Monday, December 31, 2012

Vassar Miller*

Vassar Miller (1924—1998) is the author of ten poetry books, including If I Had Wheels or Love (1991) her collected poems. She has a strong reputation within her home state of Texas, but is not well known beyond its borders. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her second collection Wage War on Silence. Leon Stokesbury in 1988 referred to her as “Texas’s greatest poet”.

She suffered her whole life with cerebral palsy, and lived in Houston’s museum district. She was often seen riding her motorized cart to church or to the creative writing classes she taught at the University of St. Thomas. “Sometimes it would tip over and she would laugh,” said a rector at the Episcopal church she attended. “She had raucous laughter.”

The University of North Texas Press has named an annual poetry award in her honour.

Lullaby after Christmas

Little Child sleep softly,
Mary’s lullaby,
Worship of the shepherds,
Anthems from on high
May postpone the message:
You are born to die.

Little Child sleep softly,
To the tinkling coffer
Of the Three Kings bearing
Gifts they humbly offer
Lest the myrrh remind you
You are born to suffer.

Little Child sleep softly,
Ass and sheep adore You,
Hoping that their breath may
Warm the way before you.
Sharper than the horns of
Oxen, nails will gore you.

Little Child sleep softly,
Blood of babies slain
Near Your crib foreshadows
Yours in its deep stain.
Even God has right to
Peace before His pain.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Vassar Miller: first 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 24, 2012

John Donne*

John Donne (1572—1631) has now been established as one of the English language’s greatest poets; this was not always the case. In his own day, he was better known as a preacher — serving as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. During his lifetime his verse circulated in manuscript form among those who valued it. Immediately after his death it was published in several editions, but soon fell out of fashion to be all but forgotten for centuries. During these years some poets, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Browning, were solitary voices in praise of John Donne. It wasn’t until the 1920s that admirers including William Butler Yeats and T.S. Eliot succeeded in drawing the attention of the literary world to Donne's poetry.

The following poem is the third from “La Corona” from Donne’s Holy Sonnets.

Nativity

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves his well-beloved imprisonment,
There he hath made himself to his intent
Weak enough, now into our world to come;
But Oh, for thee, for him, hath th'Inn no room?
Yet lay him in this stall, and from the orient,
Stars, and wisemen will travel to prevent
Th'effect of Herod's jealous general doom;
See’st thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how he
Which fills all place, yet none holds him, doth lie?
Was not his pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss him, and with him into Egypt go,
With his kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Donne: first 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 17, 2012

Mario Luzi

Mario Luzi (1914—2005) is one of Italy’s best-known modern poets. His first book of poetry La Barca (The Boat) was published in 1935, and his final book L'avventura Della Dualità (The Adventure of Duality) appeared in 2003. He taught for years at the Universities of Florence and Urbino, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1991.

He is, according to Dana Gioia, “the Italian modernist whom I consider the greatest Catholic poet of the twentieth century.”

The following exerpt is from the book Phrases and Passages of a Salutary Song, translated by Luigi Bonaffini. Within this poem there is a section about the magi, and another about the shepherds. Whose voice this section of the poem is in, is not clear.

from Genia (from the section “Collapse and Overflow”)

Don’t remain hidden
in your omnipresence. Show yourself,
they want to tell him, but don’t dare.
The burning bush reveals him,
but it is also his
impenetrable hiding place.
And then the incarnation — he takes refuge
from his eternity under human
eaves, he descends
into the most tender womb
toward man, into man...yes,
but the son of man in whom he blazes
manifests him and conceals him...
So they advance in their history.

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 10, 2012

Martin Luther

Martin Luther (1483—1546) is the German theologian who is considered the father of the Protestant Reformation. In 1517 he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. He was protesting against the selling of indulgences, and wanted the Pope to proclaim the truth of the gospel — that salvation is a result of justification by faith alone. Rome demanded that Luther recant from his proclamations, as insubordinate to papal authority. Luther refused, unless he be proved wrong based on scripture and reason. He held up the Bible as the only authority in such matters. By 1520 the Pope issued a bull, threatening excommunication, which Luther burned publically. This led to his excommunication the following year.

Luther’s translation of the Bible was influential theologically, but also helped standardize the German language. It was also a significant influence on the English King James Version. His most famous hymn is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, however he is the author of many other well-written pieces. Such hymns were an effective way to teach theology to the masses. Martin Luther established congregational singing in the German church; he believed that, “Next to the word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world...”

All Praise To Thee, Eternal Lord

All praise to Thee, Eternal Lord,
Clothed in a garb of flesh and blood;
Choosing a manger for Thy throne,
While worlds on worlds are Thine alone.

Once did the skies before Thee bow;
A virgin's arms contain Thee now,
While angels, who in Thee rejoice,
Now listen for Thine infant voice.

A little Child, Thou art our Guest,
That weary ones in Thee may rest;
Forlorn and lowly is Thy birth;
That we may rise to Heaven from earth.

Thou comest in the darksome night
To make us children of the light;
To make us, in the realms divine,
Like Thine own angels round Thee shine.

All this for us Thy love hath done;
By this to Thee our love is won;
For this we tune our cheerful lays,
And sing our thanks in ceaseless praise.

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 3, 2012

Tania Runyan

Tania Runyan is an Illinois poet who has published one chapbook (which won Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007) and two full-length collections. Her most recent book, A Thousand Vessels (2011, WordFarm), is divided into ten sections — one for each of ten different women from the Bible. Its predecessor Simple Weight is also concerned with the Biblical narrative — particularly with the beatitudes. Barbara Crooker said of that collection, "The poems have weight—emotional, spiritual, political—but are anything but simple."

The title of her new collection comes significantly from a poem about Christ’s mother: “Mary at Calvary”:
--------“God creates women for no reason
--------but grief. He can’t cry himself
--------and needs a thousand vessels for his tears...”
The following poem, also comes from the section relating to Mary in A Thousand Vessels.

Mary at the Nativity

The angel said there would be no end
to his kingdom. So for three hundred days
I carried rivers and cedars and mountains.
Stars spilled in my belly when he turned.

Now I can’t stop touching his hands,
the pink pebbles of his knuckles,
the soft wrinkle of flesh
between his forefinger and thumb.
I rub his fingernails as we drift
in and out of sleep. They are small
and smooth, like almond petals.
Forever, I will need nothing but these.

But all night, the visitors crowd
around us. I press his palms to my lips
in silence. They look down in anticipation,
as if they expect him
to spill coins from his hands
or raise a gold scepter
and turn swine into angels.

Isn’t this wonder enough
that yesterday he was inside me,
and now he nuzzles next to my heart?
That he wraps his hand around
my finger and holds on?

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Tania Runyan: second post

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, November 26, 2012

Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia did not follow a conventional path to become a poet. He attended Stanford Business School, and eventually became a vice-president for General Foods. He is the author of four poetry collections, and was recently (2003—2009) the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. His influential essay “Can Poetry Matter?” first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1991.

