Monday, December 26, 2011

Steve Turner

Steve Turner is an English music journalist, biographer and poet. He established himself in the 1970s, writing for major music publications and the mainstream press. His poetry tends to be light, sometimes sarcastic and highly accessible. More recently, he has focussed on his poetry for children, which sells very well in the UK.

His writing often highlights the intersections of Christian faith and secular culture. He has interviewed many of rock music’s most prominent voices, and has written major biographies of such stars as Cliff Richard, Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye, and Johnny Cash. He has written two books about the Beatles: A Hard Day’s Write, and The Gospel According To The Beatles. He also co-authored the book about the U2 film Rattle And Hum at the invitation of Bono.

The following is from Turner’s 1980 book, Nice and Nasty.

Christmas Is Really For The Children

Christmas is really
for the children.
Especially for children
who like animals, stables,
stars and babies wrapped
in swaddling clothes.
Then there are wise men,
kings in fine robes,
humble shepherds and a
hint of rich perfume.

Easter is not really
for the children
unless accompanied by
a cream filled egg.
It has whips, blood, nails,
a spear and allegations
of body snatching.
It involves politics, God
and the sins of the world.
It is not good for people
of a nervous disposition.
They would do better to
think on rabbits, chickens
and the first snowdrop
of spring.

Or they'd do better to
wait for a re-run of Christmas without asking
too many questions about
what Jesus did when he grew up
or whether there's any connection.

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 19, 2011

Donald Hall

Donald Hall lives on the farm in New Hampshire that once belonged to his great-grandparents. He attended Harvard and Oxford, and in 1953 he became poetry editor of The Paris Review; this gave him the opportunity to interview such poets as Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Although Hall’s first collection Exiles and Marriages (1955) brought him early success, he now says, “I no longer like very much of it.” Most critics believe his recent poetry is his best.

When he and his wife — the poet Jane Kenyon, who was 19 years younger than Hall — moved from Michigan to the New Hampshire farm, they visited the South Danbury Church on that first Sunday. The minister quoted Rilke in his sermon, which surprised Hall. He said when interviewed for The Paris Review, “It began from a social feeling, but moved on—from community to communion.” The couple became regular attenders, were reading the Gospels and early Christian writing, and soon the atheism he had decided on at age 12 melted away. He hesitantly discusses his faith, as it seems to make others embarrassed.

In 1995, after 23 years of marriage, Jane Kenyon died of leukemia. This hole in his life is significant in his subsequent writing. Donald Hall was appointed poet laureate of the United States in 2006.

Christmas party at the South Danbury Church

December twenty-first
we gather at the white Church festooned
red and green, the tree flashing
green-red lights beside the altar.
After the children of Sunday School
recite Scripture, sing songs,
and scrape out solos,
they retire to dress for the finale,
to perform the pageant
again: Mary and Joseph kneeling
cradleside, Three Kings,
shepherds and shepherdesses. Their garments
are bathrobes with mothholes,
cut down from the Church's ancestors.
Standing short and long,
they stare in all directions for mothers,
sisters and brothers,
giggling and waving in recognition,
and at the South Danbury
Church, a moment before Santa
arrives with her ho-hos
and bags of popcorn, in the half-dark
of whole silence, God
enters the world as a newborn again.

A Carol

The warmth of cows
-----That chewed on hay
and cherubim
Protected Him
-----As small He lay.

Chickens and sheep
-----Knew He was there
Because all night
A holy light
-----Suffused the air.

Darkness was long
-----And the sun brief
When the Christ arose
A man of sorrows
-----And friend to grief.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Donald Hall: 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 12, 2011

Christopher Smart

Christopher Smart (1722—1771) distinguished himself through his poetry while attending Cambridge University. Later, however — when he worked in London, writing for periodicals and popular theatre — he led a reckless life: drinking excessively, spending money he didn’t have, and inviting friends home for dinner when there wasn’t enough for the family to eat.

In 1756 he was seized by a “religious mania”. Samuel Johnson described it by saying, “My poor friend Smart showed the disturbance of his mind by falling upon his knees, and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place.” He refers to this himself in his poem “Hymn to the Supreme Being, on Recovery from a Dangerous Fit of Illness”. He continued, however, to grow unstable. For the next seven years, he was shut away from his wife and children, in St. Luke’s Hospital, and in a private madhouse. During this time “he began to write a bold new sort of poetry: vivid, concise, abrupt, syntactically daring.” (The Norton Anthology of English Literature.) Even after release, he was incapable of handling his finances.

Today, Christopher Smart is best known for the poetry he began while in confinement. The first, A Song To David (1763), considered his masterpiece, was unappreciated in its day, although later praised by both Browning and Yeats for its spiritual vision. Another extensive work Jubilate Agno (Rejoice in the Lamb) wasn’t even published until 1939. One quirky segment, that has drawn recent interest, begins:
-----For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
-----For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving
----------him...
Smart’s support of the belief that all creation honours God by following its nature is pushed, here, beyond logical application.

The Nativity Of Our Lord And Saviour Jesus Christ

Where is this stupendous stranger,
Swains of Solyma, advise?
Lead me to my Master’s manger,
Show me where my Saviour lies.

O Most Mighty! O MOST HOLY!
Far beyond the seraph’s thought,
Art thou then so mean and lowly
As unheeded prophets taught?

O the magnitude of meekness!
Worth from worth immortal sprung;
O the strength of infant weakness,
If eternal is so young!

If so young and thus eternal,
Michael tune the shepherd’s reed,
Where the scenes are ever vernal,
And the loves be Love indeed!

See the God blasphem’d and doubted
In the schools of Greece and Rome;
See the pow’rs of darkness routed,
Taken at their utmost gloom.

Nature’s decorations glisten
Far above their usual trim;
Birds on box and laurels listen,
As so near the cherubs hymn.

Boreas now no longer winters
On the desolated coast;
Oaks no more are riv’n in splinters
By the whirlwind and his host.

Spinks and ouzels sing sublimely,
“We too have a Saviour born”;
Whiter blossoms burst untimely
On the blest Mosaic thorn.

God all-bounteous, all-creative,
Whom no ills from good dissuade,
Is incarnate, and a native
Of the very world He made.

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 5, 2011

Luci Shaw*

Luci Shaw is one of the most significant Christian poets of our time. She takes on topics of significance to people of faith, yet refuses to undermine her art with preconceived, didactic ways of thinking, or sentimentality. One important topic for Shaw is the incarnation.

Since childhood, Luci Shaw has annually written Christmas poems; originally the practice was simply for inclusion with her Christmas correspondence. As her poetic skills grew, so did the quality and quantity of these poems. In 1996, she and her friend Madeleine L’Engle released the book Wintersong — a joint collection of Christmas readings. Ten years later Eerdmans published Accompanied By Angels, a book of Shaw’s incarnation poems, many of which had appeared in her earlier books.

