Monday, July 29, 2013

Vernon Watkins

Vernon Watkins (1906—1967) is a Welsh Poet who grew up in Swansea, and is associated with his close friend Dylan Thomas. He also knew William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and Philip Larkin. His parents were nonconformists, but Watkins' education, including his time at Cambridge University, influenced him to join the Church of England. At the time of his death he had published seven collections of his own poetry with Faber & Faber — including The Lady with the Unicorn (1948) and The Death Bell (1954) — and had selected the poems for his eighth. Several subsequent books also gradually appeared from his previously unpublished work. His Collected Poems (1986) includes more than 500 poems.

Watkins was devoted in his friendship to Dylan Thomas, even though his friend was unreliable. Thomas, who was supposed to be the best man at Watkins' wedding, never showed up. Unsurprisingly, only one half of their extensive correspondence survives — the half received by Watkins.

Watkins had suffered a breakdown in 1927, as he sought to come to terms with the direction of his life. According to Jane L. McCormick, this was when "...he began the long-avoided struggle with God that is the mystic's first step toward spiritual rebirth; and from then till the day of his death, love of God was foremost in his life."

Since his death the poetry of Vernon Watkins has slipped from public attention. Rowan Williams argues that Watkins' is a significant twentieth century voice, worthy of our attention.

Infant Noah

Calm the boy sleeps, though death is in the clouds.
Smiling he sleeps, and dreams of that tall ship
Moored near the dead stars and the moon in shrouds,
Built out of light, whose faith his hands equip.
It was imagined when remorse of making
Winged the bent, brooding brows of God in doubt.
All distances were narrowed to his waking:
"I built his city, then I cast him out."
Time's great tide falls; under that tide the sands
Turn, and the world is shown there thousand-hilled
To the opening, ageless eyes. On eyelids, hands,
Falls a dove's shade, God's cloud, a velvet leaf.
And his shut eyes hold heaven in their dark sheaf,
In whom the rainbow's covenant is fulfilled.

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 22, 2013

John Keble

John Keble (1792—1866) is an English poet and churchman who held the chair as Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1831 to 1841. He was a significant influence on such poets as Thomas Hardy, Christina Rossetti and Matthew Arnold. His 1827 book, The Christian Year, may have been the best-selling volume of verse in the nineteenth century. He was also influential as part of the Oxford Movement: a group of Anglicans who sought to revive fading High Church traditions. In 1870 Keble College, Oxford, was named in his honour.

Although changes in literary fashion have undermined Keble’s popularity today — Malcolm Guite, in the introduction to his 2012 sonnet collection Sounding the Seasons, acknowledges his debt to The Christian Year.

Blest Are the Pure In Heart

Blest are the pure in heart,
For they shall see our God;
The secret of the Lord is theirs;
Their soul is Christ’s abode.

The Lord, Who left the heavens
Our life and peace to bring,
To dwell in lowliness with men
Their Pattern and their King.

Still to the lowly soul
He doth Himself impart;
And for His dwelling and His throne
Chooseth the pure in heart.

Lord, we Thy presence seek;
May ours this blessing be;
Give us a pure and lowly heart,
A temple meet 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, 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: www.dsmartin.ca

Monday, July 8, 2013

Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila (1515—1582) is a mystic who was born in Spain, and entered a Carmelite convent at age eighteen. Her important writings include The Interior Castle, and The Way of Perfection. She was an influential reformer of the Carmelite Order, and is considered —along with John of the Cross— to have founded the Discalced Carmelites. She promoted strict rules including ceremonial flagellation and nuns remaining barefoot. She established several monasteries which promoted vows of poverty. Teresa is said to have at times, beyond her own control, levitated about a foot and a half off the ground as she was going through her raptures.

You are Christ's Hands

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
------no hands but yours,
------no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
------Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
------doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

God Alone is Enough

Let nothing upset you,
let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins
all it seeks.
Whoever has God
lacks nothing:
God alone is enough.

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 1, 2013

Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker lives in Pennsylvania, and is the author of four poetry books; her most recent collection, Gold (2013), is the fifth book in the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books. She has also published ten poetry chapbooks. Her poems have appeared widely in such publications as Beloit Poetry Journal and The Christian Century — have received awards such as the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence for her second collection, Line Dance — and have been heard on BBC Radio and on Garrison Keillor’s The Writers Almanac.

Important subjects in Crooker’s verse include reflections on the natural world, and ekphrastic poems inspired by visual artists, including Georgia O’Keefe, and Arshile Gorky. Many poems in Gold are drawn from Crooker’s experience with her mother’s decline and eventual death.

The following poem is from her new collection, Gold, which I had the privilege to edit for publication.

Late Prayer

It’s not that I’m not trying
to love the world and everything
in it, but look, that includes people
who shoot up schools, not just the blue
bird in his coat of sky, his red & white vest,
or the starry asters speckling the field—
It has to include talk show hosts
and all their blather, men with closed
minds and hard hearts, not only this sky,
full of clouds as a field of sheep,
or this wind, pregnant with rain. Don’t
I have enough in my life; what is this
wild longing? Is there more to this world
than the shining surfaces? Will I be strong
enough to row across the ocean of loss
when my turn comes to take the oars?

Posted with permission of the poet.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Barbara Crooker: 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