The following poem is from his new collection, Pity the Beautiful (Graywolf Press). In an Image interview he said this poem “offers a set of beatitudes that praise the suffering and renunciation necessary to make us spiritually alert. It celebrates the transformative and redemptive nature of suffering—one of the central spiritual truths of Christianity as well as one easily forgotten in our materialist consumer culture...”

Prayer at Winter Solstice

Blessed is the road that keeps us homeless.
Blessed is the mountain that blocks our way.

Blessed are hunger and thirst, loneliness and all forms of desire.
Blessed is the labor that exhausts us without end.

Blessed are the night and the darkness that blinds us.
Blessed is the cold that teaches us to feel.

Blessed are the cat, the child, the cricket, and the crow.
Blessed is the hawk devouring the hare.

Blessed are the saint and the sinner who redeem each other.
Blessed are the dead calm in their perfection.

Blessed is the pain that humbles us.
Blessed is the distance that bars our joy.

Blessed is this shortest day that makes us long for light.
Blessed is the love that in losing we discover.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Dana Gioia: second post

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Alphonse de Lamartine

Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) was a French poet and politician. His father had been imprisoned during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, but escaped the guillotine. Alphonse was educated by Jesuits, even though they were being suppressed at the time. In 1848, he led the provisional government when the Second Republic was proclaimed.

His first book Méditations Poétiques (1820) established him as a popular poet within the French Romantic Movement, having been significantly influenced by the poetry of Lord Byron. In 1830 he published Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses, which particularly expressed his Christianity.

In 1832 he experienced a crisis of faith when his only remaining child died. In 1848 his political life fell apart, and he was left with enormous debt. He supported himself through his final years writing novels and historical works. When he died in 1869, he had nearly been forgotten, although is said to have re-established his faith.

The following poem, translated by Geoffrey Barto, demonstrates Lamartine's deep questioning and struggle with God.

On the Image of Christ Crushing Evil

You crushed it badly, Christ, this reptile so vile
That every truth finds in its path!
With its hideous bends it wraps up the whole world,
And its deep sting remains in the human race's side.

You promised us the horrible viper
Would never again tighten its sallow sections about us,
That man would be the son, and God would be the father,
And that you alone would pay the earthly ransom.

Two thousand years have passed and man still waits,
Ah! rise up to your Father, angel of the future,
And tell him evening has replaced the dawn,
And that the celestial gift is too slow in coming.

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 12, 2012

Norman Nicholson

Norman Nicholson (1914—1987) is a British poet closely associated with the mining town of Millom on the edge of the Lake District. He lived most of his life in the same house where he was born. At age 22 he became committed to Christian faith, which grew in him as a strong influence on his life and writing.

Although he lived far from influential literary centres, he received many honours, including the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1977, and being made an OBE in 1981. His work has been praised by T.S. Eliot, Ted Hughes, and Seamus Heaney. The Norman Nicholson Society was established in his hometown in 2006.

The Burning Bush

When Moses, musing in the desert, found
The thorn bush spiking up from the hot ground,
And saw the branches on a sudden bear
The crackling yellow barberries of fire,

He searched his learning and imagination
For any logical, neat explanation,
And turned to go, but turned again and stayed
And faced the fire and knew it for his God.

I too have seen the briar alight like coal,
The love that burns, the flesh that’s ever whole,
And many times have turned and left it there,
Saying: “It’s prophecy–but metaphor.”

But stinging tongues like John the Baptist shout:
“That this is metaphor is no way out.
It’s dogma too, or you make God a liar;
The bush is still a bush, and fire is a fire.”

Scafell Pike

Look
Along the well
Of the street,
Between the gasworks and the neat
Sparrow stepped gable
Of the Catholic chapel,
High
Above the tilt and crook
Of the tumbledown
Roofs of the town-
Scafell Pike,
The tallest hill in England.

How small it seems,
So far away,
No more than a notch
On the plate-glass window of the sky!
Watch
A puff of kitchen smoke
Block out peak and pinnacle -
Rock-pie of volcanic lava
Half a mile thick
Scotched out
At the click of an eye.

Look again
In five hundred, a thousand or ten
Thousand years:
A ruin where
The chapel was; brown
Rubble and scrub and cinders where
The Gasworks used to be;
No roofs, no town,
Maybe no men;
But yonder where a lather rinse of
cloud pours down
The spiked wall of the sky-line, see,
Scafell Pike
Still there.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Norman Nicholson: second post

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

George Johnston

George Johnston (1913—2004) is a Canadian poet whose work is characterized by rhyme and meticulous rhythm — for he felt that poetry should be memorized. A favourite poet, and influence was A.E. Housman. Northrop Frye said, "Johnston is an irresistibly readable and quotable poet. His finest technical achievement, I think, apart from his faultless sense of timing, is his ability to incorporate the language of the suburbs into his own diction."

He was known internationally as a poet and translator. He, and his wife, Jeanne, often hosted visiting poets in their home in Ottawa. When on sabbatical in England, from Carleton University, he became friends with the Welsh poet David Jones.

Stephen Morrissey, said in his “In Memorium” piece on Johnston: “George was preeminently a humble man, his religious leanings were to both Quakerism and the Church of England as he searched for an expression of his spirituality. He was a family man and...mentored younger poets...George treated me with respect as a person and as a poet. Overall he enlarged my life. What greater praise can be given to someone than stating that we learn to be a better person from their example.”

Nine days after his death in 2004, his wife of sixty years, Jeanne, died of a heart attack.

No Way Out

No excuse
Though I keep looking for one;
No use
Pretending it is not me, has not been done.

No way out
But always farther in
In doubt,
Fate-strong, heart-struck, ground fine.

I have not
Seen Paradise, nor its trees,
But what
I glimpse of unspoiled brings me to my knees.

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 29, 2012

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (1919—2004) is considered Portugal's finest, 20th century, female poet. Besides writing her own poetry, she is known for her children's books, and her translations of Shakespeare and Dante into Portuguese. She was raised a Catholic, and remained devout all her life. In 1999 she became the first woman to receive Portugal's highest poetry honour: The Prémio Camões.

She has said, “Poetry is my understanding with the universe, my way of relating to things, my participation in reality, my encounter with voices and images. That is why the poem speaks not of an ideal life but of a concrete one”.

The following poems were translated by Richard Zenith.

Transparency

Lord free us from the dangerous game of transparency
There are no corals or shells on the sea floor of our soul
Just a smothered dream
And we don’t really know what dreams are
Silent conductors faint songs
Which one day suddenly appear
On the broad flat patio of disasters

The Navigators

Multiplicity makes us drunk
Astonishment leads us on
With daring and desire and calculated skill
We’ve broken the limits —
But the one God
Keeps us from straying
Which is why at each port we cover with gold
The sombre insides of our churches

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 22, 2012

Richard Crashaw

Richard Crashaw (c.1613—1649) was greatly inspired by the posthumous publication of The Temple (1633) by George Herbert. He is, however, often not included in lists of the metaphysical poets, because of the influences of Italian and Spanish mystics and of continental poets on his verse.

