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.

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.

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