Monday, January 31, 2011

E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings (1894–1962) was the son of a Congregationalist minister. Although he became quite critical of those involved in organized religion, such as in his poem “the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls”, his father’s influence on him was significant. A major poetic influence was Ezra Pound.

One poem of a spiritual encounter begins:
------------------------no time ago
------------------------or else a life
------------------------walking in the dark
------------------------i met christ

“Cummings was a scoffer in his youth, then more and more a Christian,” said Malcolm Cowley in Yale Review; “...he believes in the resurrection of the flesh.” In his early poetry it seems that his most important topics were love and sex — in his later poetry he is focussing on love and God. In his journals he frequently calls out to “le bon Dieu” — often praying for inspiration. Cummings himself is quoted as saying, “As I grow older, I tend towards piety.”

He is best known for the visual innovations in his poetry, such as spelling “I” with a lower case “i” — and for defying other language conventions, such as using verbs for nouns, or dislocating words from their normal place within a sentence. A good example of this is the word “most” in the first line of the following sonnet.

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

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, January 24, 2011

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) lived much of her life as a recluse in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Many of her poems deal with Christian themes, such as the life of Christ, death and immortality. She felt isolated from the religious community around her, due to differing theological views. This separation often contributed to her uncertainties — sometimes questioning what she’d boldly pronounced elsewhere. She, like David or Job, was not afraid to question God. I see, in her calling Jesus Savior, the evidence against the secularists who would want to deny her faith.
--------“Savior! I've no one else to tell –
--------And so I trouble thee.
--------I am the one forgot thee so –
--------Dost thou remember me?...”

Because of her isolation, her spirituality is one that finds its communion in nature. The following poem, expresses a moment of contentment in that separation. Although Emily Dickinson did not name her poems, we usually refer to them by their first lines.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I'm going, all along.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Emily Dickinson: 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, January 17, 2011

Franz Wright

Franz Wright was fortunate enough to have been born the son of poet James Wright — which opened doors for him into the literary world. When Franz won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his collection Walking To Martha’s Vineyard — proving his own worth — it was the first time a father and son had ever both received that honour.

Franz Wright was unfortunate enough to have been born the son of poet James Wright. His father’s absence in his life has left a void that keeps making its presence known in Franz’s poetry. Besides poetry, father and son have shared their alcoholism, dysfunctional behaviour and mental health issues. The search for father may be significant in his eventual search for Father and his conversion to Christianity.

In my review of Walking To Martha’s Vineyard in Rock & Sling, I described his book as,
--------“a moving collection of fragments that seem as though
--------they have been recovered from the early 21st century, a
--------series of peripheral glimpses into the centre of a reclaimed
--------soul, an abstract testimony to the healing power of Christ
--------in a landscape dominated by moonlight and snow — and
--------within dark, lonely churches that hold significance in their
--------silent spaces.”

Since winning the Pulitzer Prize, Franz Wright has had two subsequent collections published: God’s Silence (2006) and Wheeling Motel (2009).

Cloudless Snowfall

Great big flakes like white ashes
at nightfall descending
abruptly everywhere
and vanishing
in this hand like the host
on somebody's put-out tongue, she
turns the crucifix over
to me, still warm
from her touch two years later
and thank you,
I say all alone—
Vast whisp-whisp of wingbeats
awakens me and I look up
at a minute-long string of black geese
following low past the moon the white
course of the snow-covered river and
by the way thank You for
keeping Your face hidden, I
can hardly bear the beauty of this 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, January 10, 2011

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton (1915–1968) was a mystic and a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. His first book of poems was published in 1944; he became well known after the publication of his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain in 1948. He was also known for his interaction with leaders of other religions, particularly Buddhists, and for his pacifism and social justice concerns.

He believed that the best poetry is contemplation of things, and what they signify. He wrote that “all things...are symbolic by their very being and nature, and all talk of something beyond themselves. Their meaning is not something we impose upon them, but a mystery which we can discover in them...”

From 1941 until the end of his life, he spent most of his time at the monastery in Kentucky.

St. Paul

When I was Saul, and sat among the cloaks,
My eyes were stones, I saw no sight of heaven,
Open to take the spirit of the twisting Stephen.
When I was Saul and sat among the rocks,
I locked my eyes, and made my brain my tomb,
Sealed with what boulders rolled across my reason!

When I was Saul and walked upon the blazing desert
My road was quiet as a trap.
I feared what word would split high noon with light
And lock my life, and try to drive me mad:
And thus I saw the Voice that struck me dead.

Tie up my breath, and wind me in white sheets of anguish,
And lay me in my three days’ sepulchre
Until I find my Easter in a vision.

Oh Christ! Give back my life, go, cross Damascus,
Find out my Ananias in that other room:
Command him, as you do, in this my dream;
He knows my locks, and owns my ransom,
Waits for Your word to take his keys and come.

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, January 3, 2011

Marianne Moore

Modernist American poet Marianne Moore (1887–1972) was a devout Presbyterian all her life. She experimented with rhythm — using a syllabic count rather than traditional metre — and avoided traditional poetic allusions. She became extremely influential as editor of The Dial in the 1920s. Her poetry was promoted by such poets as H.D., William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.

She demonstrates her honesty and humility in her poems by frequently using quotation marks. When Donald Hall asked her about this, in an interview, conducted for The Paris Review in 1960, she replied, “I was just trying to be honorable and not to steal things. I’ve always felt that if a thing had been said in the best way, how can you say it better? If I wanted to say something and somebody had said it ideally, then I’d take it but give the person credit for it.”

In her famous poem "Poetry" she says:
------“I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all
-------------------this fiddle.
----------Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
-------------------discovers in
----------it after all, a place for the genuine...”

Her Collected Poems (1951) received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize.

Rosemary

Beauty and Beauty's son and rosemary —
Venus and Love, her son, to speak plainly —
born of the sea supposedly,
at Christmas each, in company,
braids a garland of festivity.
------Not always rosemary —

since the flight to Egypt, blooming differently.
With lancelike leaf, green but silver underneath,
its flowers — white originally —
turned blue. The herb of memory,
imitating the blue robe of Mary,
------is not too legendary

to flower both as symbol and as pungency.
Springing from stones beside the sea,
the height of Christ when thirty-three,
it feeds on dew and to the bee
“hath a dumb language”; is in reality
------a kind of Christmas tree.

The above quotation is from Sir Thomas More. Marianne Moore’s own notes on the poem tell us of a Spanish legend in which Mary threw her cloak over a rosemary bush, while resting on the flight into Egypt, and the flowers turned blue; another source says that rosemary, after 33 years, will not grow further in height — “the height of Christ”.

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