Monday, February 27, 2017

Marilyn Nelson*

Marilyn Nelson is the author of more than twenty books, including such poetry collections as Magnificat (1994) and Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems (2012). Her newest poetry collection is The Meeting House (2016, Antrim House). It is the history of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut — but is more than that, for it does not shy away from concerns of slavery and racism within this historic Christian community.

She has written books for young adults, and for young children, and has translated poetry, including the nonsense rhymes of Danish poet Halfdan Rasmussen. In 2012 she won the Poetry Society of America's Robert Frost Medal. She is the Poet-in-Residence of the Poets Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and served as Poet Laureate of Connecticut from 2001—2006.

She is one of the poets featured in my new anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry, which came out in November — (available here) and through Amazon.

The following poem is from Carver: A Life in Poems (2001)

Watkins Laundry and Apothecary

Mariah Watkins, Neosho, Missuri

Imagine a child at your door,
offering to do your wash,
clean your house, cook,
to weed your kitchen garden
or paint you a bunch of flowers
in exchange for a meal.
A spindly ten-year-old, alone
and a stranger in town, here to go
to our school for colored children.
His high peep brought tears:
sleeping in a barn and all that,
nary mama nor kin,
but only white folks
he left with their blessing,
his earthly belongings
in a handkerchief tied to a stick.

I've brought a houseful of children
into this world, concentrating on
that needle's eye into eternity.
But ain't none of them children mine.
Well, of course I moved him on in.
He helped me with my washings,
brought me roots from the woods
that bleached them white folks' sheets
brighter than sunshine. He could fill
a canning jar with leaves and petals
so when you lifted the lid
a fine perfume flooded your senses.
White bodices and pantalettes danced
around George on my line.

He was sweet with the neighbor children.
Taught the girls to crochet.
Showed the boys
a seed he said held a worm
cupped hands warmed so it wriggled and set
the seed to twitching.
Gave them skills and wonders.
Knelt with me at bedtime.

He was the child the good Lord gave
and took away before I got more
than the twinkle of a glimpse
at the man he was going to be.
It happened one Saturday afternoon.
George was holding a black-eyed Susan,
talking about how the seed
this flower grew from
carried a message from a flower
that bloomed a million years ago,
and how this flower
would send the message on
to a flower that was going to bloom
in a million more years.
Praise Jesus, I'll never forget it.

He left to find a teach that knew
more than he knew.
I give him my Bible.
I keep his letters
in the bureau, tied with a bow.
He always sends a dried flower.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Marilyn Nelson: first post

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.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811—1896) is famous for her anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Her father was a Congregationalist minister in Litchfield, Connecticut. The family moved to Cincinnati in 1832, when her father was appointed president of Lane Theological Seminary. Across the Ohio River in Kentucky, she could witness the horrors of slavery in action. In 1836 she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor of Biblical literature at Lane. After their son died in 1849, her views on Christian faith shifted from the Calvinism she had been raised in.

Stowe wrote her novel in an attempt to encourage abolition through a literary representation of slavery based in part on the life of Josiah Henson. After the Civil War began, she travelled to Washington to visit with President Abraham Lincoln.

The following poem first appeared in The Independent in 1858.

The Mystery of Life

Life's mystery — deep, restless as the ocean —
Hath surged and wailed for ages to and fro;
Earth's generations watch its ceaseless motion,
As in and out its hollow moanings flow.
Shivering and yearning by that unknown sea,
Let my soul calm itself, O Christ, in thee!

Life's sorrows, with inexorable power,
Sweep desolation o'er this mortal plain;
And human loves and hopes fly as the chaff
Borne by the whirlwind from the ripened grain.
Ah! when before that blast my hopes all flee,
Let my soul calm itself, O Christ, in thee!

Between the mysteries of death and life
Thou standest, loving, guiding, not explaining;
We ask, and thou art silent; yet we gaze,
And our charmed hearts forget their drear complaining.
No crushing fate, no stony destiny,
O Lamb that hast been slain, we find in thee!

The many waves of thought, the mighty tides,
The ground-swell that rolls up from other lands,
From far-off worlds, from dim, eternal shores,
Whose echo dashes on life's wave-worn strands,
This vague, dark tumult of the inner sea
Grows calm, grows bright, O risen Lord, in thee!

Thy piercèd hand guides the mysterious wheels;
Thy thorn-crowned brow now wears the crown of power;
And when the dread enigma presseth sore,
Thy patient voice saith, "Watch with me one hour."
As sinks the moaning river in the sea
In silver peace, so sinks my soul in thee!

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.

Monday, February 13, 2017

John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman (1801—1890) is an English churchman and scholar who began his career in the Anglican Church, but then converted to Catholicism in 1845. Prior to this he was a significant figure in the Oxford Movement. He founded The Catholic University of Ireland, which has since become University College Dublin. In 1879 he became a cardinal.

Newman wrote poetry, fiction, history, hymns, sermons and works of philosophy and theology. Gerard Manley Hopkins held Newman's prose writing in high esteem.

He was beautified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. The version of Newman that is portrayed by the Pope, however, seems quite different from the one that history has recorded. Newman had lost his position with the Catholic magazine, The Rambler, for writing articles critical of the papacy; now he is being held up as one opposed to dissent.

Lead, Kindly Light (The Pillar of Cloud)

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

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.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Richard Jones

Richard Jones is a professor of English at Chicago's DePaul University, where he directs the Creative Writing Program. His poetry books include The Blessing: New & Selected Poems (2000) which won the Society of Midland Authors Award for Poetry, and Apropos of Nothing (2006) both published by Copper Canyon Press. For more than 30 years, he has served as editor for the literary journal Poetry East. His poetry has appeared in anthologies edited by Billy Collins (Poetry 180) and Garrison Keillor (Good Poems).

When asked about his teaching, Richard Jones says,
------“Writing poetry can be a hard and humbling discipline—an art
------that demands great erudition and mastery, and which tests the
------will and the imagination. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke framed
------the challenge of poetry: 'You must change your life.' And so
------poetry assaults complacency, insensitivity, and arrogance.
------Ordinary wisdom tells us to hurry blindly through our day;
------poetry asks that we slow down, listen, and regard all that
------which is marvelous, both the insignificant as well as the divine.”

The following poem first appeared in Image and is from his book The Correct Spelling & The Exact Meaning (Copper Canyon, 2010)

Normal

------Tent Revival, 1957

When things get back to normal
God will put on black robes
and ascend to the mercy seat
to judge the world, the ruined
cities, the devastated hills,
the living and the risen dead.
When things get back to normal,
He’ll open the Book of Life
and read what each man has done,
said, and written, reciting our words
and deeds to the angels to see
if there is any forgiveness
like honey on our tongues.
When things get back to normal
all will stand before God
and be burned like dead branches
or blessed with the incomprehensible fire
of mercy. When things get back to normal,
we will be standing on the threshold of heaven,
a kingdom of singing where at last we will learn
the meaning and purpose
of poetry.

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.