Monday, October 26, 2020

Catherine Chandler

Catherine Chandler is a Canadian poet who was born in New York City, raised in Pennsylvania, and then emigrated to Canada in 1971. Until her retirement, she was a lecturer in Spanish in McGill University’s Department of Languages and Translation, in Montreal. She and her husband divide their time between Quebec and Uruguay.

She is the author of three chapbooks, and four full-length poetry collections ― most recent of which is Pointing Home (2019, Kelsay Books). She won the Richard Wilbur Award for her book The Fragile Hour. Along with her own poems, Pointing Home also includes ten poems Chandler translated from Uruguayan women poets.

Catherine Chandler’s poetry is characterized by forms ― such as the sonnet, pantoum, villanelle, and cento. Three of her poems have been included in the National Poetry Registry in the Library of Parliament in Ottawa.

The following poem first appeared in The Agonist, and is from Pointing Home.

Matthew 7:1-5

The fix. The stealth. The stoop. The swoop. The kill—
a barb more brutal than a falcon’s bill.

Words meant to wound. What are you on, some kind
of guilt trip?
(So much for the ties that bind).

Yet I, the speck-eyed sister, turned away,
keeping my counsel till another day,

trusting my mother hadn’t heard, although
her sense of hearing was the last to go.

-------------------------—Hospice of the VNA, Heritage House, July 2011

Posted with permission of the poet.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Catherine of Siena

Catherine of Siena (1347―1380) has been honoured by the Catholic Church throughout the centuries. She was canonized in 1461, declared a doctor of the church in 1970, and a patron saint of Europe in 1999.

Born Caterina Benincasa, the 23rd of 25 children, she claimed to have seen a vision of Jesus, when she was just seven and told her parents she would dedicate herself to a religious life. At fifteen she cut off her hair to scuttle their plan to have her married. She was a mystic, and an ascetic who served the poor and sick.

In 1374, when most residents fled the Black Death, she and her followers remained in Siena to nurse the sick and bury the dead. Once the pandemic waned, because she was distressed by corruption in the church, Catherine visited Pope Gregory XI in Avignon, France. She believed this exile was part of the problem, and in 1377 he followed her advice and returned to Rome.

In The Dialogue ― her collected letters ― she wrote that God told her "not to love me for your own sake, or your neighbour for your own sake, but to love me for myself, yourself for myself, your neighbour for myself."

Consecrated

All has been consecrated.
The creatures in the forest know this,
The earth does, the seas do, the clouds know
as does the heart full of love.

Strange a priest would rob us of this knowledge
and then empower himself with the ability
to make holy
what already was.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens (1879―1955) perhaps has no business being mentioned in a blog about Christian poetry. He grew up in a home from which the children were sent to schools connected with local Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, and in which his mother read a chapter every evening to them from the Bible. When he attended Harvard as a young man, he became an outspoken skeptic.

He was prone to depression, and became an insurance executive in Hartford, Connecticut ― busying himself with a drudgery that gave him stability, but interfered with his literary output. Stevens’ first book Harmonium (1923) contains most of his frequently-anthologized poems. His second book Ideas of Order appeared thirteen years later.

Biographer Paul Mariani sees evidence of a religious turn occurring in Stevens’ latter poems, which suggest the poet was becoming skeptical of his own skepticism.

In a review of the Mariani’s biography The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens (Simon & Schuster) in The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl writes of Stevens:
----------“Before he died, in 1955, he accepted Catholic baptism
----------from a hospital chaplain, who said that Stevens hadn’t
----------needed 'an awful lot of urging on my part except to be
----------nice to him.' The conversion was more poetic than devotional
----------in spirit, Mariani speculates, but, perhaps, 'being a surety
----------lawyer—he opted to sign on the dotted line at the end.'”

The following poem is from 1954.

Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one...
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, October 5, 2020

John Betjeman*

John Betjeman (1906—1984) is one of Britain’s most popular twentieth century poets. He differed from most of his peers in that he was neither a modernist (like his school teacher T.S. Eliot) nor an academic (like his Oxford tutor C.S. Lewis). He had a love for Victorian architecture, as existed in railway stations and churches ― even writing books on the subject, the first of which was Ghastly Good Taste (1933). There is a nostalgia expressed in his verse, which appealed to the common people in Britain’s post-war years.

He became a High-Church Anglican while still in school ― a conversion which significantly influenced the rest of his life.

In his poetry he often mocked ideals of progress, and attitudes of the privileged, and church-goers who didn’t see their own hypocrisy. He honestly expressed his own doubts and his fear of death, which can be seen in the following poem.

Before the Anaesthetic

Intolerably sad, profound
St. Giles's bells are ringing round,
They bring the slanting summer rain
To tap the chestnut boughs again
Whose shadowy cave of rainy leaves
The gusty belfry-song receives.
Intolerably sad and true,
Victorian red and jewel blue,
The mellow bells are ringing round
And charge the evening light with sound,
And I look motionless from bed
On heavy trees and purple red
And hear the midland bricks and tiles
Throw back the bells of stone St. Giles,
Bells, ancient now as castle walls,
Now hard and new as pitchpine stalls,
Now full with help from ages past,
Now dull with death and hell at last.
Swing up! and give me hope of life,
Swing down! and plunge the surgeon's knife.
I, breathing for a moment, see
Death wing himself away from me
And think, as on this bed I lie,
Is it extinction when I die?
I move my limbs and use my sight;
Not yet, thank God, not yet the Night.
Oh better far those echoing hells
Half-threaten'd in the pealing bells
Than that this "I" should cease to be
Come quickly, Lord, come quick to me.
St. Giles's bells are asking now
"And hast thou known the Lord, hast thou?"
St. Giles's bells, they richly ring
"And was that Lord our Christ the King?"
St. Giles's bells they hear me call
I never knew the lord at all
Oh not in me your Saviour dwells
You ancient, rich St. Giles's bells.
Illuminated missals ― spires ―
Wide screens and decorated quires ―
All these I loved, and on my knees
I thanked myself for knowing these
And watched the morning sunlight pass
Through richly stained Victorian glass
And in the colour-shafted air
I, kneeling, thought the Lord was there.
Now, lying in the gathering mist
I know that Lord did not exist;
Now, lest this "I" should cease to be,
Come, real Lord, come quick to me.
With every gust the chestnut sighs,
With every breath, a mortal dies;
The man who smiled alone, alone,
And went his journey on his own
With "Will you give my wife this letter,
In case, of course, I don't get better?"
Waits for his coffin lid to close
On waxen head and yellow toes.
Almighty Saviour, had I Faith
There'd be no fight with kindly Death.
Intolerably long and deep
St. Giles's bells swing on in sleep:
"But still you go from here alone"
Say all the bells about the Throne.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about John Betjeman: first post
second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Tony Conran

