Monday, November 29, 2021

Evelyn Mattern

Evelyn Mattern (1941―2003) is known as a social activist who worked as a lobbyist and organizer for the North Carolina Council of Churches. She was born and grew up in Philadelphia, where she joined the convent of the sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary. She completed her doctorate in literature at the University of Pennsylvania in 1969, and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to teach English at St. Augustine's University ― an historically black school.

She wrote two books for Ave Maria Press: Blessed Are You: The Beatitudes of Our Survival (1994) and Why Not Become Fire? Encounters with Women Mystics (1999). A collection of her poetry and prose ― Ordinary Places, Sacred Spaces ― with artwork by Helen David Brancato, appeared from the Calgary publisher Bayeux Arts in 2005.

The following poem first appeared in Sojourners in December 1986.

Advent

This bright blue first day of December
a tail wind brings my bike to town,
passing a pilgrimage of pick-up trucks
trailing five floats for the parade.
Styrofoam reindeer on crepe paper snow
pull that empty sleigh of sturdy foil
wrapping paper.
Coming home I pass the small black church,
in the head wind hear the choir,
patched cars parked on the grassless lawn,
trying out "Messiah" to the organ thumps.
Not through the wind or the fire
but the still small voice
of the whisper in the night
from the woman on the mule
to the man in the road
God speaks.

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 Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Julia Spicher Kasdorf*

Julia Spicher Kasdorf is a Pennsylvania poet who has published four collections. She has also authored the essay collection The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life, and the biographical study, Fixing Tradition: Joseph W. Yoder, Amish American.

Her latest poetry project is a significant departure from her earlier work. Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields (Pennsylvania State University Press), which she wrote in collaboration with Steven Rubin. She is a Liberal Arts Professor of English at Penn State University, and he is a documentary photographer, who is a Professor of Art (also at Penn State).

“I’m a Mennonite ― I can’t understand anything first without understanding its history,” Kasdorf told a friend and interviewer. She had been teaching a course in documentary poetry, when she and her husband took a motorcycle ride through Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. Seeing the impact of fracking on the people and the landscape led her to want to document what is happening without coming down on either side of the debate.

The documentary approach to poetry also comes through in her other poetry books ― Sleeping Preacher, Eve’s Striptease, and Poetry in America ― particularly when she takes on the role of an observer of rural Mennonite or Amish life.

The following poem is from her third collection Poetry In America (Pittsburgh).

Sometimes It’s Easy To Know What I Want

On a road that cuts through the richest, non-irrigated land
in the nation, according to some Lancaster, PA, natives,

a minivan slowed, and a woman with a good haircut yelled,
Do you want a ride, or are you walking because you want to?

I didn’t reply because my life felt so wrecked―
no matter the reason, either you get this or you don’t―

wrecked in the way that makes gestures of tenderness
devastating, like the time I showed up in Minnesota, brittle

with sorrow, and the professor sent to fetch me
asked if I wanted heat in the seat of his sports car

or the local apple he’d brought in case I arrived hungry.
I didn’t know people make seats to hold a body in radiance

like the merciful hand of God. The apple was crisp and cold
and sweet. Maybe I looked in his eyes and shook his hand

in both of mine when I left, I don’t remember. Months later,
he sent an empty seed packet, torn open, lithographed

with a fat, yellow annual no one grows any more, flamboyant
as Depression-era glassware. That was all, thank you.

Thank you, oh thanks so much, I finally told the woman
framed by a minivan window, but yes, I do want to walk.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Julia Spicher Kasdorf: 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 Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Pádraig J. Daly*

Pádraig J. Daly is a Dublin poet and Augustan priest whose numerous poetry books include The Last Dreamers: New & Selected Poems (1999), The Other Sea (2003), Afterlife (2010) and God in Winter (2015). His most-recent collection is A Small Psalter (Scotus Press).

His work also includes translations of other poets’ writing from Irish and Italian. I highlighted his translations of Jacopone da Todi here at Kingdom Poets back in October.

In The Furrow, Madeleine Lombard said, “The language of Daly’s poetry is pared down, stripped bare, distilled to its essence, and there is not one unnecessary word, not one single distraction from either the ideas themselves or their poetic expression” ― which is high praise, indeed!

The following excerpts are from the title poem of his new poetry book.

from A Small Psalter

14.

I begged for faith and clarity
That my words might be storm-lanterns
For flounderers in uproarious seas.

But You have left me swinging still
From faith to numbness;
And back again.

