Monday, December 27, 2010

Charles Williams

Charles Williams (1886–1945) worked all his adult life for Oxford University Press, and lived in London. He belonged to the famous informal literary group, the Inklings, which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. His most celebrated poetry, found in the volumes, Taliessin Through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars, concerns Arthurian Legend.

Besides poetry, Williams wrote plays, theology, biography, criticism and novels, but did not achieve the success of Lewis and Tolkien. Today he is best known for his seven novels, including The Place Of The Lion and All Hallows Eve, which may be called magic realism, or as T.S. Eliot described them, “supernatural thrillers”.

In his poem, “On The Curcuit”, W.H. Auden describes how individual places he visited in the United States were unmemorable unless he experienced a “blessed encounter, full of joy” meeting “here, an addict of Tolkien, / There, a Charles Williams fan.” Auden would have considered himself to be both.

Although comfortable with continual questioning, Charles Williams was all his life dedicated to his Anglican Christian faith.

Christmas

He who knows all things knows not now
Whither He came, or why, or how.

He who sees all things can but see
A dim and clear Maternity:

Whose mortal mouth alone can teach
Omniloquence its human speech.

But, as from those soft wandering hands,
A universal grace expands.

His blood, in motion regular,
Decrees the course of sun and star.

Creation, leaning o'er the Child,
Beholds its image undefiled.

And His fine breath, in sweet recall,
Draws all things to the heart of all.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, December 20, 2010

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley (1707–1788) together with his brother John, were central figures in the Methodist movement, which spread throughout Britain and led to the Great Awakening in America. Charles was the most famous hymn writer of his day, and considered by many to be the greatest of all English hymn writers. Originally the movement was intended to bring revival to the Church of England, but the Methodists were not accepted and forced to begin a separate church. Charles, however, remained in the Church of England throughout his life.

He was such a prolific writer that he composed 6,500 hymns — which would be equivalent to writing more than two hymns a week for fifty years! It is said that Charles Wesley’s writing was deeply influenced by such poets as: Shakespeare, Herbert, Milton, and Dryden. Some of Wesley’s most famous hymns — which are sung widely in various denominations — include: “And Can It Be”, “O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”, Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, the Christmas carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”, and the following Advent hymn:

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sarah Klassen

Sarah Klassen was born close to Winnipeg, Manitoba, which she still makes her home — although she has spent time teaching in both Lithuania and Ukraine. She is the author of six collections of poetry, including A Curious Beatitude (2006) which won the Canadian Authors Association Award for poetry — an award which has honoured many of Canada’s finest poets, including Margaret Avison.

She is best known for her poetry, which speaks, among other things, of her faith, and the Germanic heritage of her Mennonite upbringing. She has also started to publish fiction, including her short-story collection The Peony Season, and her recent novel A Feast of Longing.

The following comes from a piece called Poems for Advent, which begins with an Emily Dickinson quote — “There’s a certain slant of light...” ; since I am just including the first section (which is quite independent of the others), I will simply call it:

Poem for Advent

He comes at last, the long-expected painter
in working clothes, carrying ladders, paint-
splattered dropsheets. He’ll cover everything
and scan each wall for cracks
--------------------caused by the building shifting,
plaster and scrape, making rough places plain.
If he’s inclined he’ll hum
--------------------Lo how a rose ere blooming
while I remove from every room all hindrances:
the vining ivy, ornaments, those matched lamps
that might get in the way of things. Myself.

When everything is ready he’ll begin.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Read my Canadian Mennonite review of Sarah Klassen's poetry collection A Curious Beatitude here

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Sarah Klassen: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, December 6, 2010

Barbara Colebrook Peace

Barbara Colebrook Peace was born in northern England, but now makes her home in Victoria, BC. She is the author of two poetry collections (both published by Sono Nis Press); her newest book Duet for Wings and Earth was a joint winner (with my own book Poiema) for a national poetry award from The Word Guild in 2009.

Duet for Wings and Earth is a beautiful Christmas collection consisting of poems which were, year-after-year, written for the Christmas concert at St. George the Martyr Church in Cadboro Bay. The poems are written from the points-of-view of various characters from the Christmas story, such as: Mary, Joseph, God, the sheep, the donkey, or — as in the following case — the moon.

Song of the Moon

In my beginning, when I was nought,
you called my name
as if I were already there
-------------------------------------Let there be Moon!

And I was...Moon?

-------------------------Moon.

I have counted the years as I spin around the earth around the sun
as a tree also counts its life in circles, laying down the rings.
And the years have been long enough only to begin
the study of my craft, the art you gave me at birth:
how to bless the earth with moonlight

Now, on this night of your birth,
we meet for the first time face to face, Moon and human,
and I (entering above the half-door of the stable,
praising the hollow of Mary’s arm, the pool of shadows
round the manger, and touching
lightly your head)
now render back to you, as you begin from nought,
and lay down at your feet
your gift to me of moonlight.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Read my review of Barbara Colebrook Peace's poetry collection
Duet for Wings and Earth here

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, November 29, 2010

Robert Siegel

Robert Siegel is a keen observer of the natural world. For both his poetry and his fiction he is commonly inspired by animals; consider for example his award-winning trilogy of novels, Whalesong. In his recent new and selected poems, A Pentecost of Finches, you’ll find poems that focus on such creatures as the Giraffe, Tiger, Snakes, Wolves, Turtle, and the Muskie: “Above him motors unzip the sky all day / and zip it up again”. The title for this collection comes from this beautiful haiku:

---------------------A.M.

-------------Yellow flames flutter
----------------about the feeder:
-------------a Pentecost of finches.

In this book, Siegel has also written a series of Scripture-inspired poems. In each of these poems he focuses on an individual from a Bible story, and builds the poem reflectively as he does elsewhere with animals. As we come into Advent I suggest you use the following poem for your reflections.

Annunciation

She didn't notice at first the air had changed.
She didn't, because she had no expectation
except the moment and what she was doing, absorbed
in it without the slightest reservation.