Tony Conran (1931―2013) is a Welsh poet and translator. He was born in India, but due to the difficulties of cerebral palsy he was raised by his grandparents on the north coast of Wales. His reputation has predominantly come from his translations of Welsh poetry into English ― particularly at first for Welsh Verse (1967, Penguin). Until 1983 he taught in the English department at Bangor University. He was also a convert to Roman Catholicism. 

He published many books of his own poetry as well, including Spirit Level (1974), Visions & Praying Mantids (1997), and The Red Sap of Love (2006). 

Beyond This Divide 

Songs of the Cherubim 
Call us, green islands 
Beckon us, but once heart 
Hears, it’s as if 
We’ve been orphaned, lost 

To that grey rock and 
Lucid wave, shadowy with 
Saffron fish, 

Where great turtles clamber 
Down beaches and are 
Sure of tomorrow.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, September 21, 2020

William Langland

William Langland is the author of the alliterative poem The Vision of Piers Plowman, which was written in Middle English. There are three extant versions of the poem from the 1360s to the 1380s. The poem, which was an influence on Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, consists of eight dreams in which the narrator is on a quest for the true Christian life.

The following, from a translation by Peter Sutton, takes Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan to speak of the inadequacies of Faith and Hope for our salvation unless we rely on the blood of Christ. Faith and Hope ― personified in the roles of the two who passed by the injured man ― are also identified as Abraham and Moses.

from The Vision of Piers Plowman (Step XVII ― Lines 47 ff.)

As we went on our way, exchanging words,
We saw a Samaritan sitting on a mule,
And jogging speedily the same way as ourselves,
Coming from Jericho, as that country is called,
And trotting to a tournament in Jerusalem town.
The herald and Hope and he came together
Where a traveller lay wounded, attacked by thieves.
He was stripped and unable to help himself,
Or to stand and proceed, and no aid was at hand.
His limbs would not move and he looked half-alive.
The herald called Abraham, or Faith, saw him first
But refused to go nearer than nine plowed furrows.
Then along came Hope, who had loudly alleged
That he’d helped many men with the message of Moses,
But he steered well clear when he saw the scene,
Like a duck that is dodging a deadly falcon.
Then soon the Samaritan caught sight of the man
And leapt from his mount and led on the mule
As he went to view the victim’s wounds.
He deduced from the pulse that death was a danger,
And could tell at once that treatment was wanted.
So he hastened to his bottles and opened both
And washed the wounds with wine and oil,
Bandaged him, bound up his head and brought him
On the mule several miles to some houses near a market,
A cluster that was new and was called the Law of Christ,
Where he lodged him at an inn and alerted the landlord,
Asking him to treat him until his return.
“Here is money,” he said, “for medicine for the man,
And a few more coins for the cost of his keep.
And should he cost more I will settle it soon,
But I really cannot stay,” he said, and swiftly
He set off to ride the Jerusalem road.
Faith followed hastily, hoping to overhaul him,
And Hope hurried after, as fast as he was able,
Intending to catch him and talk as they travelled.
Seeing that, I scurried on too without stopping,
Pursuing the Samaritan who showed such pity
And pleading for employment as his page or groom.
“I fear not,” he said, “but you’ll find I’m your friend
In time of need.” So I thanked him and told him
How Faith and Hope had fled full of fear
When they saw the man and his sorrowful state.
“Excuse them,” he answered. “They would hardly have helped
For no medicine on earth could have mended the man,
Neither Faith nor Hope, for his hurts had so festered,
Without blood from a bairn that was born of a maid.
If baptized and bathed in that blessed blood,
And patched with penance and the Passion of that babe,
He’d be able to hobble, but he’ll never be whole
Till he’s swallowed the bairn’s sacred body and blood.
“No one wanders through the wilds of this world
Without running into robbers, riding or on foot,
Save a few such as Faith and his fellow, Hope,
And myself and now you, and such as pursue
Our ways and works, for the wood harbours outlaws
Who lurk on the look-out for likely prospects,
Checking who’s on horseback, ahead or behind,
Reckoning that riders are rougher prey.
When the robber saw me, a Samaritan on a mule,
Which is known as Flesh after fleshly human nature,
Following Faith and his fellow he fled
And he hid in hell, but within three days
I can vouch that the felon will be fettered with chains
And will trouble no travellers who take this road:
O death, I will be thy death.
“Then Faith shall perform a forester’s duties,
Guiding those folk who are foreign to the forest
And revealing the road to Jerusalem town.
And Hope shall be ostler at the inn, healing victims
And the feeble and faint whom Faith cannot teach,
Leading them with love, by the law of his writ,
Giving lodging and relief through belief in the Church,
Till I come once again to this country with comfort
And bring the salve that will save all the sick
Who crave it, covet it and cry to be cured.
Then the blood of the child in Bethlehem born
Shall save those who follow the faith of his friends.”
“Sweet sir,” I said, “should I accept
What Faith and his fellow have each affirmed?
Three separate persons, prime and perpetual,
Yet all one God, as Abraham argued,
While Hope then urged and exhorted me to love
One God above all and then everyone else
The same as myself with all my strength?”
“Fasten your faith and your firm belief
On Abraham,” he said, “the herald of arms.
And as Hope exhorted you, I urge you to love
Fellow Christians as kindly as you care for yourself.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Jack Stewart

Jack Stewart is the author of a debut poetry collection ― No Reason ―which has just appeared as the latest book in the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books. He and his family live in Coconut Creek, Florida, where he teaches literature and creative writing.

