Monday, November 28, 2022

Peter Cooley

Peter Cooley is Professor of English Emeritus at Tulane University, in New Orleans, and is former Poet Laureate of Louisiana. He serves as poetry editor for Christianity and Literature.

His eleven poetry books include: The Company of Strangers (1975), Sacred Conversations (1998), Divine Margins (2009), and his most-recent poetry collection The One Certain Thing. (2021, Carnegie Mellon University Press). This book of elegies, written in the wake of the sudden death of his wife of fifty years, has been described as a “three-part conversation between the speaker, his wife, and God.”

The following ekphrastic poem first appeared in The Christian Century. This link provides an image of the Fra Angelico painting that inspired the poem.

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, 1437–1446

Light from my chosen star will come to me
in morning prayer, but only if I beg,
desperate like the unfortunate I met
yesterday morning, New Orleans 8 a.m.
corner Claiborne and Carrollton.
He lifted both palms up, that’s how I pray
we’re brotherbodies Fate estranged—
I’m sure the stars pray in dazzling choirs
or singly, hands clasped to their chests
like Fra’s angel, kneeling, left knee bent,
facing Mary, supernal light gracing the porticos.
This visit that might have changed the world.

If only I could transcribe the painting’s beautifuls!
But here I am, exhausted as if I’d spent the night
sleeping in the park the way he has to,
ashamed of the comparison but praying this
on one knee beside my bed, asking myself,
asking the morning star and you and You,
why did I drive by, not giving him a dime?
How dare I try to compare myself, twice,
to the angel, to him, both, I’m twice-ashamed.
And, say it, afraid, twice-afraid to write this.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Richard Jones*

Richard Jones is an accomplished poet, who has been the editor of the journal Poetry East ever since he founded it in 1980. He has taught at DePaul University in Chicago since 1987, and is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, including The Blessing: New & Selected Poems (2000, Copper Canyon).

His latest collection is Stranger on Earth (2018, Copper Canyon). Andrew Jarvis wrote in the New York Journal of Books that most of these prose poems are “…derived from memories, and Jones utilizes his memories of family, history, and culture to craft poems full of clear images and rich detail…” He says the “concept of beauty, and all things beautiful, is explored in the majority of these poems…” and points out that Marcel Proust’s philosophy ― “Life of every day is supremely important” ― is central to the book.

Back in 2007 when a number of artists (including poets B.H. Fairchild and Sydney Lea) were asked by Image to express why they believe in God, Richard Jones responded straight-forwardly,
----------“I believe in God because the poetry of the scriptures
----------revealed him to me. By God’s grace I opened the Bible
----------and discovered his near and palpable presence. Now, when
----------I read, illuminated by the Spirit, I give thanks as I find
----------myself abandoning my own limited understanding to seek
----------his perfect will…”

The Manifestation

The night of the Perseid shower,
thick fog descended
but I would not be denied.
I had put the children to bed,
knelt with them,
and later
in the quiet kitchen
as tall red candles
burned on the table between us,
I’d listened to my wife’s sweet imprecations,
her entreaties to see a physician.
But at the peak hour—
after she had gone to bed,
and neighboring houses
stood solemn and dark—
I felt no human obligation
and went without hope into the yard.
In the white mist
beneath the soaked and dripping trees,
I lifted my eyes
into a blind nothingness of sky
and shivered in a white robe.
I couldn’t see the outline
of the neighbor’s willows,
much less the host of streaking meteorites
no bigger than grains of sand
blazing across the sky.
I questioned the mind, my troubled thinking,
and chided myself to go in,
but looking up,
I thought of the earth
on which I stood,
my own
scanty plot of ground,
and as the lights passed unseen
I imagined glory beyond all measure.
Then I turned to the lights in the windows—
the children’s nightlights,
and my wife’s reading lamp, still burning.

Posted with permission of the poet.

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

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Robert B. Shaw

Robert B. Shaw is the author of What Remains to Be Said: New and Selected Poems (2022, Pinyon) which includes verse from his seven earlier collections. He is Professor Emeritus of English at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, and has taught at both Harvard and Yale. The two poetry-related nonfiction books he has written ― The Call of God: The Theme of Vocation in the Poetry of Donne and Herbert (1981), and Blank Verse: A Guide to Its History and Use (2007) ― parallel Shaw’s poetic work.

When interviewed by Ryan Wilson for Literary Matters he said, “I haven’t very often made religious sentiments paramount in my work, but because they have shaped my view of existence, they are there to be found in more than a few poems. I think that in certain pieces my view of nature can broadly be termed sacramental. I may not have intended that in every case when I sat down to write, but it is what emerged.”

The last of the “new” poems in What Remains to Be Said concludes with the following hope concerning his poems:
----------"Let them give homage to the Word
----------"by whom the leaves of life are stirred.
----------"What I write now, let them say then.
----------"And let the last word be Amen.