Things grew brighter, more distinct, themselves,
in a way beyond explaining. This was her home,
yet somehow things grew more homelike. Jars on the
---shelves
gleamed sharply: tomatoes, peaches, even the crumbs

on the table grew heavy with meaning and a sure repose
as if they were forever. When at last she saw
from the corner of her eye that gold fringe of his robe
she felt no fear, only a glad awe,

the Word already deep inside her as she replied
yes to that she'd chosen all her life.

Robert Siegel and his wife live on the coast of Maine. The above poems were posted with the poet’s permission (© 2005 by Robert Siegel).

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Robert Siegel: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams is a Welsh poet, born of Welsh-speaking parents. He has recently become internationally known since he became the Archbishop of Canterbury in December of 2002.

In 2009 he gave an address on poetry — speaking primarily of favourite poets associated with the south bank of the Thames — Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Keats and Blake — having an actor read several of their poems. Rowan Williams said:
--------“There's an element for every poet of necessity in
--------what he or she says...[T]he poet doesn't simply say,
--------‘you might say it this way’ or ‘here's a thought’.
--------The poet says, ‘I can't not say this.’ And that, ‘I
--------can't not say this’ is where the pressure, the
--------integrity of poetry comes from. Poetry loses its
--------integrity when it's either trying to be clever or
--------trying to get a message across with a capital ‘m’.
--------That doesn't mean that poetry is uninterested in
--------morality... [T]here's no more moral poet in the
--------English language than William Blake. But as soon
--------as poetry becomes a rhyming version of good advice
--------it loses its energy. It loses its sense of necessity.”

He has published several collections of poetry, including, Headwaters: Poems of Rowan Williams. He has also translated poetry from Welsh and Russian.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, November 15, 2010

W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden (1907—1973) is considered by many to be one of the poetic masters of the twentieth century. He was influenced by T.S. Eliot stylistically, and by Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poetic techniques. He alienated many of those most interested in his poetry — by rejecting the left-wing political views that had established him in the late 1930s, and by leaving England for the United States in 1939.

Embracing Christianity also distanced him from many of his readers, but his public homosexuality didn’t make him an attractive figure to most Christians. He said he was drawn to reaffirm his Anglican faith in 1940, due to the influence of Charles Williams. Dietrich Bonhoffer was a major influence on the development of Auden’s theology towards the end of his life.

The following poem is the final of seven in a series entitled Horae Canonicae. The poet sees the Christian life as a life in community. Like Peter when he realized he had denied Jesus, we need to be awakened — by the natural world and by the church — to our self-imposed isolation, of which we need to repent.

Lauds

Among the leaves the small birds sing;
The crow of the cock commands awaking:
In solitude, for company.

Bright shines the sun on creatures mortal;
Men of their neighbours become sensible:
In solitude, for company.

The crow of the cock commands awaking;
Already the mass-bell goes dong-ding:
In solitude, for company.

Men of their neighbours become sensible;
God bless the Realm, God bless the People:
In solitude, for company.

Already the mass-bell goes dong-ding;
The dripping mill-wheel is again turning:
In solitude, for company.

God bless the Realm, God bless the People;
God bless this green world temporal:
In solitude, for company.

The dripping mill-wheel is again turning;
Among the leaves the small birds sing:
In solitude, for company.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about W.H. Auden: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, November 8, 2010

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes (1902–1967) is a black American poet whose central themes include the pursuit of dreams, black identity and culture, and Christian faith. He often sought to capture the black dialect in his writing, as well as the rhythms of jazz and blues music. His poetry is often quite accessible, even to a young audience, and often seeks to be an encouragement to the young.

The Dream Keeper

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamers,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

These themes may be seen in the preceding poem — particularly if we include the possibility that the "Dream Keeper” could be God, and the dreams might include those of equality as later expounded by Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I have a dream” speech.

Judgment Day

They put ma body in the ground,
My soul went flyin` o` de town.

Lord Jesus!

Went flyin` to de stars an` moon
A shoutin`, God, I`s comin` soon.

O Jesus!

Lord in heaben,
Crown in His head,
Says don`t be `fraid
Cause you ain`t dead.

Kind Jesus!

An` now I`m settin` clean an` bright
In the sweet o` ma Lord`s sight,—
---Clean an` bright,
------Clean an` bright.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, November 1, 2010

Elizabeth Jennings

English poet, Elizabeth Jennings (1926–2001) lived most of her life in Oxford. She belongs in the first tier of postwar British poets — associated with the group known as “The Movement”, which also includes Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin. Her poems are structured with simple metre and rhyme, giving them a gentle lilt. Besides writing her own poetry, she translated Michelangelo’s sonnets.

Elizabeth Jennings often wrote about paintings and about her faith. The two come together well in her poem “The Nature of Prayer” where she reflects on Van Gogh’s “crooked church” from the painting “The Church at Auvers”.
-------------Maybe a mad fit made you set it there
-------------Askew, bent to the wind, the blue-print gone
-------------Awry, or did it? Isn’t every prayer
-------------We say oblique, unsure, seldom a simple one,
-------------Shaken as your stone tightening in the air?...
Although she avoided autobiographical poetry, she freely wrote about mental illness, which troubled her life, as it had for Vincent Van Gogh.

In 1985 the poet Peter Levi said of Jennings in The Spectator, “She is one of the few living poets one could not do without”. She received many honours and awards throughout her career, including a C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1992.

Lazarus

-----It was the amazing white, it was the way he simply
Refused to answer our questions, it was the cold pale glance
Of death upon him, the smell of death that truly
Declared his rising to us. It was no chance
Happening, as a man may fill a silence
Between two heart-beats, seem to be dead and then
Astonish us with the closeness of his presence;
This man was dead, I say it again and again.
All of our sweating bodies moved towards him
And our minds moved too, hungry for finished faith.
He would not enter our world at once with words
That we might be tempted to twist or argue with:
Cold like a white root pressed in the bowels of earth
He looked, but also vulnerable — like birth.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Elizabeth Jennings: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, October 25, 2010

John of the Cross

John of the Cross (1542–1591) was a Spanish mystic and Carmelite friar known for his allegorical poetry. It is from him the phrase “the dark night of the soul” has come to us.

