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).

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.

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.

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