Since then, this tradition continues to result in fine Christmas poetry. In 2004 Luci Shaw sent me an early version of the following poem — followed by a revised version in 2005. The poem was further revised (as reproduced below) for inclusion in her 2006 collection What The Light Was Like (Wordfarm). Knowing how she continually returns to fine-tune her work, I would not be surprised to find she has since revised it further.

Breath

When in the cavern darkness, the child
first opened his mouth (even before
his eyes widened to see the supple world
his lungs had breathed into being),
could he have known that breathing
trumps seeing? Did he love the way air sighs
as it brushes in and out through flesh
to sustain the tiny heart’s iambic beating,
tramping the crossroads of the brain
like donkey tracks, the blood dazzling and
invisible, the corpuscles skittering to the earlobes
and toenails? Did he have any idea it
would take all his breath to speak in stories
that would change the world?

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Luci Shaw: first 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, November 28, 2011

David Jones

David Jones (1895—1974) is a modernist poet, of Welsh heritage, who lived in London. His work was highly praised by influential contemporaries such as T.S. Eliot. More recently, Edward Lucie-Smith mentioned, “The extreme complexity of David Jones’s work...” in his introduction to Jones in British Poetry Since 1945 — calling him a “twentieth century equivalent of William Blake.”

Jones served as an infantryman in World War I and was wounded in the Battle of the Somme. He fictionalized his experience in his first extensive poem, In Parenthesis, in which he seeks to encapsulate military experience from the beginning of time.

His second major work, The Anathemata, reflects his faith, and his understanding of art. Jones believed that art should be a form of worship, and that worship is a form of art. W.H. Auden called The Anathemata, “one of the most important poems of our times.”

A, a, a, Domine Deus

I said, Ah! what shall I write?
I inquired up and down
------------(He's tricked me before
with his manifold lurking-places.)
I looked for His symbol at the door.
I have looked for a long while
------------at the textures and contours.
I have run a hand over the trivial intersections.
I have journeyed among the dead forms
------------causation projects from pillar to pylon.
I have tired the eyes of the mind
------------regarding the colours and lights.
I have felt for His wounds
------------in nozzles and containers.
I have wondered for the automatic devices.
I have tested the inane patterns
------------without prejudice.
I have been on my guard
------------not to condemn the unfamiliar.
For it is easy to miss Him
------------at the turn of a civilisation.
I have watched the wheels go round in case I might see the living creatures like the appearance of lamps, in case I might see the Living God projected from the machine. I have said to the perfected steel, be my sister and for the glassy towers I thought I felt some beginnings of His creature, but A,a,a, Domine Deus, my hands found the glazed work unrefined and the terrible crystal a stage-paste . . . Eia, Domine Deus.

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 21, 2011

Anna Kamieńska

Anna Kamieńska (1920–1986), like Czeslaw Milosz, lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland, and the difficult years under communism. Her poetry doesn’t describe the inhumanity of those times, but concentrates on essential, lasting things. Her husband — the poet Jan Śpiewak — died prematurely of cancer in 1967, and left Kamieńska in search of answers. In 1970 she wrote in her notebook, “I was looking for the dead, and I found God.”

During the 1970s the Polish government tried to silence her, and suppress her work, because they saw her as part of the democratic movement. Even so, she has written twenty books of poetry, and many biblical commentaries. In 2007 Paraclete Press released a collection of her poems, translated into English by Grażyna Drabik and David Curson, called Astonishments. This book demonstrates her hard-earned faith, nurtured through honest questioning and doubt, as exemplified in the following poems.

A Prayer

Out of a spark and out of dust make me again
again plant trees in my paradise
once more give me the sky over my head

So I could deny You with my reason
call you forth with all my tears
find You like love with my lips

Lack Of Faith

Yes
even when I don’t believe
there is a place in me
inaccessible to unbelief
a patch of wild grace
a stubborn preserve
impenetrable
pain untouched sleeping in the body
music that builds its nest in silence

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 14, 2011

Charles Kingsley

Charles Kingsley (1819—1875) was an English priest known for such novels as Westward Ho!, for his political essays, for his poetry, and for his collections of sermons. Kingsley was involved in the Christian Socialist movement, and often wrote his novels to expose injustice.

Kingsley is best known for his children’s novel, The Water-Babies (1863), which he wrote to teach Christian values. The main character is a ten-year-old chimneysweep named Tom. Due to mistreatment, Tom is chased out of town where he drowns in a river. Fairies turn him into a creature called a water-baby, and assign him a task. This book helped lead to an act of Parliament which prevented children being forced to climb chimneys.

He was appointed the Queen’s chaplain in 1859, and became a professor at Cambridge University in 1860. Kingsley was also friends with the Scottish novelist George MacDonald.

A Lament

The merry merry lark was up and singing,
And the hare was out and feeding on the lea;
And the merry merry bells below were ringing,
When my child's laugh rang through me.

Now the hare is snared and dead beside the snow-yard,
And the lark beside the dreary winter sea;
And the baby in his cradle in the churchyard
Sleeps sound till the bell brings me.

The Dead Church

Wild wild wind, wilt thou never cease thy sighing?
Dark dark night, wilt thou never wear away?
Cold cold church, in thy death sleep lying,
The Lent is past, thy Passion here, but not thine Easter-day.

Peace, faint heart, though the night be dark and sighing;
Rest, fair corpse, where thy Lord himself hath lain.
Weep, dear Lord, above thy bride low lying;
Thy tears shall wake her frozen limbs to life and health again.

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 7, 2011

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen (1893—1918) is considered the leading poet of the First World War. When he was a student, serving as an assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden, he became disillusioned with the Chruch of England because of the lack of care for the poor. Although he entered the war optimistically, his experiences — including shell shock — soon changed him.

He was critical of the European tradition of propagandist poetry that glorified war, and its naive acceptance by his own generation. He upheld a poetry of truth, criticizing the artists and intellectuals who chose to serve partisanship. He was also critical of national churches for betraying the Christian message, and twisting the teachings of Christ to justify politics. He interpreted one of Christ’s instructions as: “Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms...”.

His poetry is often characterized by irony and sarcasm: In “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” Owen has the angel tell “Abram” — “Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.” Owen then twists the Biblical story into a new parable, making the patriarch a parliamentarian:
-----But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
-----And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Similarly those who claim to represent God are portrayed in the following poem:

Soldier’s Dream

I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big-gun gears;
And caused a permanent stoppage in all bolts;
And buckled with a smile Mausers and Colts;
And rusted every bayonet with His tears.

And there were no more bombs, of ours or Theirs,
Not even an old flint-lock, not even a pikel.
But God was vexed, and gave all power to Michael;
And when I woke he'd seen to our repairs.

In 1917 he wrote, “Christ is literally in no man’s land. There men often hear his voice. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life — for a friend...” and that it wasn't only the allies who heard that voice.

Wilfred Owen was killed by an enemy bullet, on 4 November 1918, just one week before the end of the war. The following, one of his best known poems, may suggest that the church had no place at the front lines, because it had sent young men to their deaths.