Although Crashaw's father, the Puritan divine William Crashaw, was opposed to the Catholic church, his personal library contained many volumes by Catholic writers. Some feel this was for the purpose of exposing their errors; he translated, however, several Jesuit hymns from the Latin, so he seems to have appreciated their devotion. Well after his father's death, when he had travelled to Paris to avoid the conflict of the Civil War, Richard Crashaw officially embraced Catholicism.

Crashaw's reputation has not remained as strong as that of some of his contemporaries. Maureen Sabine, of the University of Hong Kong, says, “Present-day readers need to appreciate once more that Crashaw's poetry was first admired as an extension of his prayer life and as the testimony of one who dwelt in the presence of God.”

A Song

Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace
Sends up my soul to seek thy face.
Thy blessed eyes breed such desire,
I die in love’s delicious Fire.
O love, I am thy Sacrifice.
Be still triumphant, blessed eyes.
Still shine on me, fair suns! that I
Still may behold, though still I die.

Though still I die, I live again;
Still longing so to be still slain,
So gainful is such loss of breath.
I die even in desire of death.
Still live in me this loving strife
Of living Death and dying Life.
For while thou sweetly slayest me
Dead to myself, I live in Thee.

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 15, 2012

Ivan Head

Ivan Head is an Anglican priest and poet, who was born near Perth, Australia. His poems frequently appear in the influential magazine, Quadrant, which is edited by Les Murray. Ivan Head left Australia in the early ‘80s to earn a PhD in New Testament Language and Literature, from Scotland’s Glasgow University. Since 1995 he has served as the Warden of St. Paul’s College at the University of Sydney.

His first collection, The Projectionist, was thirty years in the making, and appeared from Palliser Publishing in 2004. The following is the final poem in the collection. The second poem is one of Ivan Head’s newest poems, and has not been previously published.

The Poppy

Within the pages
of this book
made in 1638
and close to the inner spine

I found by chance
in Job's lament
a pressed flower;
a browned Poppy,

thinner than a wafer
but recognizable.
It possibly
pre-dates Cromwell.

Whose hand placed it there?
Tomorrow I shall turn
to the Song of Songs
and look for time's pressed Rose.

Dash 8 from Armidale:
Not Angle Grinders but Angel Grinders


At nineteen thousand feet
The propeller is 2 metres of
Continuous diaphanous blade,
A thin curtain of spin slicing the air,

There’s a blur at the tip where
Contrary paint hints at a solid
fugal edge, the fleeing, flight edge.
It would not warn a bird.

Held by the engineered centre
By its core and cone.
This centre can hold,
This gyre not fly off.

The propeller lives by refinement
And human purposes.
They are not replaced by the jet.
While it looks like nothing’s there

“Beware, Beware.” The cutting air.

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, October 8, 2012

Angelus Silesius

Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) is a German poet and mystic. He was raised Lutheran, but converted to Catholicism where his mysticism would be more acceptable. Today, he is best know for his poetry. His two best known poetic works, The Soul's Holy Desires and The Cherubinic Pilgrim, were both published in 1657 when he obtained permission from Catholic authorities.

The Cherubinic Pilgrim is a series of 1600 epigrams, written as alexandrine couplets. The following are my own updated versions of some Angelus Silesius poems from this series, based on the English translations of J.E. Crawford Flitch.

More Known Less Understood

The more you know God, the more you will confess
That what He truly is, you know now less and less.

Through You God Loses Nothing

Choose, Man, which of the two you want,
Your self-destruction or your peace.
Through you God suffers no loss,
Nor does He find increase.

What Is Spoken Of God Is More False Than True

Since you do measure God by creature qualities,
There’s more of lie than truth in your theologies.

God Is Known In Creation

The hidden God becomes known
And familiar to mankind
In the created world of things
Which He has fashioned and designed.

God Didn't Die For The First Time On The Cross

The cross wasn't the first time He let Himself be slain,
For, see, he lies dead there at the feet of Cain.

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 1, 2012

Patrick Kavanagh

Patrick Kavanagh (1904—1967) is one of the most popular poets among the Irish people. He left school to follow his father in his profession as a cobbler, but found he had no aptitude for it. He worked the family farm, until 1931 when he moved to Dublin to seek success as a poet and journalist. He says, “I dabbled in verse and it became my life.” Seamus Heaney said in a review of Kavanagh’s Collected Poems for The Guardian that “Kavanagh is a truly representative modern figure in that his subversiveness was turned upon himself: dissatisfaction, both spiritual and artistic, is what inspired his growth.”

In his introduction to No Earthly Estate, a collection of Kavanagh's poems of the Spirit, parish priest Tom Stack points out that more than half of all of his poetry includes references to Christian faith. He attributes to Patrick Kavanagh a “sacramental perspective” which “'sees' the divine in the human, the infinite in the finite, the eternal in the historical. Properly understood this will never be mistaken for some kind of idolatry, pantheism or magic. True sacramentality affords the Christian believer something of a glimpse of God.”

Primrose

Upon a bank I sat, a child made seer
Of one small primrose flowering in my mind.
Better than wealth it is, I said, to find
One small page of Truth's manuscript made clear.
I looked at Christ transfigured without fear—
The light was very beautiful and kind,
And where the Holy Ghost in flame had signed
I read it through the lenses of a tear.
And then my sight grew dim, I could not see
The primrose that had lighted me to Heaven,
And there was but the shadow of a tree
Ghostly among the stars. The years that pass
Like tired soldiers nevermore have given
Moments to see wonders in the grass.

Canal Bank Walk

Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.
The bright stick trapped, the breeze adding a third
Party to the couple kissing on an old seat,
And a bird gathering materials for the nest for the Word
Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat.
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven.

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 24, 2012

Brad Davis

Brad Davis is the winner of the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize, and the International Arts Movement Poetry Prize. He has lived in the west — British Columbia and Washington State — seven different states in the east, and in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He has also taught at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and at Eastern Connecticut State University.

He is the author of Opening King David, published by Wipf & Stock in 2011. It is a series of 150 poems which respond to, or leap from, thoughts expressed in the 150 biblical psalms. These poems previously appeared in four separate volumes, published by Antrim House Publishers. Although these poems often speak of faith, this is not a collection of devotional verse. Opening King David shows us Davis on his journey, with fellow-travelers — including his close friend Bill who experiences his wife’s slow dying through the time these poems were written. Scott Cairns has said of this book, “Brad Davis has pored over both the scriptures and our common experience...that we might glimpse how every challenge, every adversity might be met with grace.”