Having his home in Florida, and having his degrees from University of Alabama, and Emory (in Atlanta) may surprise you, in that Jack Stewart seems to love winter. In “The Shape of Cold” he sings his admiration, “…No snow is forecast, even though / It would be beautiful, slowly / Rippling the pond like what / Fish rise to, the subtlest // Light imaginable.
And in “The Elect” he paints for us:

-----All over this snow-laden town
-----Thousands of Popes have been elected,
-----The white smoke rising from what seem
-----To be every chimney…

No Reason does cover a lot of territory, though, including many ekphrastic depictions ranging from images of major artists such as El Greco, Michelangelo, and Turner down to a children’s book illustration of “the dark girl who pleased Pharaoh”.

I am pleased to have served as editor, for Jack, of this excellent new collection. His poems have appeared in such journals as Poetry, The Dark Horse Review, and Image.

Balancing the Flame

St. Stephanskirche, Vienna


Gothic grappling hook to heaven,
When it was rebuilt in the 14th century
The limestone must have shone brighter
Than the December snow.
Now soot-shadows climb the walls
And can’t be scrubbed away.
Inside, the light is also dim,
Even over the altar’s marble ember.
I drop a Euro in the cup.
In the musty oxygen,
The candle releases
A thread of smoke.
Most prayers begin in failure.
Like a match in an unsteady hand,
My amen always falters.
In what trembling air,
On what wick of words
Can I balance its flame?

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Afua Kuma

Afua Kuma (1900―1987) is an oral language poet of Ghana. Her parents were farmers of the Akan people. She grew up a Presbyterian, and worked as a farmer and midwife in her hometown of Obu-Kwahu, Ghana, where she was active within her church community. By the time she was seventy she was worshipping in a Pentecostal church, where ― although she was illiterate ― she was encouraged to participate in services by praying aloud.

Those in the congregation were astounded by the poetic skill and theological insight she used in corporate worship, which led to her being asked to participate in various events for Akan Christians.

One interesting aspect of her work is that she took the amoma poetic form ― traditionally used to praise chiefs by Akan male court poets ― and brought it into the church, bringing praise to Jesus as expressed by a female poet.

The following English translation is by Father Jon Kirby and published in the book, Jesus of the Deep Forest: Prayers and Praises of Afua Kuma (Asempa Publishers, 1981).

Chief Who Listens To The Poor

Chief who listens to the poor, humble King,
your words are precious jewels.
We don’t buy them, we don’t beg for them;
you give them to us freely!
Giver of good gifts, we are waiting for you,
And the sick are waiting for medicine.
O Jesus, you have swallowed death
and every kind of disease,
And have made us whole again.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Joseph Brodsky*

Joseph Brodsky (1940―1996) is a Russian poet whose Orthodox family baptised him in the tradition of that church in 1942. Although Brodsky’s poetry is not overtly political, he was arrested and eventually exiled. His focus on personal themes, and the meaning of existence, was unsettling to the Soviet authorities.

His poetry is not overtly religious, in most cases. Moscow writer and literary critic Vladimir Bondarenko, however, is convinced that the Christmas poems Brodsky wrote annually for thirty years express a faith which is “the key line and motif of his poetry and possibly the only thing he reflected about in earnest without a shade of irony, so inherent to him.” His Nativity Poems were published posthumously as a collection in 2001.

Brodsky’s Selected Poems (1973), translated by George L. Kline, incudes the notable 213-line poem “Elegy for John Donne.” The following poem was also translated by George L. Kline

In villages God does not live only...

In villages God does not live only
in icon corners, as the scoffers claim,
but plainly, everywhere. He sanctifies
each roof and pan, divides each double door.
In villages God acts abundantly―
cooks lentils in iron pots on Saturdays,
dances a lazy jig in flickering flames,
and winks at me, witness to all of this.
He plants a hedge, and gives away a bride
(the groom's a forester), and, for a joke,
he makes it certain that the game warden
will never hit the duck he's shooting at.
The chance to know and witness all of this,
amidst the whistling of the autumn mist,
is, I would say, the only touch of bliss
that's open to the village atheist.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Joseph Brodsky: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova (1889—1966) is a Russian poet who suffered extensively under communism. In the ‘20s she was officially criticised for her poetry’s preoccupations with love and God. Her first husband was executed on trumped-up charges, she was present at the arrest of her friend Osip Mandelstam (who died in a concentration camp), her son was twice imprisoned (the second time serving five years in a gulag), and her work was often kept from the public. In 1946 she was denounced by the communist party for “eroticism, mysticism, and political indifference.”

Extensively, between 1935 and 1940, she worked in secret on her long poem Requiem which she finally completed in 1961. It appeared in book form in 1963, but wasn’t published in the Soviet Union until 1987. Requiem uses Biblical themes, such as Christ’s crucifixion, to reflect the situation in Russia ― particularly using images of Jesus’ mother and of Mary Magdalene to express the suffering of women under the Stalinist government.

In 1950 she wrote a few poems praising Stalin, in an attempt to gain her son’s freedom and to gain favour with the authorities. These poems were eliminated from all Russian editions of her work after the Soviet premier’s death.

She was short-listed for the Nobel Prize in 1965. At the time of her death she was recognized as the greatest woman in Russian literature.

I Taught Myself to Live Simply

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life's decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.
If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Coventry Patmore*

Coventry Patmore (1823—1896) is an English poet and essayist. From 1846 to 1865 he worked for the British Museum. He was best-known in his day for his four-volume Angel in the House which presents an idealized view of married life. Critics, however, suggest that The Unknown Eros, and Other Odes (1877), through never as popular, contains his best work.

Dana Gioia — in a recent interview for Catholic World Report — said, “The best religious poems give us a vividly authentic experience of the divine and the divine order of creation.” He went on to recommended three poems for readers to consider. The least known of these was Coventry Patmore’s “The Toys.” Gioia commends it as “a profound and troubling view of parenthood. As a widower, Patmore had to raise his children without a mother. He was a loving but imperfect father. This touching poem ends in one of the best depictions of God’s mercy in English literature.”

