Monday, July 15, 2013

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre has taken her ekphrastic poetry to a unique level. She is the author of three poetry collections (all published by Eerdmans) which individually take on the paintings of three different Dutch painters. In Quiet Light (2000) shows us Vermeer’s paintings of women, Drawn to the Light (2006) highlights Rembrandt’s religious paintings, and The Color of Light (2007) is about Van Gogh’s late paintings. In these collections each poem accompanies a colour reproduction of the painting which inspired it.

McEntyre has taught at Westmount College, and at the University of California. She has also reflected deeply on the value of language in her study Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. The following poem came to me through poet Richard Osler, who in turn came upon it propped up within a bookcase belonging to Dana Gioia. The latter poem, of course is from Drawn to the Light.

The Purposes of Poetry

To find a way of putting what can’t be said
To startle us into seeing
To train words to dance
To rescue worthy words from slow death
To reassert the power of whim
To combat mind erosion
To make us feel what we think
And visa versa
To resuscitate the media-impaired
To remind us that truth is round
With holes and corners
To notice what will never happen
Just that way again
To make us consider how our light is spent
Or that the world is too much with us
Or petals on a black bough

The Raising of Lazarus

I wonder how often Jesus surprised
even himself. In Rembrandt's Lazarus
he looks amazed.
The enormity of what he has
set in motion stops him cold.
Hand raised like a lightning rod,
the life force passes through him.
The once dead man struggles to sit up,
gripping the edge of the tomb, wrenched
from a place he might rather have stayed,
called out of darkness into this
questionable light.
It's not at all clear
that this return will give him
reason to rejoice.
Breath comes back to him
with a sigh too deep for tears.
Martha, who insisted,
badgered, accused—"If you had been here
my brother would not have died!"—
holds out her hand, not yet to touch him,
but as if to shield herself
from what she sees.
She didn't know what she asked.
Harsh light falls full on her face.
She is not wreathed in smiles.
Over her head the carpenter's muscled arm
still points toward heaven, raised
in submission to the power that courses
through those veins. A shadow falls
across his face, something almost like fear
fixes his gaze on the miracle from which
there is no turning back.

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: