Collected Poems (2010) — both published by Eerdmans.

Take a Chance

If you cancel the trip to Innesfree
because it's raining, you may miss the quick
red rage of a torn leaf
before it gentles itself onto the quiet pool.

The tests warned him that his exceptional mind
was weakest for doing math, so math
is what he took up with holy awe,
forcing his dazzled way to insight.

If you always leave a nightlight burning
because as a child you got fearfully lost,
turn it off. The lights far out in the dark
are sending lifelines you never imagined.

The New Age seers, tracking the fates, may tell you
no — but take a chance. Just maybe that old
unbelievalble Yahweh really did imprint you
with enough God Image to make you free to leap.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Rod Jellema: first post

Posted with permission of Michele Jellema.

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, June 11, 2018

John Lydgate

John Lydgate (1370—1449) is a monk and quite prolific as a poet — actually one of England's most voluminous poets. When he was about fifteen, he became a novice at the Benedictine abbey of Bury Saint Edmunds, and later is believed to have attended Oxford University. He was greatly influenced by the work of Geoffrey Chaucer — and although he never met him, he did know the poet's son and his granddaughter. In fact, Alice Chaucer became one of his many patrons, as did the king's brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.

George MacDonald shares the following poem in his anthology England’s Antiphons. There he describes Lydgate as “the monk of Bury, a great imitator of Chaucer” — which strikes me as a compliment and a criticism rolled into one; the criticism, however, is one MacDonald extends to much of fifteenth century devotional verse.

Thank God For All


By a way wandering as I went,
Well sore I sorrowed, for sighing sad;
Of hard haps that I had hent
Mourning me made almost mad;

Till a letter all one me lad,
That well was written on a wall,
A blissful word that on I read,
That always said, 'Thank God for all.'

And yet I read furthermore —
Full good intent I took there till:
Christ may well your state restore;
Nought is to strive against his will; it is useless.
He may us spare and also spill:
Think right well we be his thrall, slaves.
What sorrow we suffer, loud or still,
Always thank God for all.

Though thou be both blind and lame,
Or any sickness be on thee set,
Thou think right well it is no shame — think thou.
The grace of God it hath thee gret.
In sorrow or care though ye be knit, snared.
And world's weal be from thee fall, fallen.
I cannot say thou mayst do bet, better.
But always thank God for all.

Though thou wield this world's good,
And royally lead thy life in rest,
Well shaped of bone and blood,
None the like by east nor west;
Think God thee sent as him lest; as it pleased him.
Riches turneth as a ball;
In all manner it is the best in every condition.
Always to thank God for all.

If thy good beginneth to pass,
And thou wax a poor man,
Take good comfort and bear good face,
And think on him that all good wan; did win.

Christ himself forsooth began —
He may renew both bower and hall:
No better counsel I ne kan am capable of.
But always thank God for all.

Think on Job that was so rich;
He waxed poor from day to day;
His beasts died in each ditch;
His cattle vanished all away;
He was put in poor array,
Neither in purple nor in pall,
But in simple weed, as clerks say, clothes: learned men.
And always he thanked God for all.

For Christ's love so do we;
He may both give and take;
In what mischief that we in be, whatever trouble we
He is mighty enough our sorrow to slake. be in.
Full good amends he will us make,
And we to him cry or call: if.
What grief or woe that do thee thrall,
Yet always thank God for all.

Though thou be in prison cast,
Or any distress men do thee bede, offer.
For Christ's love yet be steadfast,
And ever have mind on thy creed;
Think he faileth us never at need,
The dearworth duke that deem us shall;
When thou art sorry, thereof take heed,
And always thank God for all.

Though thy friends from thee fail,
And death by rene hend their life,
Why shouldest thou then weep or wail?
It is nought against God to strive: it is useless.

Himself maked both man and wife —
To his bliss he bring us all: may he bring.
However thou thole or thrive, suffer.
Always thank God for all.