Reasons I Write

Those who assume they have no one
to whom they must account for their words—

like politicians, bankers, older brothers,
theologians, poets, headmasters—

they are wrong. Every knee will bow, every
tongue confess
. So I do not use words

like “shit” or “Sovereign Lord” unaware.
Berryman, after Hopkins, wrote truly:

that line about Christ being the only
just critic. I write because it takes little

to spark my rage, and Saint Paul said we must
toil with our hands for the end of anger

is murder, and if any would be saved,
they must, with fear and trembling, work it out.


This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Brad Davis: second post

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, September 17, 2012

Thomas Traherne

Thomas Traherne (1637—1674) is considered by some to be the last of the English metaphysical poets, connecting him with such figures as John Donne and George Herbert. Although he was somewhat agnostic at age 15 when he went to Oxford's Brasenose College, he had a mystical experience there which led him to become an Anglican priest.

He only published one prose book before his death, Roman Forgeries (1673). Two further books appeared before the seventeenth century was through, but his poetry largely remained unknown.

In 1896 two of his poetry manuscripts were discovered in a London bookstall; at first they were thought to be the work of Henry Vaughan, but were soon identified as the work of Traherne, and published in 1903 as Poetical Works. In 1910 another was discovered in the British Museum and published as Poems of Felicity. Further discoveries of his writing, some as recently as 1997, have continued to increase interest in Traherne as a theologian and a poet. To this day, much of his work only appears in manuscript form.

His Power Bounded, Greater Is His Might

His Power bounded, greater is in might,
Than if let loose, 'twere wholly infinite.
He could have made an endless sea by this,
But then it had not been a sea of bliss.
Did waters from the centre to the skies
Ascend, 'twould drown whatever else we prize.
The ocean bounded in a finite shore,
Is better far because it is no more.
No use nor glory would in that be seen,
His power made it endless in esteem.
Had not the Sun been bounded in its sphere,
Did all the world in one fair flame appear,
And were that flame a real Infinite
'Twould yield no profit, splendor, nor delight.
Its corps confined, and beams extended be
Effects of Wisdom in the Deity.
One star made infinite would all exclude,
An earth made infinite could ne'er be viewed:
But one being fashioned for the other's sake,
He, bounding all, did all most useful make
And which is best, in profit and delight
Tho' not in bulk, they all are infinite.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Thomas Traherene: second post

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen (1903—1946) was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. When he was fifteen his grandmother, who was his guardian, died; Countee was adopted by the influential Rev. Frederick A. Cullen — pastor of the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church, the largest church in Harlem. He found himself at the centre of black American culture in his home life, and under the influence of Western white society in his education. He distinguished himself in his high school and at New York University. His first poetry collection, Color, appeared in 1925, the year he was accepted into the Masters program at Harvard.

In Cullen's poem “Heritage” he asks the question “What is Africa to me?” He admits his heritage does not include tribal idol worship, but is of following Christ, even though Jesus did not have black skin.
---------My conversion came high-priced;
---------I belong to Jesus Christ,
---------Preacher of humility;
---------Heathen gods are naught to me...
Cullen was conservative in his literary taste. He took English poets John Keats and A.E. Housman as his models, because he felt that all influences were his for the taking, and that art could overshadow the differences between races.

Simon the Cyrenian Speaks

He never spoke a word to me,
And yet He called my name;
He never gave a sign to me,
And yet I knew and came.

At first I said, “I will not bear
His cross upon my back;
He only seeks to place it there
Because my skin is black.”

But He was dying for a dream,
And He was very meek,
And in His eyes there shone a gleam
Men journey far to seek.

It was Himself my pity bought;
I did for Christ alone
What all of Rome could not have wrought
With bruise of lash or stone.

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 3, 2012

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is an Anglican priest, and author of several books, including the study Faith, Hope and Poetry. Rowan Williams describes it as “a profound theology of the imagination”, and Luci Shaw praises Guite as “a poet and scholar of the highest order”. He serves as Chaplain at Cambridge University’s Girton College, and is a singer/guitarist for the blues band “Mystery Train”. His verse follows traditional poetic formats. Two of his significant literary influences are Coleridge and C.S. Lewis.

The following poem is from Malcolm Guite’s new book of sonnets, Sounding the Seasons, which will be published by Canterbury Press this year.

St. Thomas the Apostle

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,
Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.
Because He loved your awkward counter-point
The Word has heard and granted you your wish.
Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.

Posted with permission of the poet.

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Jacobus Revius

Jacobus Revius (1586—1685) was a Dutch poet, Calvinist theologian and church historian. He was extremely opposed to Cartesian philosophy, and wrote against it. He attended several French universities where he became interested in Renaissance poetry. The English metaphysical poets, such as John Donne, were also influences.

During his lifetime his poetry was not popular; he was better known for his more controversial writing, and the history of his hometown of Deventer. Today, however, he is one of the few seventeenth century Dutch poets who are still being read; seven of his hymns are in the most popular hymn book in the Netherlands. Also many Dutch towns have streets named after him.

He Bore Our Griefs

No, it was not the Jews who crucified,
Nor who betrayed you in the judgment place,
Nor who, Lord Jesus, spat into your face,
Nor who with buffets struck you as you died.
No, it was not the soldiers fisted bold
Who lifted up the hammer and the nail,
Or raised the cursed cross on Calvary’s hill,
Or, gambling, tossed the dice to win your robe.
I am the one, O Lord, who brought you there,
I am the heavy cross you had to bear,
I am the rope that bound you to the tree,
The whip, the nail, the hammer, and the spear,
The blood-stained crown of thorns you had to wear:
It was my sin, alas, it was for me.

Translated by Henrietta ten Harmsel

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 20, 2012

Adélia Prado

Adélia Prado is one of Brazil's foremost poets, even though her work only began to be published when she was in her early 40s. She is a devoted Catholic who often combines earthy images of this world with transcendent images of faith. She has published six collections of poetry.

In 1985 American writer Ellen Watson, arrived at Prado's door with a handful of English translations she had made of Prado's poems. Eventually that manuscript became The Alphabet in the Park (1990). It still remains the best-known source for Adélia Prado's poetry in English. The two women have remained friends throughout the years; Watson is scheduled to release a second volume of Prado's poetry in 2013. The following translation, however, is from Marcia Kirinus.

Grace

The world is a garden. A light bathes the world.
The cleanness of the air, the greens after rain,
the open country dresses in grass like the sheep in its wool.
A pain without bitterness: a live butterfly on the spit.
Wake up the tender memories:
robust with youth,
insidious joy with no reason.
I don't insist on the old addictions to protect me from sudden joy.
And the woman ugly? And the man crass?
Meaningless. They are all in a fog like me.
The empty can, the manure, the leper on his horse.
They are all resplendent. On the cloud a king, a kingdom,
a jester with his fandangles, a prince. I pass them by,
they are solid. What I don't see exists more than the flesh.
God gave me this unforgettable afternoon, I rubbed my eyes and saw:
like the sky, the real world is pastoral.

To learn more about Adélia Prado, visit Richard Osler's Recovering Words blog.

