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. 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