Monday, July 15, 2019

Mark S. Burrows

Mark S. Burrows is an American poet and professor living in Bochum, Germany, where he is on the faculty of Protestant University of Applied Sciences, and is Poetry Editor for Spiritus (John Hopkins University). He has translated many poets, including in the book-length collections Prayers of a Young Poet by Rilke, and Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart (with Jon M. Sweeney).

His poetry and translations have appeared in such publications as Christian Century, Anglican Theological Review, and Poetry. His newest book, The Chance of Home (2018, Paraclete Press), is a collection of his own poetry; it is the source for the following poem.

A Stubborn Parable

I don’t know what Nature is: I sing it.
—Fernando Pessoa

This morning, sitting in a small enclosed garden,
I notice a sprig of green clinging improbably to

a dark stone wall, its roots rising from a slender
crease where a stray seed once fell, carried by

the winds, perhaps, or some wayward bird—who
could ever tell? It somehow found an edge of soil

and held out against the thrust of winter’s snow
and ice, lifting itself up toward the sun against

an unforgiving face of stone—a parable of grit,
the resilience of song, a strong resonance of hope.

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, July 8, 2019

Ralph Erskine

Ralph Erskine (1685—1752) is a Scottish poet and chaplain. He attended Edinburgh University, and was ordained in 1711. He is remembered for his devotional writing, especially his Gospel Sonnets — poetic theological reflections, with memorable analogies, which were not structured as sonnets at all. By 1797 they had appeared in 25 editions.

One of his most interesting creations is “Meditations On Smoking Tobacco; Or, Smoking Spiritualized” — a 50-line poem of metaphoric reflections for smokers:
-----...And when the smoke ascends on high,
-----Then thou behold’st the vanity
-----Of worldly stuff,
-----Gone with a puff.
-----Thus think, and smoke tobacco...

He died at Dunfermline, where he served for many years. A larger-than-life statue of him was erected there, in front of Queen Ann Street Church, in 1849.

from The Believer's Soliloquy; Especially in Times of Desertion, Temptation, Affliction
Sect. VI. The Song of Heaven desired by Saints on Earth

…Glory to God that here we came,
And glory to the glorious Lamb.
Our light, our life, our joy, our all
Is in our arms, and ever shall.

Our Lord is ours, and we are his;
Yea, now we see him as he is:
And hence we like unto him are,
And full his glorious image share.

No darkness now, no dismal night,
No vapour intercepts the light;
We see for ever face to face,
The highest Prince in highest place.

This, this does heav'n enough afford,
We are for ever with the Lord:
We want no more, for all is giv'n;
His presence is the heart of heav'n."

While thus I laid my list'ning ear
Close to the door of heav'n to hear;
And then the sacred page did view,
Which told me all I heard was true;

Yet shew'd me that the heav'nly song
Surpasses ev'ry mortal tongue,
With such unutterable strains
As none in fett'ring flesh attains:

Then said I, "O to mount away,
And leave this clog of heavy clay!
Let wings of time more hasty fly,
That I may join the songs on high."

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, July 1, 2019

John Terpstra*

John Terpstra is a Hamilton poet and writer. His most recent poetry collection is Mischief (2017, Gaspereau Press) — a playful and accessible book that subtly draws us into its depths through its seeming simplicity and its sympathetic voice.

Here we see more of who John Terpstra is — such as through his compassionate reflections on neighbours and strangers alike. Perhaps more than in any other collection, he also reveals his alternate identity as a carpenter and cabinetmaker; two of the poems which do this, previously appeared in my anthology, The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry.

Of his five nonfiction books, two are about the landscape of his chosen city. His first, Falling Into Place (which first appeared in 2002) focusses on a huge glacial sandbar known as the Iroquois Bar — and the most-recent, Daylighting Chedoke (2018, Wolsak & Wynn), is about the now-largely-underground Chedoke Creek. Both books consider how human activity has altered the landscape.

Terpstra has also recently contributed three poems to the second Poiema anthology, Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

The following poem, before it appeared in Mischief, was published in the chapbook Brendan Luck (2005, Gaspereau Press) and in Reformed Worship — from which it was submitted, and won an Evangelical Press of America Prize for Poetry in 2009.

Needlecraft

In the church where we go to now
the words of the preacher
begin innocently enough
to thread through the fabric of our lives.
They draw together shapes
not previously recognized,
and connect portions of the narrative
as yet unread, or not yet readable,
a pattern not apparent,
as though written and stitched
by a random hand.

The church where we go to now
Is, and is not, the church
of our fathers and mothers.
The old words do not come easily,
here, the songs have faded and frayed,
they have been crushed and ground
by the lives of our forebears,
the weighing down of history.

The preacher is not innocent.
She is both fearful and full of joy.
She would unburden us,
but the slim silver sliver that she guides
will prick
as it moves through,
and there is blood on the pattern,
the page, on the hand,
as well as healing,
just as there was for our mothers and fathers.

She pulls the thread, taut,
then snaps it between her teeth.
Amen. For now and forever
amen to this bite of a new
dispensation, ancient
and exact
as needlecraft.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about John Terpstra: 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, June 24, 2019

Miklós Radnóti

Miklós Radnóti (1909—1944) is a Hungarian poet who developed his artistic voice between the wars, studying Hungarian and French literature at the University of Szeged. He was active in Budapest’s avant-garde literary scene. As the days grew politically darker, his second poetry collection, Song of the New Shepherds (1931), was banned — for which he could have been imprisoned. He and his wife travelled to France many times during the 1930s, and they converted to Catholicism.