The Toys

My little Son, who look'd from thoughtful eyes
And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,
Having my law the seventh time disobey'd,
I struck him, and dismiss'd
With hard words and unkiss'd,
His Mother, who was patient, being dead.
Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep,
I visited his bed,
But found him slumbering deep,
With darken'd eyelids, and their lashes yet
From his late sobbing wet.
And I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;
For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-vein'd stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I pray'd
To God, I wept, and said:
Ah, when at last we lie with tranced breath,
Not vexing Thee in death,
And Thou rememberest of what toys
We made our joys,
How weakly understood
Thy great commanded good,
Then, fatherly not less
Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay,
Thou'lt leave Thy wrath, and say,
"I will be sorry for their childishness."

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Coventry Patmore: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Ashley Bryan

Ashley Bryan is a painter, poet and children’s author who lives on Little Cranberry Island in Maine. He was born in 1923 in Harlem, and raised in the Bronx. His first book did not appear until 1962 when he became the first African American to publish a children’s book as both the author and illustrator. 

He has long been a promoter of reading poetry aloud for children. His book Ashley Bryan’s ABC of African American Poetry (1997) includes poems by such poets as Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. He has won the Coretta Scott King Award ten times ― sometimes for illustration, and sometimes both for writing and illustration. Perhaps his best known collection of his own poetry is 1992’s Sing To The Sun. He is also known for illustrated books of African folk tales, and of Black American Spirituals. 
 
The following poem is one of eleven poetic portraits of slaves, he wrote using original auction and plantation estate documents, that appear in his book, Freedom Over Me (2017). It was selected as a Newbery Honor Book. 
 
Qush 

Many years ago 
Mulvina and I worked together 
on a Louisiana plantation. 
Our voices could always be heard 
singing singing singing. 
It was our voices 
that brought us together. 
We sang to strengthen our spirits. 
We cared for each other. 
Luckily, we were sold together 
to the Fairchilds’ estate. 

We had a way with animals. 
We led their cattle 
to green pastures 
and still waters. 
No matter what the work―
herding the cattle, 
tending the garden, 
picking cotton― 
we sang. 

The steady gait of the cattle, 
their contented, quiet munching, 
aroused sentiments of song 
within us. 
We sang low, thoughtful melodies 
to Bible stories we heard 
standing in the back 
of the Big House 
for Sunday church services. 
We remembered 
the stories of suffering and longing, 
of Moses, Joshua, David 
of Jesus and Mary. 
Stories like our own. 

During the heavy laboring 
in the cotton fields, 
caring for the garden, 
planting rows of vegetables 
for the estate, 
the tiring daily chores, 
Mulvina and I sang together quietly: 
“Oh, by and by, 
by and by, 
I’m going to lay down 
this heavy load.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Maura Eichner*

Maura Eichner (1915—2009) is a Catholic nun, and the author of ten poetry collections including Hope Is A Blind Bard (1989) and After Silence: Selected Poems of Sister Maura Eichner S.S.N.D. (2011). She was Chair of the English Department at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland (now Notre Dame of Maryland University), teaching English there for 49 years. Through the years she maintained a correspondence with several significant writers, including, Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, and Richard Wilbur. 
 
One tribute to her life concluded, “As a teacher and as a poet, Sister Maura was a believer. She believed in beauty ― in art, in nature, in music, in painting, in language. Sister Maura believed in life, and she believed in people. Above all, she believed simply and deeply in a God who believed in beauty, and in life, and in people. In one of her later notebooks, Sister Maura wrote 'One writes poetry in order to find God.' One may well read Sister Maura's poetry for the same reason."
 
Mother Theresa: Her Blessing 

May the God of peace be with you – 
calms the heart that hammers fear 
Her prayers for us. The hope she knew. 

She is our prophet of fidelity, true 
to the triune single voice: now, here. 
May the peace of God be with you. 

 She spoke rarely of the Thabor-glory view. 
Her creed was everyday: The Lord near. 
Vision for us. A love she knew. 
 
She lives in her letters: light breaks through 
the script: be one in heart. My dear ones, hear: 
May the God of peace be with you. 
 
Breaking bread to share, she, too, 
learned the miracle of loaves, her clear, 
testament to us. The faith she knew. 

Mother Theresa, serenely magnetized to 
the will of God, still speak your dear 
words: The God of peace be with you. 
Your prayer for us. The love you knew. 

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Maura Eichner: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, July 27, 2020

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564―1616) is perhaps the greatest dramatist of all time. He was a member of the popular theatrical company The King’s Men who performed in the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames. What is known about him is primarily drawn from his poems and plays, with only scant details coming from official records ― such as his baptism as an infant at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564.

It is hard to know much about Shakespeare’s own religious views, since much of what he wrote is voiced by diverse characters. Some have claimed that he was secretly a Catholic, others that he was Protestant ― "He was an orthodox, confirming member of the Church into which he had been baptised, was brought up and married, in which his children were reared and in whose arms he at length was buried." (A.L. Rowse) ― and still others hold that his primary concerns were artistic, and that faith issues for him were secondary.

Regardless, William Shakespeare wrote many passages which express faith values. The following speech, written in blank verse, is from The Merchant of Venice (Act 4, Scene 1) and is spoken by Portia.

The Quality of Mercy

-----The quality of mercy is not strained;
-----It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
-----Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest,—
-----It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
-----‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
-----The thronèd monarch better than his crown:
-----His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
-----The attribute to awe and majesty,
-----Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
-----But mercy is above this sceptred sway,—
-----It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
-----It is an attribute to God himself;
-----And earthly power doth then show likest God’s,
-----When mercy seasons justice.

In the lines that follow , Portia goes on to say,
-----That in the course of justice none of us
-----Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy,
-----And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
-----The deeds of mercy.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather (1663―1728) is a Boston Puritan minister, and prolific writer, who seems like he was caught between the conflicting perspectives of the times in which he lived. His influence was felt on scientific thought, and within American religious circles.

In his book Bonifacius, or Essays to Do Good (1710) he expressed progressive ideas such as having teachers reward, rather than punish, students to motivate them, and for physicians to consider a patient’s mental state as a possible cause of illness. There was violent opposition to his encouragement of the smallpox vaccine, particularly when he inoculated his own son.

On the other hand he was supportive of the old order rule of the clergy, in a day when pioneer hardships were diminishing. He is also mainly remembered for his views on witchcraft, which were influential during the Salem Witch Trials. Many American authors, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe, acknowledged their debt to him.