In his prologue to The Spiritual Canticle he writes, “Who can describe the understanding [the Spirit of the Lord] gives to loving souls in whom He dwells? ...[L]et something of their experiences overflow in figures and similes, and from the abundance of their spirit pour out secrets and mysteries rather than rational explanations.”

Clearly there is a relationship between “Song of Solomon” (aka “Song of Songs”, aka “Canticles”) and this poem. John of the Cross wrote a commentary on each stanza of the poem, as well, for those who might question the spiritual nature of his writing.

Selections from The Spiritual Canticle

Stanzas between the Soul and the Bridegroom

Bride

1. Where have you hidden,
Beloved, and left me moaning?
You fled like the stag
After wounding me;
I went out calling you, and you were gone.

2. Shepherds, you that go
Up through the sheepfolds to the hill,
If by chance you see
Him I love most,
Tell him that I sicken, suffer, and die.

3. Seeking my love
I will head for the mountains and for watersides,
I will not gather flowers,
Nor fear wild beasts;
I will go beyond strong men and frontiers...

9. Why, since you wounded
This heart, don’t you heal it?
And why, since you stole it from me,
Do you leave it so,
And fail to carry off what you have stolen?...

13... Bridegroom
Return, dove,
The wounded stag
Is in sight on the hill,
Cooled by the breeze of your flight...

Bride...
33. Do not despise me;
For if, before you found me dark,
Now truly you can look at me
Since you have looked
And left in me grace and beauty...

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, October 18, 2010

F.R. Scott

F.R. Scott (1899–1985) was a “first mover of Canadian poetry,” according to Louis Dudek. He was born in Quebec City, and went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. Scott studied law, and later became Dean of Law at McGill University. During the depression he became leftist in his political views, and became influential within the Canadian socialist movement. In 1970 he was offered a seat in the Canadian Senate, which he declined.

His credentials as a poet are equally impressive. F.R. Scott was the editor of such publications as McGill Fortnightly Review, The Canadian Mercury, and Preview — which helped him to initiate new poetry in Canada. He won the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1981 for his Collected Poems. (In 1977 he’d already won the GG for nonfiction for his Essays on the Constitution.) Leonard Cohen recorded Scott’s poem “A Villanelle For Our Times” for his CD Dear Heather (2004) with musical accompaniment.

Unison

What is it makes a church so like a poem?
The inner silence – spaces between words?

The ancient pews set out in rhyming rows
Where old men sit and lovers are so still?

Or something just beyond that can’t be seen,
Yet seems to move if we should look away?

It is not in the choir and the priest.
It is the empty church has most to say.

It cannot be the structure of the stone.
Sometimes mute buildings rise above a church.

Nor is it just the reason it was built.
Often it does not speak to us at all.

Men have done murders here as in a street,
And blinded men have smashed a holy place.

Men will walk by a church and never know
What lies within, as men will scorn a book.

Then surely it is not the church itself
That makes a church so very like a poem,

But only that unfolding of the heart
That lifts us upward in a blaze of light

And turns a nave of stone or page of words
To Holy, Holy, Holy without end.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman is a poet associated with the new formalism — a movement of contemporary poets who have returned to the use of many elements from poetry’s past; their poems often include metre, rhyme and symmetrical stanzas — but don’t use archaic language, or awkward inverted sentence structures in order to make a poem rhyme. Like Richard Wilbur, who continued writing with formal rhythm and rhyme when others were exclusively writing free verse, newer poets such as Dana Gioia and Mark Jarman seek to maintain that tradition. Jarman co-edited the influential 1996 anthology Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism.

He has taught at Vanderbilt University in Nashville since 1983, where he is the Centennial Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing. His ninth and most recent collection, Epistles was published by Sarabande Books in 2007.

As the journal Image has said, Jarman is courageous, in that he is not only “a champion of the formalist tradition in poetry” which is diametrically opposed to the prevailing trends of recent decades, but he is “unafraid to place [his] religious faith and doubt at the center of his work”. His collection Unholy Sonnets (an uneasy echo of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets), from which the following poem is taken, respects the traditional sonnet structure, and yet is open to its potential variations.

Sonnet #16

And if when he returned he found his mother
Behind the stone that rolled away for him,
Her muscles limp, her memory grown dim,
Unable to respond when he said, “Mother?”
And if he even recognized his mother,
Her outer light and inner light both dim,
Would he do for her what had been done for him?
Would God’s son give a new life to his mother?

I think he would balk. And I know why.
And I know this will sound unorthodox,
For she, like any mother, would have given
A kidney if she could have or an eye
To see her boy alive. The paradox
Is that he’d rather see her safe in heaven.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, October 4, 2010

William Blake

William Blake (1757–1827) was an eccentric poet, engraver and visual artist who saw himself as a prophet — and the heir of a tradition that came through Shakespeare and Milton — in a lineage that goes back to the prophets of the Bible. Although he was little known in his own day, Blake has become one of the most influential poets of the English language.

He believed in Christ’s divinity and in his resurrection, yet he was critical of the church. He viewed the Bible as the primary source for his inspiration, and yet he often twisted it to fit his own ideas. Since many of his writings are metaphorical and he created his own mythology — which can be interpreted in “the spiritual sense” that he applied to interpreting scripture — he is difficult to categorize. His theology, without doubt, became distorted. Even so, there is evidence of real faith and spiritual wrestling in his work.

The following poems come from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1789 and 1794)

The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life, & bid thee feed,
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing woolly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice
Little Lamb, who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb:
He is meek, & He is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb God bless thee,
Little Lamb God bless thee.

