Monday, May 16, 2022

Marjorie Stelmach*

Marjorie Stelmach is the former director of the Howard Nemerov Writing Scholars Program at Washington University in St. Louis. Her seventh collection The Angel of Absolute Zero has just appeared from Cascade Books’ Poiema Poetry Series. This is the second of her books from that series, which is edited by (yours truly) D.S. Martin. Another recent book, Walking the Mist appeared from the Ashland Poetry Press.

Poet Jane O. Wayne says of Stelmach’s new book: “In The Angel of Absolute Zero, Marjorie Stelmach leads us into a quiet realm arising out of both personal experience and reading. Whether she ponders a loon’s call or the secret origins of the cobalt blue in Chartres Cathedral’s windows, her discoveries and wise observations enrich the poems. Every image apt, every word in place, Stelmach’s beautiful book gives us the pure pleasure of her music and insights.”

Every one of these poems has previously found a home in such literary journals as, Beloit Poetry Review, The Cresset, Hudson Review, and Prairie Schooner.

The following poem first appeared in Terrene and is also from The Angel of Absolute Zero.

The Psalm of the Luna Moth

-----After a Luna moth egg hatches, the caterpillar moves
-----through five instars, eating constantly, then weaves
-----a cocoon from which it emerges mouthless. As an adult,
-----it flies only at night, and lives only long enough to mate―
-----a few days at most.


Those innumerable feet
seemed so useful
in my youth,

but looking back, I see
it was a life spent crawling,
chewing.

Then, you called me.

-----Here am I.

You freed me, first, from hunger
and the sorrow of my plodding,
and now,

in fields of luminous dusk,
beneath a silken beckoning
of stars,

you have given me wings

and coupled my heart
to the moon.

Lord of Light, I have felt
my wings beset
by the forces

of your suddenness,
your swerves and lifts, your
sheer drops.

And now,
having come into the fullness
of my longing, once again

I hear your voice.

-----Here am I.

Eagerly, I spread my wings
and all my previous lives
before you

to ask what you,
in the sweep of your reckless love,
will make of me next.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Marjorie Stelmach: 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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Ursula Bethell*

Ursula Bethell (1874—1945) is a New Zealand poet whose legacy lives on. She was born in England, moved to Christchurch in her childhood, and seemed to alternate her residence between New Zealand and England every few years. This was before such journeys were simplified by air travel. In the late 1890s she studied music and painting in Geneva, but chose instead a career in social work, particularly with the Anglican church.

Her poetry didn’t arise until her years of settled life beginning in 1924, when she and a friend bought a bungalow together, and she worked to establish its garden. She wrote a total of only three collections ― although for several years the work of another poet had been thought to be the early writing of Ursula Bethell.

Bethell’s poetry does live on. One of her clearer faith-declarations “At the Lighting of the Lamps” has been set to music by the “Ursula Bethell writer in residence at the University of Canterbury” Philip Norman for the Christchurch City Choir.
-----“Were you not wont, early illumined Christians,
-----To sing, at the time of lamp-lighting, hymns of confident praise?...
-----Because the All-wise, All-merciful, All-compassionate
-----Father of Lights, in whom is no shadow of turning,
-----Has laid the foundations of all universes secure…”

The following poem, which expresses her generation’s attitude concerning appropriate Sunday behaviour, appeared in From a Garden in the Antipodes (1929, Sidgwick & Jackson).

Sabbath

A fine day, but one for reasoned abstention.
Tempt me not sturdy mattock, nor you, cunning trowel,
Nor you, keen-edged secateurs!
Perhaps with finger and thumb one might venture?
But no! desist now, you scheming brain-cells,
And rest, hand, primeval tool.
Rather, recumbent on this sunny grass-slope,
My mind shall meditate upon divine husbandry,
And ponder emblems, allegories, parables —
The vine, the scattered seed, the threshing flail.
And think of peace flowing like that mighty river
And justice, standing fast like those great mountains,
And for similitude of the soft blue above me
Pitifulness. Tender mercy.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Ursula Bethell: 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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Charlotte Brontë*

Charlotte Brontë (1816—1855) is a Victorian poet, who — although the third of six children — is remembered as the eldest of the three Brontë sisters. Along with Emily and Anne, she released a collection of poetry in 1846. Charlotte’s poems in this collection are primarily narrative.

After the success of her novel Jane Eyre (1847), she shifted her full attention to writing fiction. Most writers will focus their efforts where they are finding success; Charlotte’s shift toward fiction also parallels the changing interests of the reading public during the 1830s and ‘40s.

Although Jane Eyre was criticized by the religious in Victorian England, Brontë responded in the preface to the second edition: “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.”

Literary scholar Karen Swallow Prior says, “As she strives to create a sense of self within a set of conditions in which almost nothing is a given, Jane does so as a committed Christian… Even the heavy Romantic influences are transformed by Brontë’s Christian faith.”

Charlotte Brontë’s other novels are Shirley (1849) and Villette (1853). Her posthumously published fiction includes the earlier novel The Professor, and her story Emma, (not to be confused with the Jane Austen novel) which Charlotte had barely started, yet has been completed at various times by other writers.

Evening Solace

The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;—
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame's or Wealth's illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart's best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back—a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others' sufferings seem.
Oh! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie!

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress—
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven
Seeking a life and world to come.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Charlotte Brontë: 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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Brian Volck

Brian Volck seems to lead two lives ― at least two lives. In one manifestation he is a pediatrician who has served at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, has provided pediatric care at the Indian Health Service hospital on the Navajo Reservation, and brought medical teams to Central America.

He is also a writer whose poetry collection Flesh Becomes Word (2013) was published by Dos Madras Press. Scott Cairns has said of this book, “These are poems of deep humility, of wide and deep learning, of abiding and strenuous faith—and pervasive joy.”

Volck’s passions for writing and healthcare come together in his published essays, in Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Medicine (2006, Brazos Press) which he co-wrote with Joel Shuman, and his memoir Attending Others: A Doctor’s Education in Bodies and Words (2016, Cascade Books).

He received his MFA from Seattle Pacific University, his MD from Washington University in St. Louis, and is currently completing a Master’s degree in theology from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. All of these connections now draw him to divide his time between Cincinnati, his home in Baltimore, and the landscape he loves in the American Southwest.

The following poem is from Flesh Becomes Word.

Having Crossed the Sea

(Exodus 15)

I have seen them, dead along the shore,
their bloated faces still ripe with hate.
And there was one I stopped at to kick—
kick him fiercely and hard in the face
the way they kicked my now dead husband
who wept at making bricks without straw—
but I found no joy in what I did.

Yesterday, we had cause to rejoice,
seeing Israel’s enemies crushed
between walls of leveling water
cast on them by our great God’s right hand.
But as we sang praises to heaven
in sight of their still floating corpses,
the cloud column swelled, grew darker, and
the rain fell: softly at first, and then
in great salt drops, so like tears, I wept
to learn one might mourn enemy dead
who were, after all, God’s children, too.

Posted with permission of the poet.

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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Jill Peláez Baumgaertner*

Jill Peláez Baumgaertner is an influential Christian poet. As long-serving poetry editor for The Christian Century she has given voice to many worthy poets, encouraging them, and sharing their work with us. She is also past president of the Conference on Christianity and Literature. Her first poetry collection since What Cannot Be Fixed (2014, Poiema/Cascade) arrives this month ― From Shade To Shine from Paraclete Press.

She has edited two anthologies, Imago Dei: Poetry from Christianity and Literature (2012), and the forthcoming anthology Taking Root in the Heart which draws poems from The Christian Century.

In her academic career, Baumgaertner came to the English faculty of Wheaton College, in 1980, from Valparaiso University; she later served as Wheaton’s Dean of Humanities and Theological Studies (2001―2017), and has now retired.

Both of these poems are from her new book.

Easter, Before It’s Noticed

The garden in the deep night
after God’s rapt silence
has no breath. No echo even
in the vacant tomb which no one
yet has visited, no one seen.
and yet everywhere his breathing,
the turn begins, the blanket
of sunrise in mist stretches
to swaddle the earth,
gouged and waiting.

Easter

In the tomb
his cheek ashens,
the silence stiffens.
When will his cells enliven,
his blood begin its orbit,
his skin pinken?
When will he flex and rise
into the dawn of new time?

He quickens, infused with tempo,
his heartbeat
breaking through the grave’s secrets
crushing the silence,
trampling death.

And he rises.
he rises indeed,
light blazing.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Jill Peláez Baumgaertner: 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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, April 11, 2022

John Robert Lee*

John Robert Lee is one of the significant younger St. Lucian contemporaries of the late Nobel laureate Derek Walcott. Lee’s most recent collection, Pierrot (2020, Peeple Tree) marks his seventieth year, and shares his reflections on his life’s journey and the departures into death of both friends and cultural heroes.

The Pierrot figure, according to his publisher’s website, is “the sad clown, holy fool of literary tradition, the suffering artist who connects to Christ in his most human incarnation as Man of Sorrows, and he is also the Pierrot Grenade of Caribbean carnival…Sometimes Pierrot is an archetypal figure, sometimes he may be thought to be Lee himself.”

In a recent interview Lee stated, “You know, I am actually a Baptist elder and pastor in my church, a practicing Christian, for over forty years.” In his younger days, he says, he walked with Rastafari, but that he left them for religious reasons.

The following is from The Passion and Resurrection Canticles.

Gethsemani

What commenced in the other garden begins to end here,
in the shadow of an olive mill by a black brook.

“Behold, We have become like one of them, to bear
their sorrows and their griefs.” Let the wheel break
this Fruit on every tooth and tread. Bruise
the Seed under the trampling heel of the Bull
of Bashan. Pour the sweating barrel
of this agony into the cupping palms of God.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Robert Lee: first post.

Another John Robert Lee poem was recently posted 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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Ann Weems

Ann Weems (1934―2016) is a Presbyterian writer, who lived in St. Louis for more than fifty years. She is known for her devotional poetry, and liturgical texts which were used in worship services. She wrote seven books, several of which are books of poems including Kneeling in Jerusalem (1993) and Psalms of Lament (1999) ― both published by John Knox Press.

One of her greatest aches was when her son Todd was murdered on his 21st birthday. Her friend Walter Brueggemann asked her. “Will Rachel finally be comforted?” Ann responded, “No. Not until God wipes away every tear from our eyes.”

She was a Presbyterian elder, and “a noted writer, speaker, liturgist and worship leader.” Her mother had been a writer of historical novels and children’s books, and her father a Presbyterian minister.

The Way to Jerusalem is Cluttered

The way to Jerusalem
is cluttered
with bits and pieces of our lives
that fly up and cry out,
wounding us as we try
to keep upon this path
that leads to Life.
Why didn’t somebody tell us
that it would be so hard?
In the midst of the clutter,
the children laugh
and run after stars.
Those of us who are wise
will follow,
for the children will be the first
to kneel in Jerusalem.

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 Wipf & Stock.