Go Then My Dove

Go then, my Dove, but now no longer mine;
Leave Earth, and now in heavenly Glory shine.
Bright for thy Wisdome, Goodness, Beauty here;
Now brighter in a more angelick Sphere.
Jesus, with whom thy Soul did long to be,
Into His Ark, and Arms, has taken thee.
Dear Friends, with whom thou didst so dearly live,
Feel thy one Death to them a thousand give.
Thy Prayers are done; thy Alms are spent; thy Pains
Are ended now, in endless Joyes and Gains.
I faint, till thy last Words to Mind I call;
Rich Words! Heavn', Heav'n will make amends for all.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Tomas Transtrὄmer*

Tomas Transtrὄmer (1931―2015) is a Swedish poet whose work plays on the edge of comprehension for his readers using elements of modernism, expressionism, and surrealism. His poems convey a sense of wonder and mystery at the movement of history and the beauty of the Scandinavian landscape ― through portrayals of musicians and artists, and images from nature.

His poetry has been translated into more than sixty languages. Some of those who have translated his work into English include, Robin Fulton, May Swenson, John F. Deane, and Robert Bly. In 2007 the Griffin Trust gave him their Lifetime Recognition Award, and in 2011 he received the Nobel Prize. He wrote 15 poetry collections over his career.

The following was translated by Robert Bly.

from Schubertiana (IV)

How much we have to take on trust every minute we live in
-----order not to drop through the earth!
Take on trust the snow masses clinging to rocksides over the
-----town.
Take on trust the unspoken promises, and the smile of
-----agreement, trust that the telegram does not concern us, and
that the sudden ax blow from inside is not coming.
Trust the axles we ride on down the thruway among the swarm
-----of steel bees magnified three hundred times.
But none of that stuff is really worth the trust we have.
The five string instruments say that we can take something else
-----on trust, and they walk with us a bit on the road.
As when the lightbulb goes out on the stair, and the hand
-----follows ― trusting it ― the blind banister rail that finds its
-----way in the dark.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Tomas Transtrὄmer: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Edwin Muir*

Edwin Muir (1887―1959) is one of Scotland’s premier twentieth century poets. Although he was born in Deerness, Orkney his father lost his farm in 1901. This forced the move to Glasgow, where Muir’s parents and brothers all died within a short period of time ― and the teenaged Edwin was forced into demeaning work in what he saw as an industrial hell. He always saw his childhood as being Eden-like, and the family’s move to Glasgow as a parallel to the Fall.

Muir became disillusioned, abandoning the Christianity of his childhood. At age 21 he embraced socialism as his new religion. His future-wife Willa was also agnostic, although she came from a far more privileged background. They were married in St Pancras’ Register Office in London. From there they moved to Europe, living in Prague, Germany, Italy, Salzburg, and Vienna. Edwin taught himself German, and he and Willa worked together translating literature into English.

During his time abroad, he encountered the brutality of Hitler’s Germany, and Mussolini’s Italy, which contrasted with the deep, soulful Christian roots behind European culture. It was in St Andrews in 1939 that Muir had an experience of faith in Christ that transformed his life.

The following poem “One Foot in Eden” is the title poem from Muir’s 1956 collection. The poem was also set to music by Nicholas Maw in 1990, which was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge to mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the college.

One Foot in Eden

One foot in Eden still, I stand
And look across the other land.
The world's great day is growing late,
Yet strange these fields that we have planted
So long with crops of love and hate.
Time's handiworks by time are haunted,
And nothing now can separate
The corn and tares compactly grown.
The armorial weed in stillness bound
About the stalk; these are our own.
Evil and good stand thick around
In the fields of charity and sin
Where we shall lead our harvest in.

Yet still from Eden springs the root
As clean as on the starting day.
Time takes the foliage and the fruit
And burns the archetypal leaf
To shapes of terror and of grief
Scattered along the winter way.
But famished field and blackened tree
Bear flowers in Eden never known.
Blossoms of grief and charity
Bloom in these darkened fields alone.
What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love
Until was buried all its day
And memory found its treasure trove?
Strange blessings never in Paradise
Fall from these beclouded skies.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Edwin Muir: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Theophan the Recluse

Theophan the Recluse (1815―1894) is an Orthodox Bishop of Tambov and Shatsk ― which are cities in modern day Ukraine and Russia. He is known for his books about the spiritual life, and for contributing to the translation into Russian of the Philokalia, which is a collection of writings from early church fathers.

He had been appointed rector of Kiev’s church schools, and then of the seminary in Novgorod. Later he served as chief priest of the embassy church in Constantinople. Eventually Theophan was recalled to Russia to become rector of the Petersburg Academy.

In 1866 he chose to live a life of reclusion to concentrate on undisturbed communion with God. Through his many books, he continued to teach. He encouraged the use of established prayers, to help believers know how to pray.

Descend from your head into your heart

You must descend from
your head into your heart.
At present your thoughts of God
are in your head. And God Himself is,
as it were, outside you, and
so your prayer and other spiritual
exercises
remain exterior. Whilst you are still
in your head,
thoughts will not easily be subdued but
will always be whirling about, like snow
in winter or
clouds of mosquitoes in summer.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Patrick's Rune

Patrick’s Rune was written by an unidentified author, in the ancient Bearla Feine Irish dialect, as part of a longer piece called “St. Patrick’s Hymn Before Tarah” in the Liber Hymnorum ― a manuscript from the 11th Century (or earlier) ― which is preserved in the Trinity College Library in Dublin. It was also known as "The Faedh Fiada" or "The Cry of the Deer."

When Madeleine L’Engle was beginning to work on A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978) ― her third novel in the series that began with A Wrinkle In Time (1962) ― a friend who was visiting Iona in Scotland sent her a card which included Patrick’s Rune. L’Engle soon realized that she could organize all the plot details, she had already sketched out, around this poem. It became central to the novel’s organizational structure.

Perhaps because of how skilfully she wove the poem into the text of her story, many who post this fragment on the internet attribute the poem to her. It was, however, translated by J.C. Mangan.

Some early sources even attribute the poem to Patrick of Ireland, himself ― saying he composed it “on Easter Saturday, A.D. 433, on his way from Slane to the royal palace of Leogaire, at Tara, with seven clerical companions and the youthful St. Benignus, to shield himself and them against the wiles and plots of the druids and assassins appointed to compass his destruction.” More likely, it was written to commemorate this event, and may have been skilfully woven into a larger text.