The Tyger

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


This is the first Kingdom Poets post about William Blake: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, September 27, 2010

Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007) is best known for her novels for teens — particularly for A Wrinkle in Time and it’s sequels. Although these books may most logically be classified as science-fiction, they really have more in common with fantasy novels; they seem less concerned with the technical side (although they certainly cover that) than with the human and spiritual story. In 1963 A Wrinkle in Time won the prestigious Newbery Award. Her novel A Ring of Endless Light (the title comes from a Henry Vaughan poem) was selected as a Newbery Honor Book for 1980. My favourite L’Engle fiction is the Wrinkle sequel Many Waters (1986), which takes twentieth century twins back to the time of the flood. The depth of these books is not limited by the youth of her protagonists.

In Walking on Water, her book of reflections on faith and art, she put the role of all writers and artists in perspective when she writes: “the artist is truly the servant of the work”.

In her poetry Madeleine L’Engle primarily uses traditional rhyming and rhythmic structures. She often writes on spiritual themes — sometimes taking on the persona of a biblical character — and about her relationship with her husband, Hugh Franklin who died in 1986.

She co-authored three books with her good friend, the poet Luci Shaw; their Advent and Christmas poetry and reflections were gathered in the 1996 book Wintersong, which I return to every year. Her new and collected poems — The Ordering of Love — was published in 2005. The following poem reflects her interest in both science and faith.

Sonnet, Trinity 18

Peace is the center of the Atom, the core
Of quiet within the storm. It is not
A cessation, a nothingness; more
The lightning in reverse is what
Reveals the light. It is the law that binds
The atom’s structure, ordering the dance
Of proton and electron, and that finds
Within the midst of flame and wind, the glance
In the still eye of the vast hurricane.
Peace is not placidity; peace is
The power to endure the megatron of pain
With joy, the silent thunder of release,
The ordering of Love. Peace is the atom’s start,
The primal image: God within the heart.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Madeleine L'Engle: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, September 20, 2010

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772—1834) was the son of an Anglican vicar, although in his rebellious youth he served as a Unitarian preacher. In 1798 the book Lyrical Ballads by Coleridge and William Wordsworth established the careers of both poets, and the entire Romantic movement. He is best known for such fanciful poems as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan”.

Coleridge’s marriage was not a happy one; this and his lengthy addiction to laudanum undermined his creative productivity for years. During this time he flitted from one philosophy to another. In 1814 he returned to the Church of England, and declared himself to be orthodox. Although he still permitted himself broad speculations, the doctrine of the Trinity became central to his thought. In 1817 he published Biographia Literaria, his most important work of literary criticism.

In his essay “Symbol And Allegory” Coleridge said, “It is among the miseries of the present age that it recognizes no medium between literal and metaphorical.” His “Mariner” carries significant symbolism of sin and redemption, and, as it nears its end, expresses:
-----"He prayeth best who loveth best
-----"All things both great and small;
-----"For the dear God who loveth us,
-----"He made and loveth all."
Coleridge said, “an allegory is but a translation of abstract notions into picture language.” Such picture language was his greatest poetic gift.

Epitaph (1833)

Stop, Christian passer-by!–Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seem'd he.–
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise–to be forgiven for fame
He ask'd, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Samuel Taylor Coleridge: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer — a man of deep insight, renowned for his essays on agricultural issues, and ecology. He is the author of more than forty books, known as a religious thinker, and for his resistance to computer technology (He would not be interested in websites or blogs — even this blog — no matter how fascinating the topic). His poetry and fiction reflect his love of creation, of God and of rural life. Although he has taught at New York University, among others, and lived abroad in Italy and France, when we read Wendell Berry we are immersed in his connection to rural Kentucky; such connection to place is important in his work.

He’s been writing his rural novels of the fictitious town of Port William, Kentucky for half a century; the earliest, Nathan Coulter, was published in 1960, and one recent installment, Andy Catlett: Early Travels, appeared in 2007.

My connection to Wendell Berry is through his poems. They are simple, honest and profound — permitting us to reflect along with him, on the things that matter to him. He often speaks of faith, as in the following brief poem:
(IX from “Sabbaths 1999”)
--------The incarnate Word is with us,
--------is still speaking, is present
--------always, yet leaves no sign
--------but everything that is.

In his poetry, Berry reminds us of the issues that concern him — issues that concern us all. The following poem is from his collection Entries:

Air

This man, proud and young,
turns homeward in the dark
heaven, free of his burden
of death by fire, of life in fear
of death by fire, in the city
now burning far below.

This is a young man, proud;
he sways upon the tall stalk
of pride, alone, in control of the
explosion by which he lives, one
of the children we have taught
to be amused by horror.

This is a proud man, young
in the work of death. Ahead of him
wait those made rich by fire.
Behind him, another child
is burning; a divine man
is hanging from a tree.

In Rock & Sling (Volume 3 Issue 1 Spring 2006), you can read my review of Wendell Berry’s poetry collection Given.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, September 6, 2010

John Berryman

John Berryman (1914–1972) was raised in the Catholic church, but had abandoned it. Throughout his life he suffered from alcoholism and depression; the suicide of his father, when Berryman was eleven years old, also haunted him throughout his life.

His early poems show the influences of Auden, Yeats and Hopkins. In 1964 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his innovative collection 77 Dream Songs — which demonstrated his originality and established his reputation.

During 1969 and 1970 he checked himself in for rehab several times, and soon had also embraced Christianity. Even in his faith statement Eleven Addresses to the Lord — which concludes his book Love & Fame (1970) — he questions more than he acknowledges.

On New Years’ Eve 1971 he celebrated eleven months alcohol free, but his emotional instability caught up with him a week later; he jumped to his death from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis.

from Eleven Addresses to the Lord

10


Fearful I peer upon the mountain path
where once Your shadow passed, Limner of the clouds
up their phantastic guesses. I am afraid,
I never until now confessed.

I fell back in love with you, Father, for two reasons:
You were good to me, & a delicious author,
rational & passionate. Come on me again,
as twice you came to Azarias & Misael.