The following poem first appeared in The Hudson Review, subsequently in The Best American Poetry 1998, in his 1999 collection Below The Surface, this year in the new anthology Christian Poetry in America Since 1940, and in his new volume What Remains to Be Said.

A Geode

What started out a glob of molten mud
hawked up by some Brazilian volcano
back in the Pleistocene is now a rock
of unremarkable appearance, brown
as ordinary mud and baseball-size.
Picking it up produces a surprise:
besides a pleasant heftiness, a sound
of sloshing can be noticed. Vapors caught
within its cooling crust were liquified,
and linger still: a million-year-old vintage.
Although one might recall the once ubiquitous
snowstorm-in-a-glass-globe paperweights,
this offers us no view inside to gauge
the wild weather a shake or two incites.
Turbulence masked by hard opacity . . .
If we could, which would we rather see?—
age-old distillate, infant tears of the earth,
or gem-like crystal of the inner walls
harboring them like some fair reliquary?
To see the one we'd have to spill the other.
Better to keep it homely and intact,
a witness to the worth of hiddenness,
which, in regard to our own kind, we call
reticence, and in terms of higher things,
mystery. Let the elixir drench unseen
the facets that enshrine it, world without end.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Ruth Pitter*

Ruth Pitter (1897—1992) is a British poet who published eighteen collections, and received many honours, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1955. In 1974 she became one of the twelve living writers honoured with the title Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature.

She did not embrace poetic modernism — so popular in her day — and because of this has been largely overlooked in ours. Fellow formalist poet Philip Larkin included four of her poems in The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse (1973) — and she has been lauded by several poets and critics. Elizabeth Jennings said in the introduction to Ruth Pitter’s Collected Poems (1996, Enitharmon) that her poetry shows “an acute sensibility and deep integrity.”

Since the wrestling between critics for influence continues, only time will tell whether Ruth Pitter will gain new popularity, or slip into obscurity. Kathleen Raine has expressed she believes Pitter’s poetry “will survive as long as the English language, with whose expressiveness in image and idea she has kept faith, remains.”

The following poem is from Pitter’s book A Trophy of Arms (1936) and is the title poem in a new critical edition of her collected poems, edited by Don W. King (2018, Kent State University Press).

Sudden Heaven

All was as it had ever been—
The worn familiar book,
The oak beyond the hawthorn seen,
The misty woodland’s look:

The starling perched upon the tree
With his long tress of straw—
When suddenly heaven blazed on me,
And suddenly I saw:

Saw all as it would ever be,
In bliss too great to tell;
For ever safe, for ever free,
All bright with miracle:

Saw as in heaven the thorn arrayed,
The tree beside the door;
And I must die—but O my shade
Shall dwell there evermore.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Ruth Pitter: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Thomas Traherne*

Thomas Traherne (1637—1674) was largely unknown as a poet at the time of his death — or even two hundred years after his death. Two manuscripts containing poetry and prose, at first thought to be by Henry Vaughan, were discovered in the winter of 1896—97, and were almost published as such. By 1903 the poems had been identified as Traherne’s and were published under his name.

There’s no evidence William Blake was familiar with Traherne’s lines —
-----"In all Things, all Things service do to all:
-----And thus a Sand is Endless, though most small.
---------- And every Thing is truly Infinite,
---------- In its Relation deep and exquisite."
which seem to pre-echo “Auguries of Innocence” — however, this similarity says much about the depth of Traherne’s originality of thought and poetic vision.

His philosophical/theological priorities were also expressed in his Christian Ethicks (1675): “He that would not be a stranger to the universe, an alien to felicity, and a foreigner to himself, must know God to be an infinite benefactor, all eternity, full of treasures, the world itself, the beginning of gifts, and his own soul the possessor of all, in communion with the Deity.”

Critical interest in Traherne continues, as further manuscripts come to light. A project known as “The Oxford Traherne” — a planned 15-volume critical edition of Thomas Traherne’s works commissioned by Oxford University Press — is planned to begin production in 2024.

The novelist Marilynne Robinson has the following poem appear in her novel Jack (2020, FSG) which is the fourth novel in the series that began with her Pulitzer Prize winner Gilead (2004). The book’s title-character receives the first ten lines of this poem on a slip of paper, from a woman whose interest in him is both curious to him and revitalizing.