What diverse sonde that God thee send,
Here or in any other place,
Take it with good intent;
The sooner God will send his grace.
Though thy body be brought full base, low.
Let not thy heart adown fall,
But think that God is where he was,
And always thank God for all.

Though thy neighbour have world at will,
And thou far'st not so well as he,
Be not so mad to think him ill, wish.
For his wealth envious to be:
The king of heaven himself can see
Who takes his sonde, great or small;
Thus each man in his degree,
I rede thank God for all. counsel.

For Christ's love, be not so wild,
But rule thee by reason within and without;
And take in good heart and mind
The sonde that God sent all about; the gospel.
Then dare I say withouten doubt,
That in heaven is made thy stall. place, seat, room.
Rich and poor that low will lowte, bow.
Always thank God for all.

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, June 4, 2018

Jay Parini

Jay Parini has authored dozens of books. His New and Collected Poems 1975—2015 appeared from Beacon Press in 2016. His novels often look into historic characters, such as The Passages of H.M. (about Herman Melville), and The Last Station (about Leo Tolstoy); the latter was adapted into an Academy Award nominated film. He has written many literary biographies, such as of John Steinbeck and Robert Frost. His book Jesus: The Human Face of God (2013) invites readers into his personal quest for knowing Jesus. He has also written non-fiction books such as Why Poetry Matters (2008).

Parini has been on the faculty of Middlebury College in Vermont since 1982. The film version of his novel Benjamin’s Crossing which he and his wife, Devon Jersild, adapted into a screenplay, is to be released in 2018.

His Morning Meditations

My father in this lonely room of prayer
Listens at the window
In the little house of his own dreams.

He has come a long way just to listen,
Over seas and sorrow, through the narrow gate
Of his deliverance.

And he dwells here now,
Beyond the valley and the shadow, too,
In silence mustered day by dawn.

It has come to this sweet isolation
In the eye of God, the earliest of mornings
In the chambered skull, this frost of thought.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek. 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, May 28, 2018

Salvatore Quasimodo

Salvatore Quasimodo (1901—1968) is an Italian poet of Sicilian heritage. In the late 1930s he dedicated himself entirely to writing, and although he was opposed to fascism he did not participate in the resistance to the German occupation during WWII. One of his major projects during this time was a translation of the Gospel of John. In 1945 he became a member of the Italian Communist Party.

The range of his translation work is broad, including Greek Tragedies, Shakespearian plays, and the 20th century poetry of E.E. Cummings and Pablo Neruda. His own poetry became increasingly influential. In the 1950s he received many awards, including the 1959 Nobel Prize in Literature. Toward the end of his life he travelled through Europe and to the United States for readings and lectures.

The following poems were translated by Jack Bevan

Day Stoops

You find me forsaken, Lord,
in your day
and have no grace
locked from all light.

Without you I go in dread,
lost road of love,
and have no grace,
fearful even to confess,
so my wishes are barren.

I have loved you, fought you;
day stoops
and I gather shades from the skies;
how sad my heart
of flesh.

Amen
For Sunday in Albis


You have not betrayed me, Lord:
I am the first-born
of every grief.

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, May 21, 2018

Philip Britts

Philip Britts (1917—1949) is a poet, farmer, pacifist, and pastor who was originally from Devon, England. He became a member of the Bruderhof Christian community, after they had been expelled from Germany by Hitler's government in 1937; when they fled to England, Britts and his wife joined the movement. During WWII, Britts moved to Paraguay with others from his community. It was in South America where he contracted a rare tropical disease which took his life.

In 2018, Plough — the publishing house of the Bruderhof community — has made available, Water at the Roots, a collection of Philip Britts's poetry, interspersed with brief biographical sketches to contextualize the poems. They describe him as a British Wendell Berry, because of his philosophy of life, and the poetry he wrote.

The following poem is from Water at the Roots.

Wait For The Weather

It's good to plough when the earth is soft
----And the furrows smoothly go;
When the tilth is fine and the weather fair,
----It is good to sow.