Anthem For Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

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 31, 2011

Betsy Sholl

Betsy Sholl was appointed Poet Laureate of Maine in 2006; her term ends this year. She teaches at, both, the University of Southern Maine, and Vermont College of Fine Arts — and has won several awards for her poetry.

Luci Shaw said in Radix, “A kind of fierce honesty pierces much of Sholl’s writing, revealing her proclivity for examining her own heart through the lens of the events and objects she discovers.” This is well-demonstrated in the poem included below, which is the final poem from her seventh collection: Rough Cradle (Alice James Books, 2009).

The journal Image records her words about her approach to writing poetry,
--------“...what starts a poem is usually the experience of paradox or
--------contradiction, two equally true perceptions or emotions
--------co-existing: beauty and pain, love and fear, life and decay.
--------I love Auden’s comment that poetry is the clear expression of
--------mixed emotions, and Czeslaw Milosz’s notion about poetry as
--------a ‘passionate pursuit of the real.’ Of course “the real” eludes
--------us, but the pursuit enlarges us and keeps us aware of the
--------ultimate reality, God.”

Life and Holiness

I couldn’t finish the book because the end
no longer existed, the final words on life
and holiness, that old coin with its two sides
impossible to see at once, so each face
makes you long for the other—unless, of course,
the coin’s been rubbed down, almost out,
as my book was, not dog-eared, but dog-chewed,
a big chunk torn off its lower right,
and the whole book ending coverless
on page 118, so it’s hard to read
the thoughts without thinking of their fate,
and the message bound to what carries it:
Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton,
bound to our dog named Dreug, Russian for friend,
who also ate the edge of my purple dress
as I sat talking on the couch, plus a wooden apple,
and every chair rung in the house. It’s hard
not to think of the monk being chewed on
by silence, gnawed down, past ritual and custom,
to a desert of naked prayer, a dark night
where nothing’s left but the self’s empty shell,
the soul cracked open for something else to rush in,
which the words were just getting to
when Dreug, that zealous friend, aching and driven,
turned the matter into slobber and wag,
his new teeth editing, so the book
ends with:
-------------------------------------------...For such... (crunch)
---...lovers of God, all things, whether they appear...
-----------...in actuality good. All things manifest the...
---------------------...All things enable them to grow in...

Here it stops, the promise digested,
our big brown dog a better reader than I,
licking his lips, swallowing the words, taking in
the such and all things, however they appear.
And were they, in actuality good?
Was the back cover, the spine glue, the wood
or rage pulp of each missing page? “Complete
and unabridged,” it says just where the teeth marks
bite, where the paper’s rough edge, its newly exposed
microscopic threads meet air and morning light,
as if words could turn into life, into window glass
with bickering sparrows, children walking
to school, as Dreug, with his spotted face,
his feathery toes, watches all things
manifest the— enable them to grow in—

As to holiness, you lovers of God, must all things
come to an edge where words stop, and hunger—
that faithful friend who eats away what once
would have been so easy to read—begins?

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 24, 2011

Vladimir Solovyov

Vladimir Solovyov (1853—1900) is a Russian philosopher, mystic, poet, and literary critic. He had turned from the Orthodox church in his adolescence, but then reconverted when he was twenty. He was a complex character, drawn to over-arching ideas — sometimes repudiating his earlier writing.

He wrote of three visionary encounters with the Sophia (the Divine Wisdom) — one in childhood, one when studying in the British Museum, and the third when he followed her instructions to meet her in Egypt. These life-changing experiences are recorded in his best-known poem Tri Svidaniya (Three Meetings):
---------------Three times you gave yourself to my living sight —
---------------No phantom, no mere mind's flight —
---------------As omen, aid, and as award,
---------------Your image answered my stifled call.

He advocated what he called “Christian politics”, believing that an ideal society could be established under the pope and the czar; with this in mind, he worked extensively in the 1880s to unite the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

He was a good friend of Dostoyevsky. and is said to be a model for Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov. He also significantly influenced the following generation of Russian philosophers and symbolist poets.

The Eye Of Eternity

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Above white earth a single, single
-----Star burns
And draws one along a path of ether
-----To itself — there.

Oh, why is it so? In one steady gaze
-----All wonders dwell,
The mysterious sea of all life,
-----And the heavens.

That gaze is so close and so clear —
-----Behold it,
You, too, will be measureless and sublime —
-----Master 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, October 17, 2011

Donald Davie

English poet, Donald Davie (1922—1995) was a significant part of “The Movement”, which emerged in Britain during the 1950s, and included such poets as Elizabeth Jennings, and Philip Larkin. Their poetry turned from the imagism of recent poets, to a greater clarity of language and content.

Davie served as an English professor on both sides of the Atlantic, at the University of Essex, Stanford and Vanderbilt. His influence as a critic is as important as his place as a poet. Davie was raised a Baptist — and long defended the dissenting tradition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — although by the 1970s had, himself, moved over to the Anglican church. He is also known for his verse translations of Boris Pasternak, and as the editor of The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse (1981). In his obituary in The Independent he is called “the defining poet-critic of his generation”. His Collected Poems were published in 2002 by Carcanet.

The following is the opening poem from his 1988 collection, To Scorch or Freeze (Chicago), which is subtitled “Poems about the Sacred”; the book is influenced very much by the Psalms.

The Thirty-ninth Psalm, Adapted

I said to myself: “That’s enough.
Your life-style is no model,
Keep quiet about it, and while
you’re about it, be less overt.”

I held my tongue, I said nothing;
no, not comfortable words.
“Writing block”, it’s called;
very discomfiting.

Not that I had no feelings.
I was in a fever.
And while I seethed,
abruptly I found myself speaking:

“Lord, let me know my end,
and how long I have to live;
let me be sure
how long I have to live.

One-finger you poured me;
what does it matter to you
to know my age last birthday?
Nobody’s life has purpose.

Something is casting a shadow
on everything we do;
and in that shadow nothing,
nothing at all, comes true.

(We make a million, maybe;
and who, not nobody but
who, gets to enjoy it?)

Now, what’s left to be hoped for?
Hope has to be fixed on you.
Excuse me my comforting words
in a tabloid column for crazies.

I held my tongue, and also
I discontinued my journals.
(They accumulated; who
in any event would read them?)

Now give me a chance, I am
burned up enough at your pleasure.
It is all very well, we deserve it.
But shelved, not even with mothballs?

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
and please to consider my calling:
it commits me to squawking
and running off at the mouth.”

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 10, 2011

Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

Although Jill Peláez Baumgaertner was born in the United States, her family connection with Cuba is significant. This becomes clear in her poetry — particularly in her 2001 book Finding Cuba. Her most recent poetry release is a chapbook from Finishing Line Press — My Father’s Bones (2006).