Patrick’s Rune

At Tara today in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And fire with all the strength it hath,
And lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness
All these I place,
By God’s almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Marjorie Pickthall

Marjorie Pickthall (1883―1922) is a writer and poet who served as an ambulance driver during WWI. At one time she was championed by conservative critics as the best Canadian poet of her generation ― valued as a moderate voice between populist poets such as Robert Service, and the influence of the modernists. Her reputation, however, has suffered the same fate as many Victorian and early 20th century poets, whose work fell out of fashion.

When she was still a 15-year-old student at Toronto’s Bishop Strachan School, one of her stories appeared in the major newspaper The Globe. While in her early twenties, she authored three adventure novels. Her writing also appeared in journals such as Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and Scribner’s. Her first poetry collection, The Drift of Pinions (1913) was the first of five books she produced during the final decade of her life.

Although she had moved to Vancouver, her body is buried in St. James Cemetery, Toronto.

Adam and Eve

In the high noon of the heavenly garden
Where the angels sunned with the birds,
Beauty, before their hearts could harden,
Had taught them heavenly words.

When they fled in the burning weather
And nothing dawned but a dream,
Beauty fasted their hands together
And cooled them at her stream.

And when day wearied and night grew stronger,
And they slept as the beautiful must,
Then she bided a little longer,
And blossomed from their dust.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Fenton Johnson

Fenton Johnson (1888―1958) is a Chicago poet, playwright and writer, who was a significant forerunner to the Harlem Renaissance. By the time he was nineteen, several of his plays had been performed at various Chicago theatres. His early aspiration was to become a pastor, but in the end he attended journalism school at Columbia University. He went on to teach at the State University of Louisville, in Kentucky, and to work as a journalist in New York.

The first of his three poetry collections, A Little Dreaming, appeared in 1913. Many of his poems are written in dialect, which was popular at the time, and enabled him to shed light on his observations of American black culture, and on racial issues. His short story collection Tales of Darkest America appeared in 1920, as did his essay collection For the Highest Good. He edited two little magazines: the Champion, and Favorite, and was an early contributor to Poetry magazine.

He never gained the recognition of a major writer; in the 1930s his literary output dwindled to a trickle.

Declaration

I love the world and all therein:
The panting, darkened souls who seek
A brighter light, a sweeter hope,
From those who drink the bubbling wine
And eat the flesh of tender fowl;
I love the pampered son of wealth,
And pour on him my pity's oil,
This world our God hath made for all, —
The East, the West, the black, the white,
The rich, the poor, the wise, the dumb, —
And even beasts may share the fruit;
No prison wall, but sunlight's glow,
No rods of steel, but arms of love,
For all that creep and walk and strive
And wear upon their countenance
Creation's mark, the kiss of God.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Miho Nonaka

Miho Nonaka is a bilingual poet from Tokyo. Her first book of Japanese poems, Garasu no tsuki, was a finalist for Japan’s national poetry prize, and her poetry in English has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is one of the poets I featured in In a Strange Land: Introducing Ten Kingdom Poets (2019, Poiema/Cascade).

Her first full-length collection, The Museum of Small Bones (2020, Ashland Poetry Series) has just been published. Her poems and essays have appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Missouri Review, Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, American Letters & Commentary, Iowa Review, Tin House, and American Odysseys: Writings by New Americans (Dalkey Archive Press, 2013). She is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Wheaton College, in Illinois.

The following poem is from In a Strange Land.

Water and Fire

No confusion, not drunk, never
fear when you feel
the water bubbling

from within. Each soul
is a well, set apart, alone.
The sun is directly over

head, and a stranger
waits for you at the well,
thirsty. He has nothing to draw

with, and the well is deep.
So is every other well,
he reminds you. It’s not up to you

to decide whether you’ve
suffered long enough.
He knows your name,

doesn’t he? Love comes
in tongues of fire. Flames
won’t set you ablaze;

you will be unconsumed.
A pair of wings brush past
your eyes in silver flickers

as the sound of water nears.
Open your thirsty mouth.
He is offering your very self

in a glass, the same water that
connects every well flowing
between Father and Son.

The rushing water reverses
something of Babel
in each of us: an upturned

hourglass measuring
the immeasurable, holding
our shattered lives together.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Richard Crashaw*

Richard Crashaw (c.1613—1649) dedicated himself to become a writer of Christian poetry in 1633 after having read George Herbert’s book The Temple, which had recently appeared. Crashaw’s first poetry collection Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber, published just one year later, was written in Latin. He completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Cambridge, where he became friends with the poet, Abraham Cowley.

Curiously, Crashaw was raised in a distinctly anti-Catholic family, but became a Catholic himself, well after his father’s death. In Rome, through an introduction by the queen, he became friends with Cardinal Giovanni Battista Maria Pallotta, and served as his secretary from 1646 to 1649; dismayed with those close to the cardinal, he denounced their behaviour, which led to the cardinal sending Crashaw elsewhere. There is suspicion that when Crashaw died, a couple weeks later, that he had been poisoned by those who had become his enemies.

His book Steps to the Temple. Sacred Poems, With Other Delights of the Muses was published in 1646; an extended edition appeared in 1648.

But Men Loved Darkness Rather Than Light

The world's light shines, shine as it will,
The world will love its darkness still.
I doubt though when the world's in hell,
It will not love its darkness half so well.

The Recommendation

These houres, and that which hovers o’re my End,
Into thy hands, and hart, lord, I commend.

Take Both to Thine Account, that I and mine
In that Hour, and in these, may be all thine.

That as I dedicate my devoutest Breath
To make a kind of Life for my lord’s Death,

So from his living, and life-giving Death,
My dying Life may draw a new, and never fleeting Breath.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Richard Crashaw: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché was raised near Detroit in a Slovak/Irish home that was immersed in the Catholic faith. In adolescence she rebelled against the harsh Catholicism of her family, school and church, and began reading Protestant theologians ― seeking to make her faith her own. During her time at university she wandered, unsettled and distant from the surety of her isolated Catholic community, dabbling in various religious traditions.