So when the earth is baked to brick
----And wind is dry and sun is bright,
It's better to bide at home and wait,
----And put your harness right.

It's better to wait your time, and make
----Good order for when you start.
Then all day long, when the time is right,
----Plough with a thankful heart.

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, May 14, 2018

Robert Hudson

Robert Hudson is a Michigan poet, editor, publisher, writer, and old-time fiddle player. His book The Christian Writers Manual of Style is now in its fourth edition. Although Bob is senior editor-at-large for Zondervan/HarperCollins Publishers, his personal, playful pursuits seem less about building his career than about his love of words, music and the spiritual life.

His first full-length poetry collection Kiss the Earth When You Pray: The Father Zosima Poems (2016) feels like translations from a medieval mystic. Zosima is in fact a fictitious character from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (inspired by a real-life Russian Orthodox ascetic). It is in the voice of Hudson's version of this character these poems are written.

Other recent books by Robert Hudson include The Monk's Record Player (2018, Eerdmans) — a fascinating intertwined joint-biography of Thomas Merton and Bob Dylan focusing on the summer of 1966 — and Four Birds of Noah's Ark (2017, Eerdmans) an updated version of Thomas Dekker's prayer book from 1608.

Bob and his wife Shelley Townsend-Hudson run Perkipery Press, which has published chapbooks for three decades, and play together as members of the band Gooder'n Grits, that performs the pre-bluegrass music of the Carolinas.

The following poem is from Kiss the Earth When You Pray.

On Creation


There is this. The river, silent,
moving through the reeds,

the crab tree
crippled with fruit,

the doe in winter
that will die before nightfall,

and the sapling with ambition
in the heart of the forest—

all things are warm
from the forge of Creation.

The muskrat slapping
water with its tail,

the mute stones
wearing smooth in rain,

the earthworm lolling
from its hole in flood time,

and the night sky heavy
with snow but waiting—

all these are still warm
from the fires of Creation.

The ox at the yoke,
at the row's end, turning,

the yew and the heron
and the unwinding stars,

the swallow blinded
in the eye of the sun,

and the mole whose patience
undermines the world—

all these are still warm
from the touch of that Hand.

Who sows the seeds in the drops
of rain and fills the morning crows

with laughter? Who hung
the web in the spider's mind?

Tell every pilgrim you meet on the way,
the shrine of the Holy is everywhere.

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, May 7, 2018

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo (1802—1885) is one of France’s greatest writers, known for his novels, poems and plays. His stories, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) and Les Misérables (1862) continue to capture the imagination of readers today, and of those who have seen them retold in various forms.

In his writing Hugo took on political, philosophical and religious issues, such as promoting the abolition of the death penalty. In 1848 he was elected to the Constituent Assembly, and later to the Legislative Assembly. After the 1851 coup, Hugo escaped to Brussels and lived in exile for close to twenty years — primarily in the English Channel islands of Jersey and Guernsey.

He was critical of the church of his day for not championing the cause of the poor and exploited. Although he held some ideas, and sometimes behaved in ways, inconsistent with a Christian life, Victor Hugo clearly expresses Christian views in many of his works.

The following is translated by E.H. and A. M Blackmore.

“O God, whose work excels all we can think…”

O God, whose work excels all we can think,
Creator with no boundary and no brink,
-------Lidless and sleepless eye!
Soul never shut! Life’s everlasting spring!
Mystic gulf from which comes a billowing
-------Smoke of men, beasts and sky!

You human nations strewn throughout your coasts,
Rise up; unite, innumerable hosts;
-------Make war on God. Yes, do!
Attack the infinite Unattainable
Who is so kind that he is terrible,
-------So deep that he is blue.

Measure your frailty and his boundless power.
Legions besieging the almighty tower,
-------Multitudes far extended,
Frail insects thronging the vast pediment,
Passing things—before his first star is spent
-------Your last day will be ended!

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.