President of the brethren, our mild assemblies
inspire, & bother the priest not to be dull;
keep us week-long in order; love my children,
my mother far & ill, far brother, my spouse.

Oil all my turbulence as at Thy dictation
I sweat out my wayward works.
Father Hopkins said the only true literary critic is Christ.
Let me lie down exhausted, content with that.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about John Berryman: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, August 30, 2010

Francis Thompson

English poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907) did not have a promising start. When he attended medical school, he was not interested in his studies, but instead by 1885 moved to London to become a writer. He lived as a vagrant, selling newspapers and matches, and during a bout of ill health became addicted to opium. When he submitted poems to the magazine, Merrie England, its editors, Wilfrid and Alice Meynell, recognized his potential, rescued him from the street and arranged for the publication of his first book, Poems (1893).

Francis Thompson’s most famous poem “The Hound of Heaven” describes God pursuing a reluctant man.

--------I fled Him down the nights and down the days
-----------I fled Him down the arches of the years
--------I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
-----------Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears...

Knowing Thompson’s story, the following lines from the middle of the poem ring so true.

--------In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
-------------I shook the pillaring hours
--------And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
-------------I stand amidst the dust o' the mounded years—
--------My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap...

I hope that taste will cause you to seek out the entire poem. Below is a shorter poem, that also expresses the truth of God reaching into our dark world.

In No Strange Land

----The kingdom of God is within you

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air—
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!—
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places;—
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry;—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry,—clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vassar Miller

Texas poet Vassar Miller (1924–1998) lived all her life with cerebral palsy. She often wrote of her disability — which made it difficult to walk and talk, and which made her feel isolated — but even more often she wrote of her faith. She published nine volumes of poetry between 1956 and 1985, and then in 1991 her collected poems If I Had Wheels or Love appeared. Although many have said she did not receive the attention her poetry deserves, she was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and was twice named Poet Laureate of Texas.

When she was asked to describe the meaning of her life she said, “To write. And to serve God.”

Cologne Cathedral

I came upon it stretched against the starlight,
a black lace
of stone. What need to enter and kneel down?
It said my prayers for me,

lifted in a sculptured moment of imploring
God in granite,
rock knees rooted in depths where all men
ferment their dreams in secret.

Teach marble prayers to us who know no longer
what to pray,
like this dumb worship’s lovely gesture carven
from midnight’s sweated dews.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Vassar Miller: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hannah Main-van der Kamp

Hannah Main-van der Kamp lives in Victoria, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island — and summers in BC’s Desolation Sound. These locales provide a rich backdrop for her poems. She is an observant nature poet who paints each scene in multi-layered language that often carries our thoughts to the broader meanings of significant biblical texts: A log-boom proposing an opportunity to walk on water — or a contemplative, echoing The Lord’s Prayer, receiving her “daily allotment of gazing” as her daily bread.

In “Seeing Through”, an old man with a chainsaw is cutting beached logs for firewood. “Sun breaks in, / grey so bright you need fog glasses / to see darkly / two loons resting on bevelled glass.”

In the anthology Poetry As Liturgy she says, “The practice of observing one’s own physical environment is much like participating in religious liturgy. These holy tasks ask me to approach with a certain openness and then they expand that opening.” She adds, “How to transmute that wordlessness into words is the poetic calling which engages me and will never be fully achieved.”

The following poem is from her fourth collection, According to Loon Bay (The St. Thomas Poetry Series).

Where Thieves Do Not Break Through. An Aside

Washed up, relinquished of haste, the butt log
on its side in Scuttle Bay, attends the mantra of tides.

At 300 feet, a Douglas fir is wealth
laid up in the heavens. But here in the lost timber graveyard,
it begrudges nothing, makes no effort
to add even a cubit to its stature.

All the engines are shut off. The chain saws, logging trucks,
even the whine of the tugboats. Only the sound
of confident kingfishers breathing over water.

Left for dead, humble as bones,
now the hero is a beginner. Relinquished
of complexities, he discovers wealth in waiting.
Wherever the heart wood is, there is the treasure.

Cork bark furrowed by beetles.
Cambium in depredation by tussock moth and bud worm.
The Big Tree Epic toppled.
In place of the dense crown, a wreath of dry kelp.

Stormy channel of the Shearwater Passage
has brought Vigour down to sea level.

All the time in the world now.
The first life thrown away, that the second
might be established.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cædmon

Cædmon was an Anglo-Saxon poet who died between 670 and 680 AD. He is the earliest English poet who can be identified by name. According to the historian Bede, Cædmon worked as a herdsman at the monastery, located at today's Whitby Abbey.

The story of how he came to be a poet, as recorded by Bede, has inspired many poets. To learn the story, follow this link to my tribute to Cædmon, which is the first poem in my book Poiema Here also is a link to Denise Levertov’s version of the story.

The authorship of many surviving poems, that had once been attributed to him, is now questioned. Here is a modern English translation of the one poem which is uncontested as being written by Cædmon.

Cædmon’s Hymn

Now must we hymn heaven’s Guardian,
Might of the Maker and his mind’s wisdom,
Work of the glorious Father; how he, eternal Lord,
Made the beginning of every wonder.
He made first, for the sons of men,
Heaven overhead, holy Creator.
Then the mid-earth mankind’s Guardian —
Eternal Lord, Almighty God —
Made for man’s dwelling.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, August 2, 2010

Rod Jellema

Rod Jellema is Professor Emeritus of University of Maryland, where he founded the Creative Writing program; he has four poetry books to his credit. His fifth, Incarnality: The Collected Poems of Rod Jellema, is scheduled to be published by Eerdmans in September.

Jellema writes, that the unique thing about poets is that they “take a second look”, and “share that second look...They take time to catch a kind of double vision of this or that thing, this or that moment of awareness — simply because it is fascinating. Each poem that survives its own process of being made beckons you back...to have a second look...And its work is to make experience in some fresh and direct way rather than to exult over it or chat about it or explain it.”

The following poem is from his 2004 collection, A Slender Grace.

