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.