I look for You
But wait must to be found.

26.

My Own, who hide
In the light and shadow of the world
And in the plunging ravines of the heart:

Lost in labyrinths of reason,
Few and fewer find You;

And we who do
Have but stumbling words to voice our certainty.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Pádraig J. Daly: 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 Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon (1886―1967) is primarily known as a poet of WWI. Even so, he continued writing for the rest of his life, including the faith-inspired poetry of his latter years.

He shocked Britain when ― on July 30th, 1917 ― his editorial “A Soldier’s Declaration” was read in the British House of Commons, and the next day appeared in The London Times. Such a statement was enough to have him court-martialled or even shot ― but how do you execute a war hero who’d been decorated with the Military Cross, for voicing the much-supported opinion that by that time the war should be over? The alternative had him treated for shell shock at Craiglockhart War Hospital, which is where he first met Wilfred Owen.

Sassoon caused shockwaves in his personal life after the war ― having affairs with male writers, and then, suddenly in 1933, marrying high-society girl Hester Gatty, who was nineteen years younger than he was. Similarly, he caused a stir when he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1957.

This transition was spurred by an initial letter from Mother Margaret Mary McFarlin, superior of the Convent of the Assumption in Kensington Square, London, saying she discerned a “yearning for God” in his poetry. The two became close friends.

The following poem is from his book The Path to Peace (Stanbrook Abbey Press, 1960).

Awaitment

Eternal, to this momentary thing ―
This mind ― Thy sanctuary of stillness bring.
Within that unredeemed aliveness live:
And through Thy sorrowless sacrament forgive.
-------Let me be lost; and lose myself in Thee.
-------Let me be found and find my soul set free.

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 Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Andrew Marvell*

Andrew Marvel (1621—1678) is an English Metaphysical poet, who in the years following his death was best known for his satirical prose and verse. In the 1640s he was a royalist sympathizer, but later became a supporter of Cromwell and Parliament ― even becoming a member of Parliament, himself. He was a Puritan, a friend of John Milton, and an opponent of Catholicism.

Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” ― “perhaps the most famous ‘persuasion to love’ or carpe diem poem in English” ― eloquently praises the woman his protagonist desires, encouraging her to not delay accepting his wooing. And yet, as the Poetry Foundation suggests, “Everything we know about Marvell’s poetry should warn us to beware of taking its exhortation to carnality at face value.” Several alternatives are suggested before concluding, “The persona’s desire for the reluctant Lady is mingled with revulsion at the prospect of mortality and fleshly decay, and he manifests an ambivalence toward sexual love that is pervasive in Marvell’s poetry.”

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that his lyrical poems came out from under the shadow of his political writing. In 1921, T.S. Eliot published an essay in the Times Literary Supplement in which he struggled to define the quality in Marvell’s poetry that sets it apart ― wit and magniloquence, perhaps, in part ―
-------“The quality which Marvell had, this modest and certainly
-------impersonal virtue ― whether we call it wit or reason, or
-------even urbanity ― we have patently failed to define. By
-------whatever name we call it, and however we define that name,
-------it is something precious and needed and apparently extinct;
-------it is what should preserve the reputation of Marvell.”

Bermudas

Where the remote Bermudas ride
In th’ ocean’s bosom unespy’d,
From a small boat, that row’d along,
The list’ning winds receiv’d this song.

What should we do but sing his praise
That led us through the wat’ry maze
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
Where he the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs,
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storm’s and prelates’ rage.
He gave us this eternal spring
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowls to us in care,
On daily visits through the air.
He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night;
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows.
He makes the figs our mouths to meet
And throws the melons at our feet,
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice.
With cedars, chosen by his hand,
From Lebanon, he stores the land,
And makes the hollow seas that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel’s pearl upon our coast,
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple, where to sound his name.
Oh let our voice his praise exalt,
Till it arrive at heaven’s vault;
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Echo beyond the Mexic Bay.

Thus sung they in the English boat
An holy and a cheerful note,
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Andrew Marvel: first post.

Another Andrew Marvell poem was recently featured at Poems For Ephesians.

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 Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Pennar Davies

Pennar Davies (1911―1996) is a Welsh poet who in his latter, most-productive years exclusively wrote in the Welsh language. He was educated at University of Wales, Oxford, and Yale; he became a Congregational minister in Cardiff, and subsequently a professor of Church History. He took on the name Pennar, which is a stream running through Mountain Ash where he was born. He authored four poetry collections and four further books. His hymn “All Poor Men and Humble” (translated by Katharine Emily Roberts) appears in eleven hymnals. There are also several biographical books available about him, including a biography by Dawn Dweud, Saintly Enigma by Ivor Thomas Rees, and his autobiography Diary of a Soul.