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 13, 2012

Edward Taylor

Edward Taylor (1642—1729) was unknown as a poet, until his leather-bound poems were discovered in the library of Yale University in 1937. A selection were published in the New England Quarterly at that time, and soon his reputation became established as America’s finest colonial poet.

He was born in Leicestershire, England. During the Restoration, after 1662, he was prevented from continuing to teach school because of his stand as a nonconformist. In 1668 he emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony where he would be free to practice his Puritan faith. For the next three years he completed his education at Harvard — after which he followed a call to become the minister in the frontier community of Westfield, Massachusetts; he stayed there for the remaining fifty-eight years of his life.

Some of Taylor’s best poems are from a series called Preparatory Meditations — poems he wrote to help him focus his thoughts as he wrote his sermons for the monthly communion services.

In the following poem, the poet uses the image of a spinning wheel as an illustration of his spiritual life. Such conceits show the influence of the English metaphysical poets, including John Donne and George Herbert. The footnotes, in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, say that “Taylor refers to the working parts of a spinning wheel: the ‘distaff’ holds the raw wool or flax; the ‘flyers’ regulate the spinning; the ‘spool’ twists the yarn; and the ‘reel’ takes up the finished thread.” The “fulling mills” of line ten are where the “cloth is beaten and cleansed”. The final lines of the poem allude to the parable of the wedding banquet — particularly to Matt. 22:12.

Huswifery

Make me, O Lord, Thy spinning wheel complete.
------Thy Holy Word my distaff make for me.
Make mine affections Thy swift flyers neat
------And make my soul Thy holy spool to be.
------My conversation make to be Thy reel
------And reel the yarn thereon spun of Thy wheel.

Make me Thy loom then, knit therein this twine:
------And make Thy Holy Spirit, Lord, wind quills:
Then weave the web Thyself. The yarn is fine.
------Thine ordinances make my fulling mills.
------Then dye the same in heavenly colours choice,
------All pinked with varnished flowers of paradise.

Then clothe therewith mine understanding, will,
------Affections, judgement, conscience, memory,
My words and actions, that their shine may fill
------My ways with glory and Thee glorify.
------Then mine apparel shall display before Ye
------That I am clothed in holy robes for glory.

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 6, 2012

Robert Lax

Robert Lax (1915—2000) is an American poet who is perhaps best known for his connections with his friend Thomas Merton. He was skilled as a juggler, and toured western Canada with a circus — an important experience reflected in his verse. In 1943 he converted from Judaism to Catholicism. In the 1940s he was on staff at The New Yorker, and served as poetry editor for Time. Jack Kerouac called him, “one of the great original voices of our times”. He lived the last 35 years of his life in the Greek islands, particularly on Patmos, writing in a minimalist style and doing little to promote his work.

In his collection The Circus of the Sun (1959) Robert Lax portrays the circus as representative of the larger society. The circus performers and animals celebrate God and his creation, even down to the most mundane tasks of their lives. The word “firmament”, in the following poem, is clearly reminiscent of the Genesis account of creation from the King James Version, and William Blake's “The Tyger” is also clearly echoed.

The Morning Stars

Have you seen my circus?
Have you known such a thing?
Did you get up in the early morning and see the wagons pull into town?
Did you see them occupy the field?
Were you there when it was set up?
Did you see the cookhouse set up in dark by lantern light?
Did you see them build the fire and sit around it smoking and talking quietly?
As the first rays of dawn came, did you see them roll in blankets and go to sleep?
A little sleep until time came to
unroll the canvas, raise the tent,
draw and carry water for the men and animals;
were you there when the animals came forth,
the great lumbering elephants to drag the poles and unroll the canvas?
Were you there when the morning moved over the grasses?
Were you there when the sun looked through dark bars of clouds
at the men who slept by the cookhouse fire?
Did you see the cold morning wind nip at their blankets?
Did you see the morning star twinkle in the firmament?
Have you heard their laughter around the cookhouse fire?
When the morning stars threw down their spears and watered heaven?
Have you looked at spheres of dew on spears of grass?
Have you watched the light of a star through a world of dew?
Have you seen the morning move over the grasses?
And to each leaf the morning is present.
Were you there when we stretched out the line,
when we rolled out the sky,
when we set up the firmament?
Were you there when the morning stars
sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

In later years Lax developed an extremely minimalist style. The following poem, running down the left margin of the page, is typical of his collection A Thing That Is (1997).

be
gin
by
be
ing

pa
tient

with
your
self

la
ter
you
can
be
pa
tient

with
oth
ers

(name
of
the
game

is
pa
tience.)

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 30, 2012

Julia Spicher Kasdorf

Julia Spicher Kasdorf is an American poet who grew up in two contrasting worlds. She was born to Mennonite parents, but before she reached an age of remembering, they moved from the valley their families had farmed for generations. Every summer she left the modern world behind to return to her grandparents’ farm. When Kasdorf writes about either of these worlds, there is often a sense that she is on the outside looking in.

Her first poetry collection Sleeping Preacher (1992) won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Award for New Writing. She teaches at Pennsylvania State University. I had the privilege of providing an introduction for her lecture “Personal, Political and Prophetic Voices in Poetry of Faith” this April at the Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The following is the fourth and final section in a longer poem, “Rachel On The Threshing Floor” from her newest poetry collection Poetry In America (2011).

Floating on the Lobsang

How can I fill the blank space
beneath weather and work

in her handwritten book? Only
a few in each generation can learn

by heart to lead the Lobsang,
though it’s sung at every service

but funerals. Against all tradition,
I play a recording of that hymn

of praise, as if its long tones
could shoulder me home, float

me to her, my hair spreading out
on its flat tune, toes barely dragging.

No one can carry that heavy chant
alone; there is no place to pause

between the notes to take a breath.
Unless a grain of wheat fall

to the ground and die, it is only
a single seed.
Mary says Rachel’s face

was like Loamie’s, her spirit
like young Rachel’s. Dad showed me

where she lies in a field that once bloomed
blue flax, between her drowned toddler

and a daughter’s leg. There I place
a bouquet of quiet on her name.

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 23, 2012

Jūkichi Yagi

Jūkichi Yagi (1898–1927) is a Japanese poet. He became a devout Christian as a high school student through reading the Bible. At age 23 he became a teacher of English and began writing poetry as an expression of his Christian faith. In 1923, he and his wife, Tomiko, were married. His first book of poems Autumn’s Eye appeared in 1925. During the following year he developed tuberculosis, and remained bed-ridden until he died. During this time he wrote extensively about God and death. It was not until after the posthumous publication of his further poetry that he gained widespread popularity. In 1959 his widow arranged for the publication of The Complete Poems of Jūkichi Yagi.

from Soliloquy in Bed

***
They flow naturally.
What should I do with these tears?

***
I’d like to recover soon
and spread the names of God and Jesus.

***
There are nights when I fall asleep
to the sound of the waves meshing with my thoughts.
There are times when I can’t sleep at all.