For Man To Act As If His Soul Did See

For Man to Act as if his Soul did see
The very Brightness of Eternity;
For Man to Act as if his Love did burn
Above the Spheres, even while it's in its Urne;
For Man to Act even in the Wilderness,
As if he did those Sovereign Joys possess,
Which do at once confirm, stir up, enflame,
And perfect Angels; having not the same!
It doth increase the value of his Deeds,
In this a Man a Seraphim exceeds.
To Act on Obligations yet unknown,
To Act upon Rewards as yet unshewn,
To keep Commands whose Beauty's yet unseen,
To Cherish and retain a Zeal between
Sleeping and waking; shews a constant care,
And that a deeper Love, a Love so rare,
That no Eye Service may with it compare.
The Angels, who are faithful while they view
His Glory, know not what themselves would do,
Were they in our Estate! A Dimmer Light
Perhaps would make them erre as well as We
And in the Coldness of a darker Night
Forgetful and Lukewarm Themselves might be.
Our very Rust shall cover us with Gold,
Our Dust shall sprinkle while their Eyes behold
The Glory Springing from a feeble State,
Where meer Belief doth, if not conquer Fate
Surmount and pass what it doth Antedate.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Thomas Traherne: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Graham Hillard

Graham Hillard is the founding editor of Cumberland River Review, and for fifteen years has taught creative writing and contemporary literature at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville. He is also a regular contributor to the Washington Examiner and National Review. This spring he joined the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

His poetry collection, Wolf Intervals, has just appeared through Cascade Books as part of the Poiema Poetry Series. I’m pleased to have assisted Graham as his editor.

New York poet Eleanor Lerman has written, “In these sharply crafted poems, Graham Hillard challenges the reader to examine how nature both blesses and infects the human soul. Fields and forests, orchards and cities, wolves and children: all are caught in the dance between humanity and the natural world.”

The following poem is from Wolf Intervals. Another of the poems from this new book can be read at Poems For Ephesians.

Sunday Sermon

So here again we come with all our sins
Broad blown, stinking to heaven. We concede
The good in one another fitfully,
Neglect what we have promised, turn away
When turning inward might occasion pain.
Like beasts of burden that each year must pull
A little harder to advance their load,
We put our backs into the work. We call
This love and are not wrong to do so. When
The pastor climbs into the pulpit, I
Give you my hand, this palm and grip that you
Have known so well, that used to fairly throb
With certainty and youth. Your other hand
Now grasps the bulletin, that blank expanse
Where sermon notes are tucked into the soil
Of each believer’s comprehension, such
As it is. Hebrews 4:15 will be
Our text today: Christ tempted so completely
That he is able to commiserate
With all His lowly flock. We know the verse,
Accept the truth of it, yet even minds
That God is sanctifying can be prone
To wander, as the hymnist says. An hour
Or two will see us safely home, reduced
From holiness to all the cognizance
Of age: that bodies shrink and sag and turn
Against themselves; that muscles atrophy;
That we could live another forty years
Inside these prisons, bound to one another
By habit, love, commitment, and a fear
That neither of us cares to name. Your notes
Have nearly filled the page by now, and I
Can’t help but glance at your neat letters, like
A line of clerics leaning to one side.
Christ stooped into the muck with his creation.
Temptation came his way, but did he taste
What we discover daily? If I could
Contribute to your jottings I might add
A line or two. He knew our sorrows. But
He never married. He never grew old.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Edith Lovejoy Pierce (1904―1983) is an English poet who, as a newlywed, moved to Illinois with her American husband in 1929. She is the author of several poetry collections including In This Our Day (1944), Therefore Choose Life (1947, Harper & Brothers), and White Wake in the Sea (1966). She also translated the prayer book With the Master: A Book of Meditations (1943) by Philippe Vernier.

The quote that predominantly comes up next to her name on the internet is “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.” Pierce is also known for her pacifism.

The following poem first appeared in the September 1945 issue of Poetry, and is from Therefore Choose Life.

The Tongue of the Snake

Then spoke with the tongue of the snake
A voice from the camouflage tree:
"Remember the likeness of me?
Remember the story I told?
The first word to worship is 'take,'
The next to bow down to is 'hold."'

Like the purr of a soothing refrain:
"The fairest of all words is 'eat.'"
The eyes were the color of meat.
Sliding heavy as liquified lead,
It had wheels within wheels for a brain,
And it hissed: "There is fruit overhead."

"The apples are bitter and hot."
Its scales had the rattle of steel.
"The apples are ripe for a meal."
Its stripes were as vivid as flak.
"They either explode or they rot
Explode when they drop in your track."

It straightened itself like a rod
Then plunged like a piston to earth.
"The apples are golden in worth,
And no one can taste them in vain.
If you want to be knowing as God,
The apples are worth all the pain."

Its scales had the thunder of drums.
"What matter the blood and the sweat?
What mater the sword at the gate?"
Hypnotic its eye, as a gem.
"If you want to throw God when he comes,
The apples are ripe on the stem."

Its length like a languor of oil
Slid back to the camouflage tree.
"Remember the likeness of me?"
The dollar leaves rustled in dread.
"Take care that the apples don't spoil.
Beware! There is fruit overhead."

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.