In 1978 she travelled to El Salvador ― on a Guggenheim Fellowship with Amnesty International ― believing this was something God was asking her to do. She met the poet and priest Óscar Romero, and the self-sacrificing, joyful, oppressed Salvadoran people. This transformed her spiritual life, and drew her back into the Catholic church. Later, when she returned to the US, she tried to be a journalist, to communicate what was going on in El Salvador, as Óscar Romero had asked her to do. She failed; however, she had been writing poetry, and through it she began to shed light on the atrocities.

She had won the Yale Younger Poets Prize for her first book Gathering the Tribes (1975), and through her new book, The Country Between Us (1981) fulfilled the commission Romero gave her prior to his assassination in 1980.

She has since coined the term “Poetry of Witness,” and edited the anthology of politically-charged poems Against Forgetting (1993). Her fifth collection, In the Lateness of the World (2020), has just been published by Penguin Press.

The following poem is from her collection Blue Hour (2003)

Prayer

Begin again among the poorest, moments off, in another
-----time and place.
Belongings gathered in the last hour, visible invisible:
Tin spoon, teacup, tremble of tray, carpet hanging from
-----sorrow’s balcony.
Say goodbye to everything. With a wave of your hand,
-----gesture to all you have known.
Begin with bread torn from bread, beans given to the
-----hungriest, a carcass of flies.
Take the polished stillness from a locked church, prayer
-----notes left between stones.
Answer them and hoist in your net voices from the
-----troubled hours.
Sleep only when the least among them sleeps, and then
-----only until the birds.
Make the flatbed truck your time and place. make the least
-----daily wage your value.
Language will rise then like language from the mouth of a
-----still river. No one’s mouth.
Bring night to your imaginings. bring the darkest passage
-----of your holy book.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter (1615―1691) is an English poet, theologian and Puritan church leader. His ministry in the English town of Kidderminster, where he was vicar from 1641 to 1661, was transformative.

He was an advisor to Oliver Cromwell and served as chaplain to Parliamentary soldiers in the English Civil War. Although he was an Anglican minister, he became a nonconformist, and was forbidden to preach. In 1685, even though he was suffering from tuberculosis, he was sentenced to eighteen months in prison.

His autobiography, The Reformed Pastor (1656), is Baxter’s encouragement to other pastors, and his guidance to them. His book, whose title I’ll shorten to simply call Poetical Fragments appeared in 1681.

He wants not friends that hath thy love

He wants not friends that hath thy love,
And may converse and walk with thee
And with thy saints, here and above,
With whom forever I must be.

Within the fellowship of saints
Is wisdom, safety and delight;
And when my heart declines and faints,
It’s raisèd by their heat and light.

As for my friends, they are not lost:
The several vessels of thy fleet
Though parted now, by tempests tossed,
Shall safely in the haven meet.

We still are centred all in thee,
Though distant, members of one Head;
Within one family we be,
And by one faith and spirit led.

Before thy throne we daily meet
As joint-petitioners to thee;
In spirit each the other greet,
And shall again each other see.

The heavenly hosts, world without end,
Shall be my company above;
And thou, my best and surest Friend,
Who shall divide me from thy love?

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Charles Sangster

Charles Sangster (1822―1893) is a Canadian poet, born near Kingston, Upper Canada (now Ontario). When his first collection The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay… appeared in 1856, it was considered by many to be the best book of poetry yet published in Canada. He was praised in the London press as “the Wordsworth of Canada.” His second volume Hesperus… followed in 1860, and was considered to be even better.

His life circumstances, however, began to hinder his literary progress. He began to suffer from depression and a nervous disorder. His position with the Post Office Department in Ottawa left him little time for his poetic pursuits ― and both his first wife, and second wife had died, leaving him with three children to raise.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography says of him, “By temperament quiet and introspective, Charles Sangster strove for harmony in his relationship with humanity and for spiritual fulfilment in God’s will.”

Henry’s Grave

Standing beside the consecrated mound,
-----That marked the narrow grave wherein he lay,
I thought upon the Trumpet’s welcome sound,
-----That would arouse him in the latter day.

I thought of the young spirit, that had fled
-----Beyond the keenest search of human eye—
Beyond the limits of a world of dread—
-----Beyond the reach of man’s philosophy.

And as I strove to lift the distant veil—
-----To track the spirit in its upward flight—
My mind was awed—my vision seemed to fail,
-----And all became confused as blackest night!

I was an atom of mere mortal mould,
-----Too weak to pierce the depths that soul had trod;
Backward to earth my wandering senses rolled,
-----And my eye rested on the crumbling sod—

Part of myself—poor perishable clay!
-----The child whose corse beneath my feet did lie,
Was, like myself, but mortal, yesterday,
-----And now, a dweller with the blest on high!

Oh! Mystery of Mysteries! Oh, Death!
-----I sit and muse in deep solemnity,
And wonder how the dust that perisheth
-----Must pass to life eternal but through thee!

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Ernesto Cardenal*

Ernesto Cardenal (1925―2020) is a Nicaraguan poet, priest, and political revolutionary. In 1966 Cardenal founded a religious community on Mancarrón Island in Lake Nicaragua. He led literacy and poetry workshops among the peasant farmers and fishermen, who became well known for their paintings and tapestries.

He supported the Sandinista rebels in the 1970s in their opposition to Nicaragua’s dictator Anastasio Somoza, and was forced to flee to Costa Rica in 1977. He later served as Minister of Culture from 1979 to 1987 as part of the new Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

In 1984 he was suspended from the priesthood by the Catholic church, after he had been rebuked in person by Pope John Paul II the previous year. In February of 2019 Pope Francis lifted the ban on Cardenal practising as a priest, saying he was “absolved of all canonical censure”. Ernesto Cardenal died on March 1st of this year.

The following poem is from Apocalypse: And Other Poems (New Directions, 1977), and is translated by Robert Pring-Mill.

Behind the Monastery

Behind the monastery, down the road,
there is a cemetery of worn-out things
where lie smashed china, rusty metal,
cracked pipes and twisted bits of wire,
empty cigarette packs, sawdust,
corrugated iron, old plastic, tires beyond repair:
all waiting for the Resurrection, like ourselves.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Ernesto Cardenal: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Jen Stewart Fueston

Jen Stewart Fueston is an American writer and teacher, who lived abroad ― teaching English in Budapest, Lithuania, and Istanbul ― before returning to teach writing at University of Colorado, and to raise a family.

