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.