He was a member of the separatist political party Plaid Cymru, became the Literary Editor for The Welsh Nationalist paper where he published work by R.S. Thomas, and was a significant advocate for Welsh-language broadcasting.

His son Dr. Meirion Pennar followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a leading Welsh language academic, translator and poet.

When I Was a Boy

When I was a boy there was a wonderous region
the other side of the mountain:
the sun livelier there, in its prime;
the moon gentler, its veil of enchantment
resting chastely on hill and dale;
the night like a sacrament,
the dawn like young love,
the afternoon like sliding on the Sea of Glass,
the evening like a respite after mowing;
the faces of ordinary folk like china dishes
and their voices like the soliloquy of countless waters
between the source and the sea,
and the people sons and daughters of old,
princes and countesses in the court;
and all the lines of nature, thought, society
and talent and will and sacrifice
and the saving and the wretchedness and the peace,
all the lines of venture, claim compassion,
meeting at eye level there
in an unvanishing vanishing point
called Heaven
and all on the other side of the mountain
in Merthyr, Troed-y-rhiw and Aber-fan
before I crossed the mountain
and I saw.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

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 Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Brad Davis*

Brad Davis is the author of three poetry collections: Opening King David (2011), Still Working It Out (2014), and his new book Trespassing On the Mount of Olives (Poiema/Cascade, 2021). Similar to how his first book consisted of poems in conversation with the Psalms, his new book’s poems are in conversation with the gospels. He has taught creative writing at the College of the Holy Cross, Eastern Connecticut State University, The Stony Brook School, and Pomfret School, where he served as school chaplain.

Marjorie Maddox has said of this new collection, “…Through persona poems and first-person narratives, the contemporary and biblical intersect with insight and humor. . . . What follows are spiritual and social examinations: ‘How to clear out a self from a self,’ how to protect the environment, how to face doubt and mortality, and, ultimately, how to ‘do whatever he tells you,’ even if that means, according to Davis, writing poems. Thank God for the latter.”

I am honoured to be the editor of the Poiema Poetry Series, and to have worked with Brad Davis on both Still Working It Out, and Trespassing On the Mount of Olives.

The following poem first appeared in Ekstasis, and is from his new poetry book.

The Generative Influence of Q on John’s Gospel

Luke 5:1–11

The fragment is on the mark.
Whoever wrote it down got it right,
and I should know.
From a boat offshore,
my younger self watched it happen:
the crowd pressing upon the Teacher
as he taught on the beach;
he commandeering Peter’s boat
and telling him to put out into deep water;
we rolling our eyes
when he instructed Peter to let down his net,
yet then having to help him land
that crazy haul of fish;
and finally back on the beach, the Teacher
announcing, From now on, you will catch men.
Ever since it was entrusted to me,
I have treasured this fragment,
holding it as first among the other fragments
I keep rolled in a scrap of leather.
And there’s a new reason I hold it dear.
Early last Sabbath, the rains dampening
my eagerness for eldership here in Ephesus,
I unrolled the fragment
to refresh my sense of commissioning—
you will catch men—
when suddenly the words
turned themselves inside out
and I became dizzy, like that day
in the upper room with the Spirit-fire.
Suddenly the crowd on the beach
listening to Jesus teach the word of God
became a crowd on a beach
listening to God.
I felt myself melt, as if into a glorious light.
Then later in the day words occurred to me—
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was—

along with a compulsion
to write them down
and follow them with other words.
And it was as though I were once again
following Jesus up some rocky path
between small towns on the way to Jerusalem.
I’m telling this to all of you
because the idea these words convey
will be called blasphemous.
I may suffer for having written them.
But I know and trust their source,
and when I’m done they must
be sent around to all the Teacher’s friends.
Which makes me nervous
how even they will receive them,
for none of the others have spoken as plainly
of the Teacher in this way—
as the great I AM. So I have awakened you,
the moon still bright above the city,
because I want you to sit with me and pray
as I write what I will write.
You know how tired I become by early afternoon,
and how I have needed your help
shepherding our little flock here in Ephesus.
Well, now I will need you even more
to help complete the new work. Please,
someone bring me my pen, ink, and parchment.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Brad Davis: first post, second 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 Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.