Think Narrow

One of six million rods or cones
in the eye will flash one cell
of the billion in the brain
at the end of the thread of optic nerve
to catch a single ray from a streetlight
as it bounces off black water
asleep in a pothole.

This predicts the way the stem
of a coconut palm
leans long and far away
into pinpoints of light we call stars.
Come dawn, a split second of music
in the thin sing of a finch
will slip into the crack between two notes
the way a tiny lizard darted just now
into a slit in the terrace wall.

Think narrow. Think the line of light
that leaped under the bedroom door
to save the frightened child who was you.
Your thin escape from being someone else.
The slender grace
of a sudden thought takes you
past your self, walking

the good grey heavy town,
the bulge and muscle and long bone
that enables a wisp of thought to walk
these streets, themselves created by thought.
Think how we stride the wide earth
pressing down our weight and our love,
exulting in the plump swell of growth,
knowing the narrow gift of incarnality
is ours by the skin of our teeth.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Read my Books & Culture review of Rod Jellema's poetry collection
A Slender Grace here

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, July 26, 2010

C.S. Lewis

“Jack” Lewis (1898-1963) wanted most of all to be known as a poet. Today we know C.S. Lewis as a great literary scholar, for works such as The Allegory of Love and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, including his scholarship on such poets as John Milton and Edmund Spenser — as a Christian apologist for dozens of titles including Mere Christianity and Miracles — for his fiction, including the seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia, and his critical success, Till We Have Faces. He was also famous for his Oxford lectures, and for his skilful debates against prominent atheists — but he is not well known for his poetry.

Too often Lewis is trying to win an argument — something that just doesn’t work in a poem. He had developed such a love for the form and subject matter of medieval narrative verse, that he could not relate to the poetic techniques of the twentieth century. In one poem he mocks the famous opening of Eliot’s “Prufrock” with the lines:
-------------For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
-------------To see if evening—any evening—would suggest
-------------A patient etherized upon a table;
-------------In vain. I simply wasn’t able...

Despite this short-coming Lewis understood medieval poetry better than perhaps anyone. He wrote many beautifully poetic passages in his other writings, and did successfully (though little acknowledged) write some fine poems.

The following poem captures his desperation, like a trapped animal — as he describes himself in Surprised By Joy as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England” — when he realized the truth of Christ. I find the honesty he permits himself here — perhaps because it was written for a character in his book The Pilgrims’ Regress — most refreshing.

Caught

You rest upon me all my days
The inevitable Eye;
Dreadful and undeflected as the blaze
Of some Arabian sky;

Where, dead still, in their smothering tent
Pale travellers crouch, and, bright
About them, noon's long-drawn Astonishment
Hammers the rocks with light.

Oh, but for one cool breath in seven,
One air from northern climes,
The changing and the castle-clouded heaven
Of my old Pagan times!

But you have seized all in your rage
Of Oneness. Round about,
Beating my wings, all ways, within your cage,
I flutter, but not out.

To read my blog about why C.S. Lewis had such a timeless quality in so much of his writing (other than his poetry) visit: Canadian Authors Who Are Christian

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about C.S. Lewis: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, July 19, 2010

John Milton

John Milton (1608–1674) is one of the major figures of English literature. He is best known for his masterpiece the great epic Paradise Lost (1667). His great poem is written in blank verse, and is reminiscent of the epics of Homer and Virgil. Milton, however, was a Puritan and was greatly influenced by scripture and by the reformation.

Paradise Lost outlines its subject in the opening lines:

-----Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
-----Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
-----Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
-----With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
-----Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
-----Sing Heav’nly Muse...

By line 25 he explains that the purpose of his argument is to “assert Eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to men.” The story is told in twelve books, which are hundreds of lines each. It would be hard to overstate the influence of this poem on theology and English literature. Many poets have been greatly influenced by Milton, including William Blake and John Keats.

In 1651 he became blind, and was only able to write his masterpiece with the aid of others, such as the poet Andrew Marvell. It has been said that Milton’s blindness contributed to his strong verbal richness.

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about John Milton: second post and third post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) was a major German writer between the wars, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, whose books — such as The Cost of Discipleship — remain influential. In 1939 he refused to take the oath of loyalty to Adolph Hitler. In 1943, he was arrested for his participation in a plot to assassinate the Nazi leader.

In his cell in Flossenburg Prison, where he awaited execution, Bonhoeffer wrote the poems which appear in Voices in the Night (translated by Edwin Robertson). Sympathetic guards smuggled out his letters, and even offered to help him escape; he declined because he felt his family would be punished. He was executed by hanging on April 8, 1945 — just three weeks before Soviet forces captured Berlin.

Christians and Others

1. All go to God in their distress,
seek help and pray for bread and happiness,
deliverance from pain, guilt and death.
All do, Christians and others.

2. All go to God in His distress,
find him poor, reviled without shelter or bread,
watch him tormented by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand by God in His agony.

3. God goes to all in their distress,
satisfies body and soul with His bread,
dies, crucified for all, Christians and others
and both alike forgiving.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, July 5, 2010

Anne Porter

Anne Porter is a poet who has not received the attention her verse deserves. She was born in 1911, and is perhaps best known as the widow of the American painter Fairfield Porter. She did not try to have her poetry published until well after Fairfield’s death in 1975. She had dedicated herself to the raising of their five children, and to hospitality. Theirs was a stormy marriage, and Anne Porter had only dabbled with her own art in rare moments of spare time.

David Shapiro, a poet and family friend, encouraged her to seek publication. When her first collection, An Altogether Different Language (1994) appeared, it was a finalist for the National Book Award. Subsequently, several of Porter’s poems have appeared in Commonweal. In 2006 she published Living Things — her collected poems. Her poetry is deeply reflective, and often springs from her own Christian faith.