Jill Peláez Baumgaertner has been on the faculty of Wheaton College since 1980, where she is an English Professor and Dean. She has served (previously) as Poetry Editor for First Things, and (presently) for The Christian Century. She has also written a textbook/anthology, Poetry (Harcourt Brace, 1990); and Flannery O'Connor: A Proper Scaring (Cornerstone Press, 1988). Forthcoming is the anthology Imago Dei: Poems From Christianity and Literature which she has edited, and includes my own poem: “The Sacrifice Of Isaac”.

When asked about her interest in Flannery O’Connor, Jill replied, she “has a lot in common with John Donne, the subject of my dissertation. They both understand that the cross is the center of our faith—that one cannot skip over Good Friday on the way to Easter morning...”

The following poem first appeared in Image.

Prodigal Ghazal

Weightless as a float into the drift of water, one whose sin is
-----forgiven.
The Far Country a memory of fists and sour apples.

Of that old, heavy plunge through snowfall, frozen, refrozen.
The tug of gravity, slow and silent.

Of no words forming on dry lips, of breath aching to a full
-----inhale and then a letting go.
Of not yet. Not yet. And the longing for release.

The hold of grimy pleasures like a small mouth forming very
-----small o’s,
Like spaces as vast as the tundra with no human voice or as
-----tight as a wound spool.

The wasting disease of sin, God’s serious hand of judgment.
Then his gentle push: the swing into the spring air, back
-----and forth.

And then the breathing, unboxed. And later the fingers spread
wide in the grass, each particular blade a tickle.

The Father runs into the road, his embrace a chunk of earth to
-----the unmoored.
The twisted eyebeams, the Father’s gaze into his son’s tentative
-----face.

Pupils black with light peering into the lens of revelation,
-----crystalline.
Now comes the filling in of hunger, the bread hunks spilling
-----crumbs.

The wine meant for throats dry with salt and dust.
Here is God, his strokes on our dead flesh

Filling capillaries, sparking nerves. We are fed with the crusts
And blood of forgiveness, with the thrill of its gentle float,
-----its ripe music.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Jill Peláez Baumgaertner: 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 3, 2011

William Cullen Bryant

William Cullen Bryant (1794—1878) was one of the foremost American poets and public intellectuals of the nineteenth century. Through his poetry he brought the influence of the English romantic poets Coleridge and Wordsworth to American verse — finding inspiration in the natural world around him. He is also known for his hymn writing, and for having translated both The Iliad and The Odyssey.

At first he earned his living as a lawyer, until he made the transition to journalism. He became very influential politically as the editor of the New York Evening Post — supporting such causes as abolition under Lincoln, and the establishing of New York’s Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unfortunately his newspaper work limited his poetic output. William Cullen Bryant was a mentor to Walt Whitman, and was a great encouragement to the blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby when she was still in school.

In his early poem “Thanatopsis”, Bryant seemed to have forsaken the hope of eternal life. As time progressed — as demonstrated in numerous poems such as “A Forest Hymn” — his views grew more and more consistent with Christian theology.

To a Waterfowl

Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
--While glow the heavens with the last steps of day
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
--Thy solitary way?

Vainly the fowler's eye
--Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
--Thy figure floats along.

Seek'st thou the plashy brink
--Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sing
--On the chafed ocean side?

There is a Power whose care
--Teaches thy way along that pathless coast—
The desert and illimitable air—
--Lone wandering, but not lost.

All day thy wings have fanned,
--At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
--Though the dark night is near.

And soon that toil shall end;
--Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,
--Soon, o'er thy sheltered nest.

Thou'rt gone, the abyss of heaven
--Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
--And shall not soon depart.

He who, from zone to zone,
--Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
--Will lead my steps aright.

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 26, 2011

Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell (1621—1678) was an English metaphysical poet, who was influenced by John Donne and Ben Jonson. His father was the Reverend Andrew Marvell who lectured at Holy Trinity Church in Hull, Yorkshire.

In 1653, Marvell became friends with John Milton. By 1657, Milton was able to have Marvell replace him as Latin secretary to Cromwell’s Council of State — as Milton was now blind. In 1660 — the year of the Restoration — Marvell was elected to Parliament and used his influence to free Milton from prison, perhaps even saving his life.

During his life, Marvell was better known for his political pamphlets. He was critical of the government of Charles II, particularly in its lack of religious toleration of the Puritans. Many of his politically-charged, satyrical pieces were not published under his own name — and very few of his poems were published within his lifetime.

The Coronet

When for the thorns with which I long, too long,
With many a piercing wound,
My Saviour's head have crowned,
I seek with garlands to redress that wrong,—
Through every garden, every mead,
I gather flowers (my fruits are only flowers),
Dismantling all the fragrant towers
That once adorned my shepherdess's head :
And now, when I have summed up all my store,
Thinking (so I my self deceive)
So rich a chaplet thence to weave
As never yet the King of Glory wore,
Alas! I find the Serpent old,
That, twining in his speckled breast,
About the flowers disguised, does fold
With wreaths of fame and interest.
Ah, foolish man, that wouldst debase with them,
And mortal glory, Heaven's diadem!
But thou who only couldst the Serpent tame,
Either his slippery knots at once untie,
And disentangle all his winding snare,
Or shatter too with him my curious frame,
And let these wither—so that he may die—
Though set with skill, and chosen out with care ;
That they, while thou on both their spoils dost tread,
May crown Thy feet, that could not crown Thy head

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 19, 2011

Mary Karr

Mary Karr disrupted the poetry scene, with her 1991 essay “Against Decoration”, by insisting that content is more important than poetic style. She is known for her essays and memoirs — particularly the best-selling The Liar’s Club — but still sees herself primarily as a poet. After years as an agnostic alcoholic, she came to embrace Catholic Christianity; although she admits to having a cafeteria approach, she seeks to follow the spiritual exercises of Ignatius.

Her 2010 address at the Festival of Faith & Writing (Grand Rapids, Michigan) was entitled, “Spiritual Revelations from a Black-Belt Sinner”; there she encouraged her audience in the discipline of prayer, and seeking God’s presence through gratitude. Two years earlier, at the same conference, she shared a stage with her friend Franz Wright. The two poets have followed a similar path, turning from alcoholism and depression, to faith in Christ. They each read a favourite poem from each other’s work.

The following poem is from her 2006 collection Sinners Welcome.

For a Dying Tomcat Who's Relinquished
His Former Hissing and Predatory Nature


I remember the long orange carp you once scooped
from the neighbor’s pond, bounding beyond
her swung broom, across summer lawns

to lay the fish on my stoop. Thanks
for that. I’m not one to whom offerings
often get made. You let me feel

how Christ might when I kneel,
weeping in the dark
over the usual maladies: love and its lack.

Only in tears do I speak
directly to him and with such
conviction. And only once you grew frail

did you finally slacken into me,
dozing against my ribs like a child.
You gave up the predatory flinch

that snapped the necks of so many
birds and slow-moving rodents.
Now your once powerful jaw

is malformed by black malignancies.
It hurts to eat. So you surrender in the way
I pray for: Lord, before my own death,

let me learn from this animal’s deep release
into my arms. Let me cease to fear
the embrace that seeks to still me.