***
Tomiko,
I don’t mean that.
I mean that if I must die anyway
then please let me die with a beautiful heart.

***
Tomiko,
when we knew happiness together,
those times when I was to blame for things,
I can now see very clearly.

***
Seen through the window, the sky and flowing clouds—
I turn away from their excessive seriousness.

***
Tomiko,
I can’t stand being in bed alone.

***
O Heavenly Father,
please save this feeble body and soul
and let me work on behalf of the light of God and Christ.

***
Tomiko,
when not calling God’s name
I’m calling yours.

***
I will be together with the heart of God.

***
Momoko and Yooji,
it’s painful that I can’t see you.
I’m happiest at having been your father
and not anyone else’s.

***
Ah, how wonderful the sound of those waves.
I’d love to go to the beach.

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 16, 2012

Sons of Korah

The Sons of Korah have eleven psalms attributed to them (Psalm 42, 44 – 49, 84, 85, 87 and 88). They were Levites (Korah being Levi’s great-grandson) and were a guild of singers, set apart for the worship of Yahweh. Perhaps they were Korah's occupational, rather than biological, descendants. The first person mentioned, in 1 Chronicles 6, as one of the men David placed “in charge of the music in the house of the Lord after the ark came to rest there” was Heman, a descendant of Korah. It is uncertain whether the Sons of Korah composed these psalms, or if they were written for them, or if they were from a collection of psalms that was in their possession. Perhaps Heman was the author of these psalms, since the second person David mentioned is the psalmist Asaph. Heman is identified as the author of Psalm 88, although he is there called “the Ezrahite” – a name not appearing in his genealogy.

The following psalm is from the New International Version.

Psalm 46

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah.
According to alamoth. A song.


God is our refuge and strength,
-----an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
-----and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
-----and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
-----the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
-----God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
-----he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
-----the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come and see what the Lord has done,
-----the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
-----to the ends of the earth.
-----He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
-----he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
-----I will be exalted among the nations,
-----I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
-----the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

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 9, 2012

James K. Baxter

James K. Baxter (1926—1972) is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated poets, and is also known for his plays. In 1944, while still in his teens, Baxter published his first book, Beyond The Palisade. In his early days he was very influenced by the work of Dylan Thomas. Over the next decade his drinking drove him to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Shortly after this he became a Roman Catholic, which significantly influenced his poetry. By the 1960s James K. Baxter had become a prolific writer; his radio play Jack Winter’s Dream (1958) had expanded his international reputation. He began working with drug addicts, and took up the cause of the poor. In 1968 he went to a Maori village called Jerusalem (Hiruharama) because, he says, he was instructed to in a dream. There he established a commune and lived in deprived conditions, which eventually contributed to his death.

Sometimes his voice sounds quite irreverent, such as in “The Maori Jesus”, yet he also wrote such orthodox poems as “Song To The Holy Spirit”, which begins:
--------Lord, Holy Spirit,
--------You blow like the wind in a thousand paddocks,
--------Inside and outside the fences,
--------You blow where you wish to blow.

--------Lord, Holy Spirit,
--------You are the sun who shines on the little plant,
--------You warm him gently, you give him life,
--------You raise him up to become a tree with many leaves...

British poet Godfrey Rust speaks of Baxter as an influence and says, “he should have been Walt Whitman really and was born in the wrong place.”

Thief and Samaritan

You, my friend, fallen among thieves,
The parable is harder than we suppose.
Always we say another hand drives
Home the knife, God's malice or the gross
Night-hawking bandit, straddled Apollyon.
We are blinded by the fume of the thieves' kitchen.

To be deceived is human; but till deception end
What hope of a bright inn, Love's oil and wine?
One greasy cloth of comfort I bring, friend
Nailed at the crossroad—I, thief, have seen
The same dawn break in blood and negative fire;
Your night I too could not endure.

Friend, stripped of the double-breasted suit
That left no cold out—if by falling stars
Love come, with ointment for your deadly wound,
Carry you up the steep inn stairs—
What should a thief do, footloose and well,
But rape the landlord's daughter, rummage the till?

Search well the wound, friend: know to the quick
What pain is. Thieves are only taught by pain.
And when, no longer sick,
You sit at table in the bright inn,
Remembering that pain you may sing small, dine
On a little bread, less wine.

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 2, 2012

Maurice Manning

Maurice Manning is a Kentucky poet who seeks to capture something of the lost Kentucky of his childhood — especially the backwoods characters he remembers. His first poetry collection, Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions, was selected by W.S. Merwin for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.

Manning characteristically writes persona poems. His third collection Bucolics (2007) is completely formed from the rambling prayers of a rustic Kentuckian who only refers to God as “Boss”. Because these poems, and those in his new collection The Common Man (2010), are not in Manning’s own voice, it’s harder to ascertain the poet’s own spiritual attitudes. I attended a reading, at the Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan this April; and I was present when L.S. Klatt interviewed him. Maurice Manning talked readily about prayer, and his strong, constant sense of God’s presence.

The following poem is from his latest collection, for which he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

A Blasphemy

You wouldn't have believed it, how
the man, a little touched perhaps,

set his hands together and prayed
for happiness, yet not his own;

he meant his people, by which he meant
not people really, but trees and cows,

the dirty horses, dogs, the fox
who lived at the back of his place with her kits,

and the very night who settled down
to rock his place to sleep, the place

he tried so hard to tend he found
he mended fences in his sleep.

He said to the you above, who, let's
be honest, doesn't say too much,

I need you now up there to give
my people happiness, you let

them smile and know the reason; hear
my prayer, Old Yam. The you who's you

might laugh at that, and I agree,
it's funny to make a prayer like that,

the down-home words and yonder reach
of what he said; and calling God

the Elder Sweet Potato, shucks,
that's pretty funny, and kind of sad.

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 25, 2012

Nontsizi Mgqwetho

Nontsizi Mgqwetho is South African poet of the Xosha language. Her poetry frequently appeared in a Johannesburg newspaper between 1920 and 1929. Little is known about her beyond what surfaces in her significant body of work.

The enemy she confronted was often as much the apathy of black men, as the unequal treatment by whites. She struggled with the irony of being a Christian, exploited by whites, when whites had brought Christianity to her country in the first place. She speaks with the voice of a preacher, although the newspaper provided the only pulpit a woman would have access to in her day. She would never have been allowed to be an “imbongi” (a rural praise poet) speaking in the presence of the chief, for that role was always a male one; however the newspaper gave her a platform where she could challenge tribal leaders.

The following poem, translated by Jeff Opland, is from The Nation's Bounty: The Xosha Poetry Of Nontsizi Mgqwetho (2007).

Show Me The Mountain That Packed Up And Left

“Come back,” mountain that left.
There are your people frantically scrabbling,
knowing full well that this country
will stand to the end of time.

Mercy, she-dove of Africa!
Distinguished elephant commanding an army
stretching from earth to the skies,
tall as an ironwood safe from the axe.