As a poet she has published two chapbooks ― Visitations (2015, Finishing Line), and Latch (2019, River Glass Books). She is also one of the poets featured in the anthology In A Strange Land: Introducing Ten Kingdom Poets. Her first full-length poetry collection Madonna, Complex has just appeared in the Poiema Poetry Series. It was a pleasure working with Jen, both for the anthology and as the editor of her new book.

The following poem first appeared in Rust & Moth and is from Madonna, Complex.

To a Friend, Lonely in the Fall

In fall at least the world doesn’t lie to you
about dying, might even convince you you can
do it beautifully, become the blaze maple
transcendent against blue. The stands

of cottonwood that in summer appeared to be one
tree, unclasp green hands, separate and shiver
bare, remember they’re alone. The light that angles
through the gold is not the kind that fills

the wanting in your core. Still, it can be caught
with words arranged on lines, like bait on hooks,
and fed upon. Because love is not a fullness, it’s an
ache. Because one God I’ve known has loved me most

when He took everything away. The stark tree stripped
knows every name the wind goes by.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Charles Kingsley*

Charles Kingsley (1819—1875) is an Anglican clergyman, poet, and novelist, who was a founding member of the Christian Socialist movement. His novels include Alton Locke (1850), Hypatia (1853), Hereward the Wake (1866) and his children’s fantasy The Water Babies (1863).

Much of his creative output had social or ecclesiastical reform in mind, such as taking on issues of the urban poor, the rural poor, sanitation, public health, and the slave trade in the United States. His poetry collection Andromeda and Other Poems appeared in 1858. He was clearly anti-Catholic, which led to confrontations with John Henry Newman.

In 1859 Kingsley was appointed chaplain to Queen Victoria, and regius professor of modern history at Cambridge in 1860. He also tutored the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in history.

Easter Week

See the land, her Easter keeping,
Rises as her Maker rose.
Seeds, so long in darkness sleeping,
Burst at last from winter snows.
Earth with heaven above rejoices;
Fields and gardens hail the spring;
Shaughs and woodlands ring with voices,
While the wild birds build and sing.

You, to whom your Maker granted
Powers to those sweet birds unknown,
Use the craft by God implanted;
Use the reason not your own.
Here, while heaven and earth rejoices,
Each his Easter tribute bring-
Work of fingers, chant of voices,
Like the birds who build and sing.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Charles Kingsley: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, April 6, 2020

William Baer*

William Baer is a poet, playwright, fiction writer and university professor. He is the author of twenty two books, including six poetry collections ― the most recent of which is Love Sonnets (2016, White Violet Press). He has won the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize, and the X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize. Baer is a champion of the New Formalism, having edited several poetry anthologies highlighting metrical poetry, and he founded the journal The Formalist. He is also the founding director of the Richard Wilbur Poetry Series.

William Baer has taught creative writing, cinema, and world cultures at the University of Evansville, in Indiana.

The following poem first appeared in Louisiana English Journal, and is from his collection Psalter.

Gethsemani

--------------------(Luke 22:44)

This is the bloody chalice of agony
borne of what’s to come. Which catches his breath
with wracking fears of what will come to be:
the whips, the thorns, the crucifixion and death.
It is an agony borne of sacrifice:
taking upon himself, in this lonely place,
every single evil, sin, and vice,
redeeming the entire human race.
It is an agony borne of the dreadful fact
that despite his efforts from now to Pentecost,
not all the world will properly react,
and many will still reject him and be lost.
And so, his blood, like sweat, without a sound,
Seeps through his flesh and trickles to the ground.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about William Baer: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Malcolm Guite*

Malcolm Guite teaches at the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University, and is chaplain at Girton College, Cambridge. He is a well-respected Christian poet and scholar ― having written critical pieces such as Mariner: A Theological Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge (2018, IVP Academic), edited poetry anthologies, and had several collections of his own work published. His newest poetry book is After Prayer: New Sonnets and Other Poems (2019, Canterbury).

He has also collaborated with artists in other genres ― particularly inspiring Canadians such as singer Steve Bell (CD Keening For the Dawn), and visual artist Faye Hall who created 63 images illuminating 63 lines of his poetry for the book Seven Whole Days (2017, Castle Quay Books).

The following link presents Malcolm reading his poem “As If” , augmented with a visual climb along vines, through a fruit tree, and into an atrium at Regent College where Guite was the featured speaker for the 2019 Laing Lectures. His topic being: Imagining the Kingdom.

The following poem is from his collection Sounding the Seasons.

A Sonnet for Palm Sunday

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The Saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing
Changes their tune. I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple. Jesus, come
Break my resistance and make me your home.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Malcolm Guite: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Veniamin Blazhenny

Veniamin Blazhenny (1921―1999) is a Russian-language poet who was born in a small Jewish village in Belarus. His literary pseudonym, "Blazhenny" is said to suggest both “Fool for Christ” and "Blessed". He corresponded with Boris Pasternak, sending him some of his early poetry ― although his poems remained unpublished until the late 1980s, due to censorship and the limited publishing options in the Soviet Union. To add injury to this insult, he was incarcerated in a Soviet psychiatric institution because he had the “delusion” that he was a poet. His first book did not appear until 1990.

He referred to his poetry as his “letters to God” in which he would often cry out or rage at him; “It always seemed to me that the Lord was somewhere nearby ― Here I will hail him with an excited voice.”

In 2017, Artur Klinau ― a significant Belarusian artist, writer and editor ― said in an interview, “The rediscovery of [Blazhenny] influenced the development of poetry in our country.”

The Soul Waking Up

The soul, waking up, will not recognize her house,
The darling earthly shelter.
She will wonder, forced by her destiny...
Why would she need a home when she is a soul?

And moving through the path of no return,
Through the vast expanses of the heavenly track,
The soul will take with her my earthly name
And my immense sorrows.

No, she will not take my every trouble,
But only the unbearable path,
Where step by step I prayed to God,
And step by step I struggled with my earthly limits.

A mysterious light will be spilled
At the turning point of time,
But the timeless chain [of spirit] will not be broken
Neither in this pitiful world, nor in the other.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.