Monday, May 25, 2015

William Jolliff

William Jolliff is a poet, English Professor at George Fox University in Oregon, and a bluegrass banjo player. His chapbook Whatever Was Ripe won the 1998 Bright Hill Press poetry chapbook competition. His new full-length collection Twisted Shapes of Light has just appeared as part of the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books. I am delighted to have been able to assist the poet as the editor of this book.

Jolliff is the editor of The Poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier (2000). He seems to have been particularly drawn to Whittier's verse because of their common Quaker heritage, and because 19th century American literature is a chosen field of study. Jolliff also edited the journal The Rolling Coulter which was published by Missouri Western State College. He has been playing five-string banjo and a variety of Appalachian folk instruments on stages around the US northwest for many years. (A Bill Jolliff You Tube search will prove rewarding.)

The following poem is from Twisted Shapes of Light and first appeared in Friends Journal.

The Hardness of the Pews

I didn’t mind the hardness of the pews then
and wouldn’t now. If you’ve been perched
on a tractor seat since dawn—or, worse yet,
if you’ve hopped off it half a hundred times
to change a shear bolt or clear a jam of stalks,
Good Lord, a walnut board with some curve
that’s shaped a little like a back is hardly short
of heaven. Or if you’ve been stacking hay,
packing back bales, the hottest, windless hours
of the afternoon, well, a seat in a church house
with a high ceiling and a window to the creek—
that’s likely the best rest you’ve found since dawn.

Especially Wednesday nights, pews didn’t matter.
You were shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip,
knees-to-linoleum beside those faithful few
who came to pray, to summon a God they not
only believed in, but who, you believed, cared;
to court the Divine with old familiar words of love.
Our thees and thous resounded off the walls.
Now I’m no longer quite that kind of faithful.
My theology? I suspect they’d hardly call me
in the fold. But I can think of far worse ways
to spend a summer evening, than kneeling
in the company of thirsty souls who want this:

to press their lips against the fleshy ear of God.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.