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 12, 2011

John Milton*

One of the things I set for myself to accomplish this summer was to read Paradise Lost. I am very pleased that I did. Although there are a few plodding moments — exacerbated by my limited experience of classic literature — overall I found it a very satisfying experience. Milton took the form of epic poetry, as employed by Homer, and refined by Virgil, and presented a story of greatest importance and of immense scope.

Milton’s insights into his characters — as he expands them from what scripture tells us — are masterful. His realistic suggestions as to why Eve may have been tempted to eat the fruit, and why Adam followed, give us a lot to meditate on. In a poem so encompassing, it is amazing how rarely I want to debate his theology.

I often find delight in his descriptive passages. In the following, Uriel, one of Milton's archangels, tells what he witnessed of creation. Since Paradise Lost is written in blank verse, this passage could stand alone as a kind of rhymeless sonnet. The book was published in 1667.

from Paradise Lost (III, 708-721)

I saw when at his word the formless mass,
This world’s material mould, came to a heap:
Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar
Stood ruled, stood vast infinitude confined;
Till at his second bidding darkness fled,
Light shone, and order from disorder sprung:
Swift to their several quarters hasted then
The cumbrous elements, earth, flood, air, fire,
And this ethereal quintessence of heav'n
Flew upward, spirited with various forms,
That rolled orbicular, and turned to stars
Numberless, as thou seest, and how they move;
Each had his place appointed, each his course,
The rest in circuit walls this universe.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Milton: first 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, September 5, 2011

Les Murray

Les Murray is Australia’s best known contemporary poet. He has published dozens of books, and won the T.S. Eliot Award (1996), the Queens Gold Medal For Poetry (1999), and other honours. He consistently dedicates the poems in his books to the glory of God. He has worked as an editor with Poetry Australia and Quadrant and edited The Anthology of Australian Religious Poetry. His most recent collection is Taller When Prone (2010).

Murray is critical of his Calvinist upbringing — particularly how the doctrine of predestination, as it was used, caused many to look down upon poor families, such as his own, as being disfavoured by God. He explained when interviewed for Image, he converted to Catholicism as a teen in 1962, “fascinated by the sacramental bridge between earth and heaven that Catholicism offered”.

Of other Australian Christian poets he has noted James McAuley and Andrew Lansdown as among the best.

The following poem may have been inspired by Thomas Gray’s 1751 poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” in that the poet wonders about how history may have unfolded differently given different circumstances. The AIF, mentioned below is the Australian Imperial Force — numbered to correspond to the two world wars.

The Chimes of Neverwhere

How many times did the Church prevent war?
Who knows? Those wars did not occur.
How many numbers don’t count before ten?
Treasures of the Devil in Neverwhere.


The neither state of Neverwhere
is hard to place as near or far
since all things that didn’t take place are there
and things that have lost the place they took:

Herr Hitler’s buildings, King James’ cigar
the happiness of Armenia
the Abelard children, the Manchu’s return
are there with the Pictish Grammar Book.

The girl who returned your dazzled look
and the mornings you might have woke to her
are your waterbed in Neverwhere.
There shine the dukes of Australia

and all the great poems that never were
quite written, and every balked invention.
There too are the Third AIF and its war
in which I and boys my age were killed

more pointlessly with each passing year.
There too half the works of sainthood are
enslavements, tortures, rapes despair
deflected by them from the actual

to beat on the human-sacrifice drum
that billions need not die to hear
since Christ's love of them struck it dumb
and his agony keeps it in Neverwhere.

How many times did the Church bring peace?
More times than it happened. Leave it back there:
the children we didn't let out of there need it,
for the Devil's at home in Neverwhere.


This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Les Murray: 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 29, 2011

Seamus Heaney*

Nobel Prize winning, Irish poet Seamus Heaney has recently — once again — proved his worth with the publication of his latest book: Human Chain (2010). In this, his twelfth collection, readers might feel they are reading someone else’s mail, for Heaney doesn’t explain references. There are plenty of localisms (places, particulars of farm life, and specific neighbours), Latin words or Gaelic phrases, classical references — especially to Virgil — and allusions to saints and Irish history — from the spread of Christianity down to “The Troubles”. Even so, pieces begin to come together, as we dwell within his work.

In particular we often encounter the sixth century saint and scholar Columba of Iona (or Colmcille) — who founded a monastery at Derry, where Heaney is from. The poet relates to Columba’s bookish calling of pen and ink.

To Heaney, the everyday lives of people are sacred. His own schooldays appear, disguised within “Hermit Songs” as he writes both of medieval scribes, and of his teacher’s supplies of “nibs in packets by the gross, / Powdered ink, bunched cedar pencils, / Jotters, exercise books, rulers...” In “Chanson d’Aventure” he takes us along on a wild ambulance ride, under the control of “The charioteer at Delphi”.

Mostly, Seamus Heaney is a poet of memory. He preserves sounds and feelings — such as “the clunk of the baler / Ongoing, cardiac-dull” — or the wind “that rose and whirled until the roof / Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore” — or the “chunk and clink of an alms-collecting mite-box” — or the particulars of his new “Guttery, snottery” pen in its “first deep snorkel / In a newly opened ink-bottle”.

The following poem is from Human Chain.

Miracle

Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in —

Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let-up

Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Seamus Heaney: first 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, August 22, 2011

John Newton

John Newton (1725—1807) is the English writer best known as the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”. When he was only eleven, he went on his first of five Mediterranean voyages with his father, which led to his career as a sailor. Eventually Newton became the captain of a slave ship. Years later, after his conversion to Christian faith, he became an important voice promoting the abolition of slavery; he also became a minister in the Church of England.

In 1779 a book Olney Hymns anonymously first appeared; 280 of the book’s hymns were written by John Newton, and the other 68 by his friend William Cowper. Together, in the small hamlet of Olney, they were a great encouragement to the congregation, which grew substantially. This was the first publication for many great hymns of the Christian faith.

The 2007 movie Amazing Grace, tells the story of British Member of Parliament William Wilberforce and his political battle to end black slavery. The evangelicals of England were very active in this push for change. John Newton (played by Albert Finney) is shown as a significant influence upon Wilberforce. In 1807, the year of Newton’s death, The Slave Trade Act abolished slavery in the British Empire.

Why should I fear the darkest hour

Why should I fear the darkest hour,
Or tremble at the tempter's power?
Jesus vouchsafes to be my tower.

Though hot the fight, why quit the field?
Why must I either fly or yield,
Since Jesus is my mighty shield?

When creature comforts fade and die,
Worldlings may weep, but why should I?
Jesus still lives, and still is nigh.

Though all the flocks and herds were dead,
My soul a famine need not dread,
For Jesus is my living bread.

I know not what may soon betide,
Or how my wants shall be supplied;
But Jesus knows, and will provide.

Though sin would fill me with distress,
The throne of grace I dare address,
For Jesus is my righteousness.

Though faint my prayers and cold my love,
My steadfast hope shall not remove,
While Jesus intercedes above.

Against me earth and hell combine;
But on my side is power divine;
Jesus is all, and He is mine!

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 15, 2011

Jack Clemo

Known as “Poet of the Clay”, Jack Clemo (1916–1994) is a British poet who expressed the unique landscape of his native Cornwall, and his personal vision of Christian faith. He saw the scarred landscape of clay-pits and moulded dumps of white sand waste, where he grew up, as representative of the fall. The industrial language of the china clay mines fills his poems.

His formal schooling ended at age 13 when he began to lose his eyesight. He became deaf at about age twenty, and eventually — nineteen years later — became blind. These problems are not the focus of his writing, although he says in his poem “The Excavator”:
-------------And so I am awake:
-------------No more a man who sees
-------------Colour in flowers or hears from birds a song,
-------------Or dares to worship where the throng
-------------Seek Beauty and its old idolatries.

He felt himself to be an outcast throughout his life, because of his disabilities and because of his nonconformist religious views. According to Elizabeth Jennings he was truly “a visionary poet”.

Christ in the Clay-pit

Why should I find Him here
And not in a church, nor yet
Where Nature heaves a breast like Olivet
Against the stars? I peer
Upon His footsteps in this quarried mud;
I see His blood
In rusty stains on pit-props, waggon-frames
Bristling with nails, not leaves. There were no leaves
Upon his chosen Tree,
No parasitic flowering over shames
of Eden's primal infidelity.

Just splintered wood and nails
Were fairest blossoming for him who speaks
Where mica-silt outbreaks
Like water from the side of his own clay
In that strange day
When He was pierced. Here still the earth-face pales
And rends in earhquake roarings of a blast
With tainter rock outcast
While fields and woods lie dreaming yet of peace
‘Twixt God and his creation, or release
From potent wrath — a faith that waxes bold
In churches nestling snugly in the fold
Of scented hillsides where mild shadows brood.
The dark and stubborn mood
Of him whose feet are bare upon this mire,
And in the furnace fire
Which hardens all the clay that has escaped,
Would not be understood
By worshippers of beauty toned and shaped
To flower or hymn. I know their facile praise
False to the heart of me, which like this pit
Must still be disembowelled of Nature’s stain,
And rendered fit
By violent mouldings through the tunnelled ways
Of all he would regain.

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 8, 2011

Anne Bradstreet

Anne Bradstreet (1612—1672) was a Puritan who emigrated to America in 1630, along with her parents and her husband — whom she had married when she was just sixteen. She was the first American woman to have a book published, and is considered by many to be America's first poet. Woman were not allowed to speak their minds in the colony; however it was Anne’s brother-in-law who took her poems to be published in England as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up In America in 1650. It is her later poems, however, that caught the attention of admirers in the twentieth century.

Both her father and her husband served as governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and were instrumental in the founding of Harvard University. Anne enjoyed a happy marriage, and became the mother of eight children. She wrote many of her poems while her husband was away dealing with the business of the colony — sometimes even as far away as England. Her poetry expresses both her love for her husband, and her deep faith in God.

In 1956 John Berryman paid tribute to her in his long poem Homage to Mistress Bradstreet. In 1997 a gate was dedicated to her memory at Harvard University.

By Night when Others Soundly Slept

1
By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

2
I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bowed his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

3
My hungry Soul he filled with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washed in his blood,
And banished thence my Doubts and fears.

4
What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Love him to Eternity.

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 1, 2011

John Leax

John Leax is the author of four poetry collections, as well as several books of non-fiction. Recently he retired from Houghton College in upstate New York where he has taught for more than thirty years. His writing is influenced by such writers of the outdoors as Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry.

Although he’s writing from within an evangelical community, his writing often lacks the religious tone of much evangelical writing. His collection Tabloid News, is a series of fourteen poems inspired by the absurd headlines in supermarket tabloids. Leax doesn’t try to force any spiritual message onto his subject, although they often lead him in meaningful directions.

The Task of Adam

Bare lists of words are found suggestive to an
imaginative and excited mind
--------------------------------------------Emerson


Opened by chance to page 1376
and left on the desk outside my office door,
The American Heritage Dictionary
arrests my attention.

The photograph in the margin is what does it.
Nestled neatly between a drawing of
-----Salmo trutta,
the brown trout, fat substitute
for the classy rainbow, introduced
to New York waters by eager sportsmen
at Caledonia, and outline sketches
of six different trowels,
the mustached face of Trotsky
glares up at my complacency.

I read “Russian revolutionist
and Soviet statesman; banished (1929);
assassinated in Mexico.”
That is all I know of revolution
and all I need to know.
The trout and the trowel,
the stream and the garden,
mark the limits of my care.

The task of Adam cast into the brambles,
no more,
is all I choose.

Ah Emerson. The corruption of man
is followed by the corruption of language.
These old words are perverted.
Take for example the guide words
in the corner of this page,
troposphere and truckle. They enclose
the revolution as surely as trout and trowel.
I could live a good rich life
within their definitions. They are
-----suggestive words:
troubadour, trousers, and trousseau
fall between them. The succession
from poetry to pants to the bridal bed
is achieved as readily as my eye
glides down the page.
But the guide words fly off into abstraction.
Troposphere and truckle.
Fasten them to the world.
Breath and bed.

Let Trotsky glare.
Revolution is redefining words.
Adam among the brambles
in alliance with truth and God
is panting after Eve.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Read my Books & Culture review of John Leax's poetry collection
Tabloid News here

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about John Leax: 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 25, 2011

Angelico Chavez

Angelico Chavez (1910—1996) was a Franciscan priest — the first native to serve in this role in New Mexico. He wrote most of his poetry in English, although it was not his mother tongue; he occasionally wrote in Spanish and Latin as well. Chavez is best known as a poet, but also as an artist, fiction writer and historian.

He was born in and loved New Mexico, but various aspects of his life often called him away. In childhood his family moved to California, and in his youth he studied for the priesthood in Cincinnati and Detroit before returning to Santa Fe. He served as a chaplain in the south Pacific during WWII, and in Texas and Germany during the Korean War.

His poem The Virgin of Port Lligat, inspired by a Salvador Dali painting, was praised by T.S. Eliot as a “very commendable achievement”. As can be seen from the following selections, Angelico Chavez’s poetry often has a light, devotional tone.

Grey

I think of gray and grey
As different words.
Gray are the sides of battleships,
And grey are birds.

The one is stuff we touch
The other, dream;
Gray are new-painted sills, but grey
An age-toned beam.

Gray was the casket-cloth
That sad, sad day,
I saw a face that stays with me
Quiet and grey.

Jesus at the Well

Give me to drink this desert wine,
This water welled by men;
Amen, I say, but drink of mine,
You shall not thirst again.

Give me to drink, for I am I,
Begging from earthly jars,
Who plunged the Dipper in the sky
And splashed the night with stars.