The Pasture Rose

Rosa humilis
The rose of the pastures
A small peasant rose

Free and for nothing
Gives us her prickles
Her five translucent petals
And her golden eye

And so to thank her
I try to learn
That dialect of silence
Which is her language
And then translate it
Into human words

As if the Lord had told me
Listen to the rose
Be the voice of the rose.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Anne Porter: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, June 28, 2010

Henry Vaughan

Henry Vaughan (1622?–1695) was a Welsh physician and poet. He is one of the 17th century metaphysical poets — a group which includes John Donne and George Herbert. There was no metaphysical school, but a similar approach beginning with Donne, growing in Herbert, and developing further in Vaughan. What their poems have in common is a colloquial manner and a characteristic reflectiveness about their personal relationships with God.

Prior to 1650 his poetry was primarily secular, however, after a serious illness, Henry Vaughan experienced a spiritual awakening. He attributed this awakening to Herbert’s poetry, and his style is significantly influenced by Herbert. His best-known book, Silex Scintillans (which means Sparkling Flint) was published in 1650, with an expanded edition in 1655. Vaughan tried to suppress his earlier poetry, and is today primarily known for his poems of faith.

Peace

My Soul, there is a country
------Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
------All skillful in the wars:
There, above noise and danger
------Sweet Peace sits, crown'd with smiles,
And One born in a manger
------Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious Friend,
------And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
------To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
------There grows the flow'r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
------Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
------For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
------Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Henry Vaughan: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, June 21, 2010

Jeanne Murray Walker

Jeanne Murray Walker is a powerful poet of varied voice. She is equal to both the task of portraying the darkness in our world, and that of expressing real hope. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, and is also well-known for her plays, which have been staged in such cities as Chicago, Boston, Vancouver and London. She lives in Philadelphia, and has been a professor at the University of Delaware for over thirty years.

The following poem is from her new collection, New Tracks, Night Falling (Eerdmans, 2009),

Thanks

After Gerard Manley Hopkins

for September sun like a sharp thread
----that strings and pulls me
down the footpath, nearly blind, toward
----the dark woods. For the hawk kiting

on high sheen above the field
----as I cross the footbridge.
For the water’s slather, for bittersweet,
----stone flowers, slagmire, silt, sediment

rushing into the slurp of gravity. Thanks even
----for seek and cover, for the seam that
opens in the hay, mouse tail splitting the gold,
----ears sleeked back, frozen against

the plummet, wings folding silent
----as umbrellas, bill hooked, steel
cables grabbing, hauling up. Thanks
----for fierce, fast, for finality,

for let-go, limp, at last. Thanks for not
----covering up what I can’t grasp,
and for sunlight, still as strong
----as harp strings, holding earth to heaven.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Jeanne Murray Walker: second post

Read my Books & Culture review of Jeanne Murray Walker’s poetry collection, A Deed To The Light (2004, University of Illinois Press) here

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, June 14, 2010

T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot (1888—1965) is perhaps the most influential poet of the 20th century. In 1922, Eliot’s landmark poem “The Waste Land” transformed poetry in ways that are still obvious today. Although he was born and raised American, in 1927 he became a British citizen. Although he had lost faith in western civilization, in 1927 he was also confirmed in the Church of England. He experienced a profound Christian faith, which is significantly expressed in much of his poetry. His finest poetic achievement, according to the poet himself, was Four Quartets (1935–1942). The following poem appeared in 1928.

A Song for Simeon

----Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

----Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have taken and given honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come ?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

----Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

----According to thy word,
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about T.S. Eliot: second post, third post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, June 7, 2010

Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz (1911—2004) was born in Lithuania, he lived in occupied Warsaw during WWII, and witnessed the oppression imposed by both Nazis and Stalinists upon his people. For more than 35 years he taught at the University of California at Berkeley, and in 1980 he received the Nobel Prize for literature.

Czeslaw Milosz wrote in Polish — including his own translation of the Psalms. The poem below was translated into English by the author and Robert Hass. He was as ready to talk about his faith as his doubt, and he was dedicated to and critical of both Poland and traditional Catholic faith.

The following is a selection from a sequence entitled “Treatise On Theology”. In the prose-like section that precedes this one, Milosz says, “Whoever places his trust in Jesus Christ waits for His coming and the end of this world, when the first heaven and the first earth pass, and death is no more.”

Religion Comes

Religion comes from our pity for humans.

They are too weak to live without divine protection.

Too weak to listen to the screeching noise of the turning of infernal wheels.

Who among us would accept a universe in which there was not one voice

Of compassion, pity, understanding?

To be human is to be completely alien amidst the galaxies.

Which is sufficient reason for erecting, together with others, the temples of an unimaginable mercy.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Czeslaw Milosz: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, May 31, 2010

Margaret Avison

Margaret Avison (1918–2007) is one of Canada’s foremost poets, and the recipient of numerous awards. Twice she has won the Governor General’s Award for poetry, and is an officer of the Order of Canada. When she received the Griffin Poetry Prize for Concrete and Wild Carrot (2002), the judges described her as “a national treasure”.

Her conversion to Christian faith came in early 1963, and has been a dominant feature of her poetry ever since. What makes her poems stand out, among the work of so many poets, is the way they grow deeper and deeper with subsequent readings. Their density, initially obscured through her unorthodox sentence structure, slowly reveals their meanings. The following poem comes from her collection Momentary Dark (2006).

Exposure

Every living thing
as a mass or a
morsel, or one who moves with
the speed of light, alike —
each, in His miracle of
particularity,
the Lord knows.

What is left, as though unknown
by the Knower’s and
the rebel’s mutual
consent, the psalmist calls
chaff in the wind.

Even a pear on a
leafy July bough,
or a begrimed
pear on a downtown fruit stand,
or a pale piece of pear in a
hospital dish proffered
a toothless mouth,
blank now toward
sustenance, and breath:
even such pears also are
known.

But unlike other
living things
being slow, slow to learn
in this interlude,
life, just being under
the sun, we
vacillate between awe, and
apprehension lest we be known.

The Knower, knowing, waits
our turn.

Posted with permission of McClelland & Stewart, and of Joan Eichner.