During WWII, because of his Jewish background, he was drafted three times for forced labour. The third time this happened he had been working in the Yugoslavian copper mines, and was on a forced retreat from Russian forces. In a weakened state, and unable to continue, he was shot; his body was dumped in a mass grave. When the grave was exhumed a year later, his notebook — containing his final poems — was discovered. Miklós Radnóti has been called one of the most significant poetic witnesses to the Holocaust.

The following is from Radnóti’s posthumous collection Forced March, translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri. Here “the poet” is speaking with the prophet Nahum who has just spoken of how “more than of old, today, sin multiplies”.

from Eighth Eclogue

To the slaughter nations scramble.
And the soul of man is stripped bare, even as Nineveh.
What use had admonitions? And the savage ravening locusts
In their green clouds, what effect? Of all beasts man is the basest.
Here, tiny babes are dashed against walls and over there,
The church tower is a torch, the house an oven roasting
Its own people. Whole factories fly up in their smoke
The street runs mad with people on fire, then swoons with a wail,
The vast bomb-bays disgorge, the great clamps loose their burdens
And the dead lie there, shrivelled, spattering city squares
Like a herd’s dung on the pasture: everything, once again,
Has happened as you foretold. What brings you back here, tell me,
To earth from ancient cloud-swirl?

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, June 17, 2019

Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150—215) is a significant philosopher of the early church. In about 190 he began teaching his own school of thought, which centred on the reasonableness of the Christian faith. He wrote three books: Exhortation to the Greeks, Instructor, and Miscellanies. Clement’s “new philosophy” was actually Biblical Christianity aimed at correcting gnostic heresies.

Clement was one of the first leaders to speak up in favour of Christians using visual art in their worship. He suggested, "Let our emblem be a dove, or a fish, or a ship running before the wind, or a musician's lyre, or a ship's anchor. And if there be a fisherman, he will remind us of an apostle, and little children being drawn up out of the water."

The following is considered by some to be the oldest Christian hymn, other than texts from scripture; it was translated into English by F. Bland Tucker.

Jesus, Our Mighty Lord

Jesus, our mighty Lord,
our strength in sadness,
the Father's conquering Word,
true source of gladness;
your name we glorify,
O Jesus, throned on high;
you gave yourself to die
for our salvation.

Good shepherd of your sheep,
your own defending,
in love your children keep
to life unending.
You are yourself the Way:
lead us then day by day
in your own steps, we pray,
O Lord most holy.

Glorious their life who sing,
with glad thanksgiving,
true hymns to Christ the King
in all their living:
all who confess his Name,
come then with hearts aflame;
the God of peace acclaim
as Lord and Savior.

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 10, 2019

Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas (1914—1953) is the best known of all Welsh poets. He grew up in a Wales that had undergone an evangelical revival in 1904—1905 that had transformed the entire culture. His father was an atheist who nevertheless constantly ranted against God, while his mother was a devoted nonconformist chapel-goer.

I have long wondered about including a post about Dylan Thomas here, although I doubt he was truly a Christian. Even so, he was so God-haunted, so influenced by the Bible and hymns, and he wrote so many poems which clearly express a Christian faith, that I decided — at the very least — he speaks profoundly of faith in God.

In his book Dylan Thomas; Dog Among the Fairies, Henry Treece concludes that in Thomas's poem "Vision and Prayer" — "The poet has openly accepted God's love and has rejoiced in his acceptance. . . . This poem ends in a burst of confessional self-abnegation very reminiscent of Francis Thompson's ‘Hound of Heaven’." Treece also says, "his successive poems have testified . . . to his acceptance of religion and his need for prayer."

Many would disagree, even though, one of his closest friends, the poet Vernon Watkins, was clearly a Christian — and Dylan Thomas’s favourite poem, was John Milton’s “On The Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” Perhaps what this most proves is how difficult it is for us to truly understand another human being.

Dylan Thomas’s drunkenness and immoral behaviour was enough to keep him from receiving a plaque in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. This absence was amended in 1982 when US President Jimmy Carter remarked to the Dean, “You put him in here. And I will pray for him.”

The following poem was one that Vernon Watkins convince Thomas to include in his collection Twenty Five Poems.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashore;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Through they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

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 3, 2019

Janet McCann

Janet McCann has taught creative writing in the English Department of Texas A&M University for more than 45 years. The most recent of her numerous poetry collections is The Crone at the Casino (Lamar University Press, 2014).

I met her this February at the Windhover Writers Festival at University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. I was able to express to her how influential the anthology Odd Angles of Heaven (1994, Harold Shaw Publishers) — which she’d edited together with David Craig — had been for me as I was developing as a poet, and how it is a significant forerunner to my anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry.

She and David Craig also went on to publish two further poetry anthologies — Place of Passage (2000) and Francis and Clare in Poetry (2004).

The following Janet McCann poem is from Rattle (#25 Summer 2005).

Life List

My friend the scholar-birdwatcher
is dying, after a quiet regular life
of Milton and birds, and if I could

imagine him a farewell, it would be this:
to look out into the small yard
he tended for forty years, to where

he placed the bird houses, the martin
house and the hummingbird feeder,
just in time to see a sweep of air

curve in and take form, the great arctic gyrfalcon
not on his life list, there on the sill,
beak, feathers and pinions

and final knowledge, Adam’s homecoming
after the story’s end, better than Eden.
May he leave in his hand a feather, that his wife

might know where he has gone.

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.