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 18, 2011

The Dream of the Rood

The Dream of the Rood (the Cross) is, according to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, “the finest of a rather large number of religious poems in Old English.” It is one of the oldest works of Old English surviving today. It was preserved in the “Vercelli Book” found in northern Italy in the 10th century, but may be much older. Its author is unknown, although scholars have often suggested either of two Anglo Saxon Christian poets: Cynewulf or Cædmon.

The entire poem is about 1200 words, and was written in the alliterative style of Old English. The poem begins and ends with the story told by the dreamer; the central section is from the point-of-view of the Cross itself.

The Dream of the Rood portrays powerful paradox. The Cross is a symbol both of shame and of glory. It is a place of defeat and victory. The Cross submits to God’s will — not bending or breaking, although it could have fallen and crushed the crucifiers — and is thus used to crucify Christ. The Rood suffers along with Jesus, feeling the nails pierce its cross-beam, being stained with blood, even feeling the mocking that was flung at Christ.

The connections between the dreamer, the Cross, Christ himself, and ourselves are strongly felt in this poem.

from The Dream of the Rood

The choicest of visions I wish to tell,
which came as a dream in middle-night,
after voice-bearers lay at rest.
It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree
born aloft, wound round by light,
brightest of beams. All was that beacon
sprinkled with gold. Gems stood
fair at earth's corners; there likewise five
shone on the shoulder-span. All there beheld the Angel of God,
fair through predestiny. Indeed, that was no wicked one's gallows,
but holy souls beheld it there,
men over earth, and all this great creation.
Wondrous that victory-beam—and I stained with sins,
with wounds of disgrace. I saw glory's tree
honoured with trappings, shining with joys,
decked with gold; gems had
wrapped that forest tree worthily round.
Yet through that gold I clearly perceived
old strife of wretches, when first it began
to bleed on its right side. With sorrows most troubled,
I feared that fair sight. I saw that doom-beacon
turn trappings and hews: sometimes with water wet,
drenched with blood's going; sometimes with jewels decked.
But lying there long while, I,
troubled, beheld the Healer's tree,
until I heard its fair voice.
Then best wood spoke these words...

The above translation is by Jonathan A. Glenn and may be viewed in its entirety 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 11, 2011

John Robert Lee

John Robert Lee, of St. Lucia, is a well-established poet whose writing has been anthologized in such books as The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse, and The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories. His collected poems, Elemental, appeared in the UK from Peepal Tree Press in 2008.

He has been involved in theatre as both an actor and a director — has expressed his faith as a preacher, writer and broadcaster — has worked as a professional librarian, and in radio and television as a broadcaster and producer.

Fellow St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott (who won the Nobel Prize in 1992) called John Robert Lee “a scrupulous poet"; he continued, “it’s not a common virtue in poets, to be scrupulous and modest in the best sense, not to over-extend the range of the truth of his emotions, not to go for the grandiose. He is a Christian poet obviously. You don’t get in the poetry anything that is, in a sense, preachy or self-advertising in terms of its morality. He is a fine poet.”

The following comes from his chapbook Canticles (2007):

Canticle XXXI

---------It is clear she was beguiled by the Serpent’s sinuous
-----flatteries.
-----------But he, was he — seduced by her full-curving softnesses,
------------------------------allured by those flittering
---------lashes — tripped into the parting chasms of her sweet
-----flirtatious
----------------mouth? (So says the old poet.) Or, eavesdropping,
Curious Man, did he wonder about the Crystal Gate, the proffered
-----dominion,
-------------the deadly enticements of wisdom? Whichever, flouting
-------------the order he chose.
-----------------------------Just one more query — those tunics of
-----covering skin,
--------were those the first-born lambs they had loved above all
-----others?

(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, July 4, 2011

Jean Janzen

Jean Janzen was born in Saskatchewan in 1933. When her father became a Mennonite pastor, the family moved to Minnesota, and later to Kansas. When first married, she and her husband moved to Chicago, and eventually they settled in Fresno, California. All of these places, her love of music and art, and her Mennonite heritage are strongly reflected in Janzen’s poetry. Emily Dickinson was an early influence, long before Jean considered becoming a poet herself.

She is the author of six collections, the most recent of which is Paper House (Good Books). In Radix, Luci Shaw recently wrote, “These are poems to be read aloud, loved and lived into repeatedly. Though she has titled the book Paper House, this is no fragile, empty shell, but a sturdy and satisfying piece of architecture.” The following poem comes from Jean Janzen’s 1995 collection Snake in the Parsonage.

Sometimes Hope

The mountainsides blazed
for weeks, ashes falling
on our heads as we stood
in the hazy air.
And then our son came home
with his blackened gear
and slept for days.
He had fought fire with fire
to do the impossible.
Now we see it, the giant
black slash with stumps
in grotesque postures,
acres and acres where nothing
moves or sings, where
nothing waits.

But sometimes hope
is a black ghost
in a fantastic twist,
an old dream that flickers
in the wind.
Not the worried twining
of selfish prayers, but
a reach for something
extravagant, something holy,
like fire itself,
which in its madness
devours the forest for the sky,
and then dreams a new greening,
shoots everywhere breaking
through the crust of ash.

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 27, 2011

Ernesto Cardenal

Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal was born in 1925. After his conversion to Christianity, in 1956, he studied under Thomas Merton at the Trappist monastery at Gethsemani, Kentucky, and eventually become a priest.

Cardenal used his poetry as a political weapon against the dictatorship of the Somoza family in Nicaragua. He embraced “Christian Marxism” and was connected to the Sandinista government. After the dictatorship fell, he served from 1979 to 1987 as Minister of Culture. As a proponent of “liberation theology”, he has sought economic liberation for the poor and oppressed in the name of Christ.

Pope John Paul II — who grew up under communist oppression in Poland — criticized Cardenal, when the poet met him at the Managua airport in 1983; in turn, Cardenal has called that visit an “historic error”, and said the pontiff was confusing liberty with capitalism.

Ernesto Cardenal has used his poetry to point out historic wrongs, political abuses, and the shallowness of our materialistic society. It may be ironic that his best-known poem is about film star Marilyn Monroe.

Prayer for Marilyn Monroe

Lord,
accept this girl called Marilyn Monroe throughout the world
though that was not her name
(but You know her real name, that of the orphan raped at nine,
the shopgirl who tried to kill herself at sixteen)
who now goes into Your presence without make-up
without her Press Agent
without photographers or autograph seekers
lonely as an astronaut facing the darkness of outer space.

When she was a girl, she dreamed she was naked in a church
------(according to Time)
before a prostrate multitude, heads to the ground,
and had to walk on tiptoe to avoid the heads.
You know our dreams better than the psychiatrists.
Church, home or cave all represent the safety of the womb
but also something more....
The heads are admirers, so much is clear (that
mass of heads in the darkness below the beam to the screen).
But the temple isn't the studios of 20th Century-Fox.
The temple, of gold and marble, is the temple of her body
in which the Son of Man stands whip in hand
driving out the money-changers of 20th Century-Fox
who made Your house of prayer a den of thieves.