My interview with Margaret Avison appeared in Image in 2005. Subsequently it was republished in Margaret’s autobiography, I Am Here And Not Not-There in 2009 by The Porcupine’s Quill.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Margaret Avison: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, May 24, 2010

Robert Browning

Robert Browning (1812–1889) is one of the major figures of 19th century poetry. Ironically, prior to the death of his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, he was not well known, and was overshadowed by her. In his youth he had become an atheist, but later he rejected atheism to embrace Christianity. He clearly views this world as the place where imperfect souls are prepared for the perfection of heaven. His views only come through over the distance because his poems are “dramatic monologues” from the perspective of his characters; this makes it hard to know Browning himself.

In one poem — in the form of a letter from an incredulous Arab physician, named Karshish — we read of this man meeting with Lazarus. Karshish writes to a colleague the story of the man Christ raised. (Read the poem here)
He considers Lazarus to be mad, since “This grown man eyes the world now like a child” and believes that the one who raised him is “God himself / Creator and sustainer of the world”.

Some have accused Browning of being overly optimistic, but as The Norton Anthology of English Literature puts it: “Browning’s optimism was not blind. Few writers, in fact, seem to have been more aware of the existence of evil.” With this in mind we can read the following poem more in context.

Pippa’s Song

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearl'd;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven—
All's right with the world!

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, May 17, 2010

Robert Cording

Robert Cording is an award-winning, contemporary poet living in Connecticut, and teaching English and creative writing at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. He has five poetry books to his credit, the most recent being Common Life (CavanKerry Press). He tends to write from a faith point-of-view but often in a way that doesn’t primarily focus on the spiritual.

When I asked Robert Cording about the relationship between his role as a poet, and that of a Christian, he referred me to something he had said when his book Against Consolation received the Arlen Myer Prize. He'd said: "My task of late has been to evoke what I would call the primordial intuitions of Christianity. What are they?—that we live in a world we did not create; that God’s immanent presence is capable of breaking in on us at every moment; that most of the time we cannot 'taste and see' that presence because we live in a world of self-reflecting mirrors; that only by attention alone...can we live in the world but outside of our existing conceptions of it."

The following poem does this: causing us to look at ourselves but then to look well beyond ourselves.

Angels

They’re everywhere, baby-cheeked cherubs flying
On boutique signs, on cards and magazine covers,
In the serene sky of coffee table books.

They surround us like a halo that is no more
Than a suggestion, a dim waking to something
At the edge of our gaze when we look up.

Trees sway, a bird sings, propelling us to worship
Some source of warmth that will fill in the blank
Spaces of our hearts. Our angels never flash swords,

Flap their six monstrous wings like the sound of chariots,
Mete out judgement, or announce unexpectedly
A precocious child. They tell us to forgive ourselves

And love who we are; they focus us on abundance
So we may have enough for car and house payments,
The kids’ tuition bills. They whisper— there’s a god

Inside of you—and we believe. How good we feel
About ourselves, how unencumbered and free,
As if some transformation had surely taken place.

And so our days unravel in summer pastels,
The sun a mild version of itself, its trellised light
Nearly graspable, dappling the patio bricks and a table

Where a book is opened by the wind, a sign
Without meaning but beautiful, serving almost
No purpose at all except to create a kind of mild
Annunciatory sense that, yes, everything is about us.

(Posted with the poet's permission)

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Robert Cording: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, May 10, 2010

R.S. Thomas

Although not as famous as another Welsh poet with the same last name, R.S. Thomas (1913-2000) is “the pre-eminent, Welsh poet writing in English in the second half of the twentieth century” and perhaps Wales best-loved 20th century poet. An Anglican priest who spent his career working with the back-country farmers who could never have appreciated his alternate role as a poet, Thomas is renowned for his depiction of the people he served, and for his strong, spiritual poems.

One fictional farmer Thomas writes of, named Iago Prytherch, is representational of the men who worked the unsympathetic land, and sat in the pews of the churches where he served. In one poem (“The Hill Farmer Speaks”), such a farmer pleads, “Listen, listen, I am a man like you.”

Since I believe it is our duty as writers, and readers of the finest in literature, to pass on the legacy that has inspired us, I would like to share here a couple of my favourite R.S. Thomas poems, so that you too may seek out his work, and in turn feel inspired to share it with others.

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

The Country Clergy

I see them working in old rectories
By the sun's light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men's hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.

This is the first of two Kingdom Poets posts about R.S. Thomas: second post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, May 3, 2010

Paul Mariani

Paul Mariani is a contemporary American poet, who was born in New York City. He holds a Chair in Poetry at Boston College, and is known for the biographies he’s written of poets, such as William Carlos Williams (for which he was a finalist for the American Book Award), John Berryman, Robert Lowell, and, most recently, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Paul Mariani has written six collections of poetry, including his latest — Deaths & Transfigurations (Paraclete Press, 2005). The following poem comes from his collection, The Great Wheel (W.W. Norton).

The Cistern

In the limestone cistern
beneath St. Peter Gallicantu
in Jerusalem, my back against
the wall, try as I might,
I could not keep from weeping.
I am a man gone down into the pit,
we listened to Fr. Doyle reading,
a man shorn of his strength,
one more among the dead,
among those You have forgotten.


And did he call upon the psalms
to warm him in his need?
The night before he died
they dragged him here to try him.
What answers he could give
lay shattered on the pavement.
Later his quizzers grew tired
and impatient. Let others try him
in the morning. Enough for now
to knot a rope across his chest
and drop him into darkness.

Hanging by his wrists, Eli
he would cry out, Eli, and again
they would misread him, thinking
he was calling on Elijah.
As each of us will be alone,
friends scattered to the winds.
Except for one out in the courtyard
growing cold, poised now to deny him.
Darkness, the psalmist ended.
The one companion left me.

*This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Paul Mariani: second post

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Read my Books & Culture review of Paul Mariani's poetry collection
Deaths & Transfigurations here

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca