Monday, April 12, 2021

Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is a poet and novelist who was born in New York City in 1950, but spent her early childhood in the Dominican Republic ― her parents’ native country. In 1960 her family fled to the United States because of her father’s involvement in a plot to overthrow the dictator, Trujillo.

Her poems often express the experience of an immigrant child in unwelcoming American schoolyards ― of being raised in a large, Hispanic, Catholic family ― and of her youthful desire to seamlessly fit in among peers. She portrays both her parents’ piety and inconsistency in their efforts to raise the family. At the Catholic Literary Imagination Conference, in 2015, she spoke of the importance of belonging in the community to which Christ calls ― particularly through family ― and she encouraged her hearers to find their calling.

Alvarez has written several novels, including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), and Afterlife (2020). She has also written non-fiction and children’s literature. Julia Alvarez has received many awards, including the National Medal of Arts from Barack Obama in 2013.

The following poem is from her collection The Woman I Kept To Myself (2011, Algonquin Books).

The Red Pickup

The wish I always made in childhood
before the blazing candles or when asked
what gift I wanted the Three Kings to bring
was a red pickup, which Mami vetoed
as inappropriate. And so I improvised,
trading in speed for a pair of cowboy boots,
bright red with rawhide tassels that would swing
when I swaggered into my fourth-grade class
asking for an exemption from homework
from my strict teacher, Mrs. Brown from Maine.
She called my mother weekly to complain
of my misbehaviors, among them
a tendency to daydream instead of
finding the common denominator.
(But what had I in common with fractions?
I wanted the bigger, undivided world!)
She was one more woman in a series
of dissuaders against that red pickup
in all its transformations, which at root
was a driving desire to be a part
of something bigger than a pretty girl,
the wild, exciting world reserved for boys:
guns that shot noisy hellos! in the air
and left crimson roses on clean, white shirts;
firecrackers with scarlet explosions
that made even my deaf grandfather jump.
I wanted what God wanted when He made
the world, to be a driving force, a creator.
And that red pickup was my only ride
out of the common denominator.

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 5, 2021

Margo Swiss*

Margo Swiss taught English and Creative Writing at York University for over 35 years, before her retirement in 2018. Her newest poetry collection is Second Gaze (2020, St. Thomas Poetry Series). This book takes its title, she tells us, from Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance: "We know things in their depth only by the second gaze of love." Swiss focuses on this contemplative, spiritual way of looking, enabling us to see things as they truly are.

Since the anticipated launch event at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church in Toronto was blocked because of the pandemic, a video of her reading from the book may be viewed here.

The following poem is from her 2015 collection The Hatching of the Heart (Poiema/Cascade). It is also included in the current issue of Faith Today.

Easter Conversations

“they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen: remember how he spoke unto you when he was yet in Galilee”----------------------------------------------Luke 24. 5-6; 10-11

Jesus Christ knows flesh,
bodies speaking, always did
do what his Father said
His mother’s hard labour first,
in time his own: walked his talk, then
was crossed, tombed, shut up for good
dead (it was said)
until
He heard his Father say, rise
be born again this day.


“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James, and the other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.”

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Margo Swiss: 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 29, 2021

G.K. Chesterton*

G.K. Chesterton (1874—1936) is an important Christian intellectual, known for his fiction including The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), and his popular mystery stories featuring Father Brown (a character misappropriated by a recent TV series) which were published between 1910 and 1936.

He is the author of more than eighty books, including poetry, plays, novels, short stories, essays, theology, and apologetics. He was also a newspaper columnist, and a radio personality on the BBC.

T.S. Eliot said of Chesterton, “His poetry was first-rate journalistic balladry...” He also highly praised Chesterton’s novels and his nonfiction book Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1906).

The Calvary

In the dark of this cloud-laden even
Still upraised, son of man, still alone
Yea, 'mid empires still shifting and breaking
This place is thine own.

All thrones are left fallen and naked
All treasures corrupt and all gains
O Prince of four nails and a gibbet
Thy Kingdom remains.

On an age full of noises and systems
Where comfortless craze follows craze
Where the passions are classified forces
Where man is a phrase.

On an age where the talkers are loudest
From thy silence, thy torment, thy power
O splendour of wrath and of pity
Look down for an hour.

Go hence: To your isles of the blessèd
Go hence, with the songs that you sing:
For this is the kingdom of pity
And Christ is the king.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about G.K. Chesterton: 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 22, 2021

Denise Levertov*

Denise Levertov (1923—1997) is an American poet, who was born in Britain. She received many awards, including the Robert Frost Medal, and the Conference on Christianity & Literature Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry. Most of her 24 poetry collections were published through New Directions. She taught at several universities including Brandeis, MIT, Tufts, and Stanford. In 1989 she moved to Seattle, and taught part time at University of Washington.

Although her father was an Anglican priest, she was an agnostic up until her conversion to Christianity in 1984 ― which she described as a gradual move from regretful scepticism to Christian belief. In a 1990 essay she referred to the work of the artist, as work that "enfaiths," and said the imagination is “the chief of human faculties," and it must be "by the exercise of that faculty that one moves toward faith, and possibly by its failure that one rejects it as delusion."

The following poem is from The Stream & the Sapphire (1997), a collection of her poems on religious themes.

What the Fig Tree Said

Literal minds! Embarrassed humans! His friends
were blurting for Him
in secret: wouldn’t admit they were shocked.
They thought Him
petulant to curse me!—yet how could the Lord
be unfair?—so they looked away,
then and now.
But I, I knew that
helplessly barren though I was,
my day had come. I served
Christ the Poet,
who spoke in images: I was at hand,
a metaphor for their failure to bring forth
what is within them (as figs
were not within me). They who had walked
in His sunlight presence,
they could have ripened,
could have perceived His thirst and hunger,
His innocent appetite;
they could have offered
human fruits—compassion, comprehension—
without being asked,
without being told of need.
My absent fruit
stood for their barren hearts. He cursed
not me, not them, but
(ears that hear not, eyes that see not)
their dullness, that withholds
gifts unimagined.

*This is the fourth Kingdom Poets post about Denise Levertov: first post, second post, third 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 15, 2021

Luke (Joseph A. Brown)

Luke (also known as Joseph A. Brown) is a Professor in the Department of Africana Studies at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, where he has taught since 1997. He is the author of The Sun Whispers, Wait: New and Collected Poems (2009, Brown Turtle Press).

Originally from East St Louis, Illinois, Joseph A. Brown became ordained to the priesthood in 1972. Some of his other books include To Stand on the Rock: Meditations on Black Catholic Identity (Orbis, 1998), and Sweet, Sweet Spirit: Prayer Services from the Black Catholic Church (2006). He is now on the advisory board of Presence: a Journal of Catholic Poetry.

Lord Knows

lord knows honey
she said folding her hands
into the flowers of her apron
you got to make your
own road
--------------sometime
it was her wisdom
so i waited

coming and going
aint gonna do
when you get to be
old like me----just
going
---------aint it like
some folks----to jump
on their own backs
stead of using the road
to get somewhere fools
is fools but you aint never been
one you hear
---------------sure gonna be hard
on your mama though
but she’ll do all right
-------------------------now
before you go i wants to give you
a little something
-----------------------to help out
and i still have it
and the dollar bill
she unfolded slowly and put
into my hand

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 8, 2021

Susan Alexander

Susan Alexander is a poet living on Bowen Island, which is in Howe Sound, just north of Vancouver. In 2019 she won the prestigious Mitchell Poetry Prize for a suite of poems which has now been included in her new poetry collection Nothing You Can Carry (2020, Thistledown).

Her poems are often concerned with environmental issues, particularly those faced in Howe Sound. She said in a recent interview, “The most urgent concern I have is for the planet. I see the environmental crisis partly as an inability to delay gratification. We practice short-term thinking even though our species is skilled at long term planning. I often ruminate about who and what humans are and why we are trashing the earth, our home.” In a poem about what she refers to as “our petroleum sins” she writes,
Save us O Lord
----------from our sins of omission
---------------and consumption
---------------and commission.

Her first poetry collection The Dance Floor Tilts (2017) was also published by Thistledown. Early in her pursuit of poetry she extensively read the poetry of Anglican priests R.S. Thomas and George Herbert, and was motivated by their work.

Susan Alexander has recently had a poem included in my web journal Poems For Ephesians.

The following poem is from Nothing You Can Carry.

Introit

Because there is little frivolity
or vanity left on a shining dome ―
akin to an ostrich egg,
that holy object hung
among the votives of the orthodox
church, or perhaps,
the full moon ― his thoughts
must be more august,
his words more prophetic.

He is no statue, though the white
looks cool as marble. I write
upon that curved surface
with fingertips, fond lips.

This teaches me
to shed all the pretty things
that keep me from
the invisible world I am
moving towards.

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, March 1, 2021

Bobi Jones

Bobi Jones (1929―2017) is a Welsh-language poet, and very much a Welsh nationalist. Many of his poems are portraits of personified rural landscapes, and portraits of common rural folk. Although he was passionate about his evangelical faith ― writing a regular column for a Welsh-language magazine about the Christian heritage within Welsh literature ― his poetry usually remains earthbound in its focus.

In his academic career Robert Maynard Jones was chair in Welsh Language at Aberystwyth University. He is one of the most prolific writers in the history of the Welsh language.

The following poem was translated into English by Joseph P. Clancy, and is from the collection Right as Rain.

Michelangelo’s Three Vocations

Often, confronting the hard, he would haul away
-----(by shelling the deceitful covering) a hidden
person from the rock. He discovered Creation by quarrying
-----and destroying the bad. A way once closed would open.

Often, when he confronted the soft, he would put
-----something extra where flesh and blood were lacking
on the limp canvas. He would interpret the Creation
-----by adding living being through a dash of paint.

But the essence of both would have been unseen, had their sound
-----not been shaped by a sonnet. He confessed there would have been
no way for the one or the other, the subtraction or the addition,
-----to come to life from the depths of their deaths
had the resurrection by the undying Word not turned
-----his words to living love through the grave's Creation.

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.