We raise our cry, saying “Come back!”
Though you disdain it, ochre suits you.
We’re befuddled because we’re adrift,
like plains cattle lost in the mist.

Mercy, she-dove of Africa!
Furry spider of Mthikrakra’s place!
Christians still favour courtship dances,
they say “Come back” but they don’t come back.

We Christians tend to see
the mote in another’s eye.
Africa, today we make a forest of you
in which to conceal all our sins.

And yet even Jesus, who bore our sins,
was a man, cracked on the cross;
He was the Word, and He became flesh:
through Him we wear a crown.

What do you want of Africa?
She can’t speak, she can’t even hear;
she’s not jealous, not vying for status;
she hasn’t squandered her people’s funds!

Where is this God that we worship?
The one we worship’s foreign:
we kindled a fire and sparks swirled up,
swirled up a European mountain.

This is the wisdom of their God:
“Black man, prepare for the treasures of heaven
while we prepare for the treasures of Africa!”
Just as the wise men of Pharaoh’s land

commanded the Jews: “Use grass to bake bricks,”
leaving them empty-handed at sunset,
so it is for us black people now:
eager at dawn, at dusk empty-handed.

So come on home! Remember your God,
a borer of holes in cracked ships,
Ancient Bone which they sucked for its marrow:
may it still yield them marrow in Africa.

So come back! Make a fresh start!
Remember the Crutch you leaned on as lepers,
let Him lead you dryshod through the Red Sea.
Food from another man’s pot makes you fart.

Please listen!!

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 18, 2012

Paul Mariani*

Paul Mariani writes in the mode of American confessional poets, as exemplified by John Berryman, and Robert Lowell. This style fits well with his Catholic faith, although it also proclaims his own short-comings. He’s a skilled story-teller, quick to share how he neglected his dog on the day he was dying (“Landscape with Dog”), how in anger with his sons he made a fool of himself (“Sarcophagus”), or of a youthful, drunken fight the night before writing his Ethics exam (“Manhattan”). Such extreme self-revelation and honesty, also gives Mariani the right to express the deepest truths of his own spiritual life.

He has just released his seventh poetry collection, as part of the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books, entitled Epitaphs for the Journey: New, Selected and Revised Poems. As the subtitle states, it harvests the best from his extensive body of poetry, fine tunes it, and adds a selection of strong new poems that can proudly stand alongside the earlier work. He has taken great pains for this volume to improve poetry that has already been highly acclaimed. I am honoured to have been able to serve as editor for this excellent project.

Mariani’s first collection Timing Devices (1979) featured engravings by visual artist Barry Moser; their relationship, both personally and professionally, has continued through the years. Moser has generously contributed powerful engravings for Epitaphs for the Journey. It is available from Wipf & Stock.

The Stone Not Cut by Hand
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Nebuchadnezzar stared while the prophet blazed.
A stone not cut, stormed Daniel, by any human hand,
however self-assured or self-deluded. Understand:
It is the Lord has quarried here. The king’s eyes glazed,

because all he knew was earthly power: kings who razed
entire cities—dogs, women, babies, mules, the very land.
Kings whose subjects, high & low, did their each command.
A stone not quarried by any hand but God’s. Amazed,

the king fell back before the prophet’s words. A stone
that would smash each self-important, self-made idol,
whether built of gold or steel or any other thing their throne
was made of. Yes, whatever insane, grand mal, suicidal
impulse kings could conjure up. A stone by God alone.
Womb-warm, lamb-gentle, world-wielding, tidal.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Paul Mariani: first 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 11, 2012

John F. Deane

John F. Deane was born on Achill, an island off the Irish coast. Not only is he the new editor for Poetry Ireland Review, but he founded that journal more than thirty years ago. He is known both for his own poems, and for his translations of European poets, including Tomas Tranströmer. In 1985 he also founded Dedalus Press, which has significantly contributed to poetry in Ireland. His poems have been translated into French, Bulgarian, Romanian, Italian and Swedish. Deane's poetry has brought him many international awards and honours.

He has written a new translation of “The Dream of the Rood” which appeared in his 1997 book, Christ, with Urban Fox. His most-recent collection Eye of the Hare was published by Carcanet in 2011.

Mercy

Unholy we sang this morning, and prayed
as if we were not broken, crooked
the Christ-figure hung, splayed
on bloodied beams above us;
devious God, dweller in shadows,
mercy on us;
immortal, cross-shattered Christ—
your gentling grace down upon us.

Prayer

Bring me ashore where you are
that I may still be with you, and at rest.

Your name on my lips, with thankfulness,
my name on yours, with love.

That I may live in light and know no terror of the
dark;
but that I live in light.

When I achieve quiet, when I am in attendance,
be present to me, as I will be to you.

That I may hear you, like a lover, whisper yes —
but that you whisper yes.

Be close to my life, my loves, as lost son to mother,
as lost mother to son.
But be close.

Come to me on days of heat with the cool breathing
of white wine, on cold
with the graced inebriation of red.
But that you come.

That you hold me in a kindly hand
but that you hold me.

Do not resent me when I fail
and I fail, and I fail, and I fail.

That I may find the words.

That the words I find to name you
may approach the condition of song.

That I may always love with the intensity of flowers
but that I love,
but that I always love.

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, June 4, 2012

Edith Sitwell

Dame Edith Sitwell (1887–1964) is an influential British poet. She — along with T.S. Eliot — formed the vanguard of modernist poets following World War I. She published the poetry of Wilfred Owen after his death, and befriended young poets, such as Dylan Thomas — helping them to get established.

When Façade — a collection of her poetry set to music by William Walton — was first performed in London in 1923 it was widely dismissed by critics and audiences, including Noel Coward, who walked out in a rage. When, however, it was revived in New York in 1949 it was enthusiastically received.

In 1953 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). She became a Roman Catholic in 1955. She said at the time, “I have taken this step because I want the discipline, the fire and the authority of the Church. I am hopelessly unworthy of it, but I hope to become worthy.” Canadian poet Richard Greene has published a new biography of Dame Edith — Edith Sitwell: Avant-garde Poet, English Genius (2011).

The following poem has been set to music by Benjamin Britten.

Still Falls The Rain
(The Raids, 1940, Night and Dawn)

Still falls the Rain—
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss—
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.

Still falls the Rain
With a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the
-----hammer-beat
In the Potter's Field, and the sound of the impious feet

On the Tomb:
Still falls the Rain

In the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human
-----brain
Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain.

Still falls the Rain
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.
Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy on us—
On Dives and on Lazarus:
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain—
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man's wounded Side:
He bears in His Heart all wounds,—those of the light that died,
The last faint spark
In the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad uncomprehending
-----dark,
The wounds of the baited bear—
The blind and weeping bear whom the keepers beat
On his helpless flesh... the tears of the hunted hare.

Still falls the Rain—
Then— O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me doune—
See, see where Christ's blood streames in the firmament:
It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree

Deep to the dying, to the thirsting heart
That holds the fires of the world,—dark-smirched with pain
As Caesar's laurel crown.

Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man
Was once a child who among beasts has lain—
"Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for
-----thee."

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

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ursula Bethell

Ursula Bethell (1874—1945) has been described as “the most firmly, traditionally Christian” of New Zealand's poets. She was born in England, but moved to New Zealand as a small child; she was educated in England and Switzerland — later continuing to travel extensively, including living for awhile in Geneva to study painting.

Her poetry often reflects her interest in painting and her love of gardening. She writes of the beauty of creation, often avoiding overtly Christian language. In her poem “Warning in Winter” she uses the term “The Spirit of Beauty”. In a letter she said, “Some people haven't liked [the term] 'The Spirit of Beauty' but surely it's true — The Holy Spirit must be the Spirit of Beauty”.

She had long been a supporter of the role of women in the church, and in 1935 donated her home as accomodation for an Anglican deaconess training institute.

The following is one section of a longer poem from her collection Day And Night (1939).

From At the Lighting of the Lamps (For Music)

V

Praise, praise to thee, Almighty Artificer, Architect,
Poet, whose pure inexhaustible spring eternally flows,
Artist, whose marvellous works eternally are made manifest,
Eternally making, in making, eternally finding repose.
Praise to the All; the One; Ineffable; and Intimate;
Calling thy stars, thy souls, thy least electrons by name;
For thine, as ours, the human heart that beat upon Olivet
Under these same stars, and thine the unquenchable flame
Of love in that heart.… The city lights of Jerusalem
Burned low.… beloved, pitiless city of light
Put out, put out; but in pity, on high to be lit again,
For the price of the heart broken, the life put out for a night,
But mightily rising, rising again, and prevailing mightily.…
Light of lights, Lamp of the City, Orient blaze
Of glorious splendour, on us shed forth thy golden rays!
In thy light our lights are consumed, and yet not utterly,
Night after night, in peace, amen, we hymn thy praise.

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

Monday, May 21, 2012

Brett Foster

Brett Foster is Associate Professor of English at Wheaton College. His first poetry collection, The Garbage Eater (2011) has now appeared from TriQuartely Books/Northwestern University Press.

His literary influences come from a variety of sources. He’s eager to praise the work of such renaissance poets as Milton, Spenser, Shakespeare and Marlowe — but then again if you were to speak of such mid-century voices as Charles Williams, Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis (Foster is Poetry Editor at the Lewis-inspired journal Sehnsucht) he’d engage you in a lively discussion. Similarly he is an enthusiast of diverse contemporary poets including Seamus Heaney and Richard Wilbur. Foster’s academic love of literature shows itself strongly in his own verse; his work as a literary critic also reflects his wide interests.

The following poem first appeared in Image.

Devotion: For Our Bodies

Yes, Love, I must confess I’m at it again,
struggling in vain with my Greek declensions.
I know it’s common, but I want to show
you what I found in Praxeis Apostolon,

chapter one, verse twenty-four: this exquisite
epithet, kardiognosta. Forget
briefly its context, that the Eleven,
genuflecting, implore the Lord to give

wisdom. Between Justus and Matthias,
who replaces Judas? Let this word pass
to private sharpness toward love’s dominion.
Let me kiss it across your collarbones—

knower of hearts. Its sweetness fills my mouth
and our twin lots, as if they’d chosen both.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Read my Ruminate review of The Garbage Eater here.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Brett Foster: second post

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

Monday, May 14, 2012

Alan Paton

Alan Paton (1903–1988) is a South African writer who saw himself as a poet who wrote novels. He is best known for Cry The Beloved Country (1948). It is the story of a Zulu pastor's search for his missing son, in a land where racial injustice had become the norm.

As the principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for young black offenders, from 1935 to 1949, Alan Paton was able to introduce significant reforms – enabling inmates, who had proven themselves responsible, freedom to work and often live away from the reformatory. He was so opposed to his country's apartheid policy, that in 1953 he founded the Liberal Party of South Africa.

The international success of Cry The Beloved Country, kept him financially independent and protected him from government prosecution, although his passport was confiscated in 1960 for about ten years. The following poems are from his collected poems, Songs of Africa.

My Lord has a great attraction...

My Lord has a great attraction for the humble and simple,
they delight in his conversation,

The insane stop their frenzies and look at him unsurely,
then they crowd round him and finger him gently,

Their wistful eyes capture something that was lost, they
are healed for a moment of the hurts of great institutions.

The half-witted press their simple thoughts upon him, and
he listens with attention to the babbling of imbeciles.

He knows their meanings, and they observe him trustfully.

He passes through the great gates of Alcatraz, and there is
no searching machine that can prevent him,

He goes into the cells that have the iron doors, where the
wild men are shut in completely,

They put their wild teeth on his hands, but take them away
again from his wounds with wonder.

Oh Lord teach us your wisdom, and incline our hearts to
receive your instructions.

Then the maniac would stay his hands from the small girl,
and the drunken man from the throat of the woman,

And the father from the growing son, and the son
his hands from the father.

And the wild boys could be brought out from the cages, and
the wild men from behind the unutterable doors.

No Place for Adoration

I saw the famous gust of wind in Eloff Street
It came without notice, shaking the blinds and awnings
Ten thousand people backed to the wall to let it pass
And all Johannesburg was awed and silent,
Save for an old prostitute woman, her body long past pleasure
Who ran into the halted traffic, holding up hands to heaven
And crying my Lord and my God, so the whole city laughed
This being no place for adoration.

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

Monday, May 7, 2012

George MacDonald

http://twgauthors.blogspot.com/2010/01/princess-and-goblin-martin.htmlGeorge MacDonald (1824–1905) is a Scottish writer best known as a novelist, but he also wrote in such genres as poetry, sermons, and literary criticism. He was a Congregational minister, who mentored the young Lewis Carroll, encouraging him to publish his stories of Alice which were popular with MacDonald’s many children.

His greatest influence is as a writer of fantasy — both for children (he would say “for the child-like”) and for adults. His best children’s books are The Princess and the Goblin (1872) [read my brief review here] and its sequel The Princess and Curdie (1882). His masterpieces of adult fantasy are Phantastes and Lilith — both published in 1895.

MacDonald greatly influenced many authors, including G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Lewis referred to him as his master, and said, “...what I learned to love in Phantastes was goodness.” This quality comes through in MacDonald’s other works as well, which W.H. Auden confirms.

Approaches

When thou turn’st away from ill,
Christ is this side of thy hill.

When thou turnest toward good,
Christ is walking in thy wood.

When thy heart says, “Father, pardon!”
Then the Lord is in thy garden.

When stern Duty wakes to watch,
Then his hand is on the latch.

But when Hope thy song doth rouse,
Then the Lord is in the house.

When to love is all thy wit,
Christ doth at thy table sit.

When God’s will is thy heart’s pole,
Then is Christ thy very soul.

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