Monday, March 25, 2013

B.H. Fairchild

B.H. Fairchild is an American poet who rose to prominence with the attention his third collection The Art of the Lathe (1998) received; it won several awards and was a finalist for the National Book Award. He demonstrates in that collection his preoccupation with craft, and his own history working alongside his father in a machine shop. Fairchild`s poems often deal with working-class people, and the sacramental quality of work. His two subsequent collections are Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest (2003) which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Usher (2009).

It has been said that “Fairchild`s faith is not something proclaimed; it is something inhabited.” In an Image interview with Paul Mariani, Fairchild said that “being a Christian no longer seems to present a problem of belief for me, or at least not in the same way it once did... It`s simply who I am.”

The Deposition

-----------------------------------And one without a name
Lay clean and naked there, and gave commandments.

--------------------—Rilke, “Washing the Corpse” (trans. Jarrell)

Dust storm, we thought, a brown swarm
plugging the lungs, or a locust-cloud,
but this was a collapse, a slow sinking
to deeper brown, and deeper still, like the sky
seen from inside a well as we are lowered down,
and the air twisting and tearing at itself.

But it was done. And the body hung there
like a butchered thing, naked and alone
in a sudden hush among the ravaged air.
The ankles first—slender, blood-caked,
pale in the sullen dark, legs broken
below the knees, blue bruises smoldering
to black. And the spikes. We tugged iron
from human flesh that dangled like limbs
not fully hacked from trees, nudged
the cross beam from side to side until
the sign that mocked him broke loose.
It took all three of us. We shouldered the body
to the ground, yanked nails from wrists
more delicate, it seemed, than a young girl’s
but now swollen, gnarled, black as burnt twigs.
The body, so heavy for such a small man,
was a knot of muscle, a batch of cuts
and scratches from the scourging, and down
the right side a clotted line of blood,
the sour posca clogging his ragged beard,
the eyes exploded to a stare that shot
through all of us and still speaks in my dreams:
I know who you are.

------------------------So, we began to wash
the body, wrenching the arms, now stiff
and twisted, to his sides, unbending
the ruined legs and sponging off the dirt
of the city, sweat, urine, shit—all the body
gives—from the body, laying it out straight
on a sheet of linen rank with perfumes
so that we could cradle it, haul it
to the tomb. The wind shouted.
The foul air thickened. I reached over
to close the eyes. I know who you are.

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, March 18, 2013

Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope (1688—1744) was a Catholic at a time when immense restrictions were placed upon Catholics in England. They were not permitted, for example, to attend university, or to live within ten miles of either London or Westminster. Despite these barriers, Pope was able to pursue his literary ambitions. He was largely self-educated, and made friends with many of the writers of his day, including Jonathan Swift. He became known for his translations of Homer, which proved quite lucrative.

His philosophical poem, An Essay on Man (1733), expresses Pope’s ideas about the nature of the universe and man’s place in it. Its expressed purpose is to “vindicate the ways of God to man”, which of course echoes Milton’s purpose in Paradise Lost.

The Dying Christian to his Soul

Vital spark of heavenly flame!
Quit, O quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, lingering, flying,
O the pain, the bliss of dying!
Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life.

Hark! they whisper; angels say,
Sister Spirit, come away!
What is this absorbs me quite?
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
Tell me, my soul, can this be death?

The world recedes; it disappears!
Heaven opens on my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring!
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy victory?
O Death! where is thy sting?

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, March 11, 2013

Patrick of Ireland

Patrick of Ireland (circa 390—461) is celebrated for having significantly contributed to the conversion of Ireland to Christianity. When he was about 16, he was kidnapped from his home in southwest Britain and taken to be a slave in Ireland. Approximately six years later he escaped and returned to his family, but had changed much in this time. He studied the Bible, and decided to become a priest. Around 435 he was commissioned to return to Ireland as a missionary, where through his extensive efforts found success. He died on March 17, which is why that is marked as Saint Patrick's Day.

The following poem, translated by Cecil Frances Alexander, is thought to have been written by Patrick, and is sometimes referred to as “Saint Patrick's Breastplate”.

The Lorca

I bind unto myself today
---the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
---the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
---by power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan river;
---his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
---his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
---I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
---of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet "Well done" in judgement hour;
---the service of the seraphim;
confessors' faith, apostles' word,
---the patriarchs' prayers, the prophets' scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
---and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
---the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun's life-giving ray,
---the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
---the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
---around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
---the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
---his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
---his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
---his heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
---the vice that gives temptation force,
the natural lusts that war within,
---the hostile men that mar my course;
of few or many, far or nigh,
---in every place, and in all hours
against their fierce hostility,
---I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
---against false words of heresy,
against the knowledge that defiles
---against the heart's idolatry,
against the wizard's evil craft,
---against the death-wound and the burning
the choking wave and poisoned shaft,
---protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
---Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
---Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
---Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
---Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
---the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
---the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
---eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
---salvation is of Christ the Lord.

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, March 4, 2013

William Stafford

William Stafford (1914 —1993) was a conscientious objector during World War II. At that time he worked in an alternate forest service work camp, operated by the Church of the Brethren. While doing this work in California, he met and married his wife, Dorothy, the daughter of a minister in that denomination. He later spent one year teaching at a college associated with the Church of the Brethren, although the balance of his teaching career was at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon.

Poet Donald Hall compares Stafford to other poets of his generation — many of whom were also conscientious objectors, and many of whom died too young. Hall says, “But Stafford is a low-church Christian far from the rhetorical Catholicism that Lowell and Berryman entertained. I suspect that his survival is related not merely to his Christianity but to his membership in a small, embattled, pacifist sect.”

The following comes from a poem, which Stafford wrote on the day he died:

------You can't tell when strange things with meaning
------will happen. I'm [still] here writing it down
------just the way it was.

------"You don't have to prove anything,"
------my mother said. "Just be ready
------for what God sends."
------I listened and put my hand
------out in the sun again. It was all easy.

In 1963, when he was 48, he won the National Book Award for Traveling Through the Dark — his first major poetry collection. Despite this late start, he eventually published 57 poetry books. In 1970 he was appointed to the role that would later become known as Poet Laureate of the United States, and in 1980 he was named Poet Laureate of Oregon.

Easter Morning

Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
"Repent," and you say, "Come on in," and it's
Jesus. That's when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, "I'm still here," and you know it's true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.

Except, maybe that someone says, "I've got a deal
for you." And you listen, because that's how
you're trained—they told you, "Always hear both sides."
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you're getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I'd say always go to
the door, yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, "Jesus?"

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