Lord,
in this world defiled by radioactivity and sin,
surely You will not blame a shopgirl
who (like any other shopgirl) dreamed of being a star.
And her dream became "reality" (Technicolor reality).
All she did was follow the script we gave her,
that of our own lives, but it was meaningless.
Forgive her Lord and forgive all of us
for this our 20th Century
and the Mammoth Super-Production in whose making we all
------shared.

She hungered for love and we offered her tranquilizers.
For the sadness of our not being saints they recommended
------psychoanalysis.
Remember, Lord, her increasing terror of the camera
and hatred of make-up (yet insisting on fresh make-up
for each scene) and how the terror grew
making her late to the studios.

Like any other shopgirl
she dreamed of being a star.
And her life was as unreal as a dream an analyst reads and files.

Her romances were kisses with closed eyes
which when the eyes are opened
are seen to have been played out beneath the spotlights and the
spotlights are switched off
and the two walls of the room (it was a set) are taken down
while the Director moves away scriptbook in hand, the scene being
------safely shot.
Or like a cruise on a yacht, a kiss in Singapore, a dance in Rio,
a reception in the mansion of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor
viewed in the sad tawdriness of a cheap apartment.

The film ended without the final kiss.
They found her dead in bed, hand on the phone.
And the detectives never learned who she was going to call.
It was as
though someone had dialed the only friendly voice
and heard a recording that says "WRONG NUMBER";
or like someone wounded by gangsters, who reaches toward a
------disconnected phone.

Lord,
whoever it may have been that she was going to call
but did not (and perhaps it was no one at all
or Someone not in the Los Angeles telephone book),
------Lord, You pick up that phone!

(This is my variation based on several translations)

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 20, 2011

John Betjeman

Sir John Betjeman (1906—1984) was more popular with the British public than he ever was with the literary establishment. His verse did not share the modernist characteristics of his peers, but reflected the techniques of earlier times. He received a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1969. He was also appointed Britain’s Poet Laureate in 1972 — a post he held until his death.

As a boy he attended Highgate School in London, where he was taught by T.S. Eliot. His school career was less than impressive, though. At Magdalen College, Oxford, his tutor C.S. Lewis thought of him as an "idle prig” who spent his time socializing rather than doing his work; Betjeman ended up leaving Oxford without a degree. Even so, he managed to gain the attention of Louis MacNeice and W.H. Auden, who both influenced his work.

Over time, Betjeman became committed to the Anglican church and Christian faith. He said: "...my view of the world is that man is born to fulfil the purposes of his Creator i.e. to Praise his Creator, to stand in awe of Him and to dread Him. In this way I differ from most modern poets, who are agnostics and have an idea that Man is the centre of the Universe or is a helpless bubble blown about by uncontrolled forces."

His poetry often has a satirical tone, and is characterized by references to English localities and particularities of culture that are already becoming dated. Betjeman was public about his faith, although he readily admitted his doubts, as in the following poem.

The Conversion of St. Paul

What is conversion? Not at all
For me the experience of St Paul,
No blinding light, a fitful glow
Is all the light of faith I know
Which sometimes goes completely out
And leaves me plunging into doubt
Until I will myself to go
And worship in God's house below —
My parish church — and even there
I find distractions everywhere.

What is Conversion? Turning round
To gaze upon a love profound.
For some of us see Jesus plain
And never once look back again,
And some of us have seen and known
And turned and gone away alone,
But most of us turn slow to see
The figure hanging on a tree
And stumble on and blindly grope
Upheld by intermittent hope.
God grant before we die we all
May see the light as did St Paul.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about John Betjeman: 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 13, 2011

Christian Wiman

Christian Wiman is on his way to becoming a major American poet. His first significant step, after the publication of his first poetry book The Long Home (1998) was being appointed as the editor of the magazine, Poetry in 2003.

Wiman was raised in west Texas, in a family of faith. He however turned to his own way. He has recently arisen from an extended season of creative drought and an even longer period of spiritual drought to produce his latest collection, Every Riven Thing (2010). Readers of this work will see a new God-consciousness. For example, in the poem “And I Said To My Soul, Be Loud” he says,
-------------“For I am come a whirlwind of wasted things
-------------and I will ride this tantrum back to God...”
This is something he has done — recently returning to both God and the church. The following poem is from Every Riven Thing.

Small Prayer In A Hard Wind

As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
only someone lost could find,

which, with its paneless windows and sagging crossbeams,
its hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,

seems both ghost of the life that happened there
and living spirit of this wasted place,

wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to received it,

shatter me God into my thousand sounds...

My review of Christian Wiman’s third poetry book, Every Riven Thing, is soon to appear from Ruminate.

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 6, 2011

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265—1321) was a Florentine poet, best known for his masterwork — The Divine Comedy. Often referred to as the greatest work written in Italian, it is divided into three books: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. In these epic poems, Dante is led through hell and purgatory by the Roman poet Virgil, and then through heaven by Beatrice — a girl Dante had briefly met when in childhood, had idolized all his life, and had mourned for when she died decades before the writing of Paradiso.

In this allegorical picture of life after death, Dante was able to comment on life in Florence — particularly on political rivals and the wrongs of his society. One scene in Inferno (Canto XIX) shows errant popes — shoved head-first into holes, with their legs sticking out, and the soles of their feet on fire — punished because they “take the things of God, / that ought to be the brides of Righteousness, / and make them fornicate for gold and silver!”

Since The Divine Comedy was not written in Latin, Dante was able to influence the development of the Italian language as readers of various dialects studied his work. Italian is a particularly easy language to rhyme in (being the original language of the sonnet form). Dante’s epic follows a terza rima rhyme scheme (aba, bcb, cdc, ded, etc.) which is too prohibitive in English. Robert Pinsky, in his 1995 verse translation of Inferno, takes an intermediate approach, using partial rhyme. The translation of The Divine Comedy into English has been taken on many times, including by Longfellow, and by Dorothy L. Sayers. Numerous poets, including William Blake, have been greatly influenced by it.

Dante was caught between striving factions in 1302 and became exiled from his home in Florence, to which he never returned.

from Paradiso--------Canto VII

---------------[M]ankind lay sick, in the abyss------------28
of a great error, for long centuries,
until the Word of God willed to descend
---to where the nature that was sundered from---------31
its Maker was united to His person
by the sole act of His eternal Love.
---Now set your sight on what derives from that.--------34
This nature, thus united to its Maker,
was good and pure, even as when created;
---but in itself, this nature had been banished----------37
from paradise, because it turned aside
from its own path, from truth, from its own life.
---Thus, if the penalty the Cross inflicted----------------40
is measured by the nature He assumed,
no one has ever been so justly stung;
---yet none was ever done so great a wrong,-------------43
if we regard the Person made to suffer,
He who had gathered in Himself that nature.

This is the firat Kingdom Poets post about Dante Alighieri: 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