Monday, July 25, 2011

Angelico Chavez

Angelico Chavez (1910—1996) was a Franciscan priest — the first native to serve in this role in New Mexico. He wrote most of his poetry in English, although it was not his mother tongue; he occasionally wrote in Spanish and Latin as well. Chavez is best known as a poet, but also as an artist, fiction writer and historian.

He was born in and loved New Mexico, but various aspects of his life often called him away. In childhood his family moved to California, and in his youth he studied for the priesthood in Cincinnati and Detroit before returning to Santa Fe. He served as a chaplain in the south Pacific during WWII, and in Texas and Germany during the Korean War.

His poem The Virgin of Port Lligat, inspired by a Salvador Dali painting, was praised by T.S. Eliot as a “very commendable achievement”. As can be seen from the following selections, Angelico Chavez’s poetry often has a light, devotional tone.


I think of gray and grey
As different words.
Gray are the sides of battleships,
And grey are birds.

The one is stuff we touch
The other, dream;
Gray are new-painted sills, but grey
An age-toned beam.

Gray was the casket-cloth
That sad, sad day,
I saw a face that stays with me
Quiet and grey.

Jesus at the Well

Give me to drink this desert wine,
This water welled by men;
Amen, I say, but drink of mine,
You shall not thirst again.

Give me to drink, for I am I,
Begging from earthly jars,
Who plunged the Dipper in the sky
And splashed the night with stars.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Dream of the Rood

The Dream of the Rood (the Cross) is, according to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, “the finest of a rather large number of religious poems in Old English.” It is one of the oldest works of Old English surviving today. It was preserved in the “Vercelli Book” found in northern Italy in the 10th century, but may be much older. Its author is unknown, although scholars have often suggested either of two Anglo Saxon Christian poets: Cynewulf or Cædmon.

The entire poem is about 1200 words, and was written in the alliterative style of Old English. The poem begins and ends with the story told by the dreamer; the central section is from the point-of-view of the Cross itself.

The Dream of the Rood portrays powerful paradox. The Cross is a symbol both of shame and of glory. It is a place of defeat and victory. The Cross submits to God’s will — not bending or breaking, although it could have fallen and crushed the crucifiers — and is thus used to crucify Christ. The Rood suffers along with Jesus, feeling the nails pierce its cross-beam, being stained with blood, even feeling the mocking that was flung at Christ.

The connections between the dreamer, the Cross, Christ himself, and ourselves are strongly felt in this poem.

from The Dream of the Rood

The choicest of visions I wish to tell,
which came as a dream in middle-night,
after voice-bearers lay at rest.
It seemed that I saw a most wondrous tree
born aloft, wound round by light,
brightest of beams. All was that beacon
sprinkled with gold. Gems stood
fair at earth's corners; there likewise five
shone on the shoulder-span. All there beheld the Angel of God,
fair through predestiny. Indeed, that was no wicked one's gallows,
but holy souls beheld it there,
men over earth, and all this great creation.
Wondrous that victory-beam—and I stained with sins,
with wounds of disgrace. I saw glory's tree
honoured with trappings, shining with joys,
decked with gold; gems had
wrapped that forest tree worthily round.
Yet through that gold I clearly perceived
old strife of wretches, when first it began
to bleed on its right side. With sorrows most troubled,
I feared that fair sight. I saw that doom-beacon
turn trappings and hews: sometimes with water wet,
drenched with blood's going; sometimes with jewels decked.
But lying there long while, I,
troubled, beheld the Healer's tree,
until I heard its fair voice.
Then best wood spoke these words...

The above translation is by Jonathan A. Glenn and may be viewed in its entirety here.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Monday, July 11, 2011

John Robert Lee

John Robert Lee, of St. Lucia, is a well-established poet whose writing has been anthologized in such books as The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse, and The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories. His collected poems, Elemental, appeared in the UK from Peepal Tree Press in 2008.

He has been involved in theatre as both an actor and a director — has expressed his faith as a preacher, writer and broadcaster — has worked as a professional librarian, and in radio and television as a broadcaster and producer.

Fellow St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott (who won the Nobel Prize in 1992) called John Robert Lee “a scrupulous poet"; he continued, “it’s not a common virtue in poets, to be scrupulous and modest in the best sense, not to over-extend the range of the truth of his emotions, not to go for the grandiose. He is a Christian poet obviously. You don’t get in the poetry anything that is, in a sense, preachy or self-advertising in terms of its morality. He is a fine poet.”

The following comes from his chapbook Canticles (2007):

Canticle XXXI

---------It is clear she was beguiled by the Serpent’s sinuous
-----------But he, was he — seduced by her full-curving softnesses,
------------------------------allured by those flittering
---------lashes — tripped into the parting chasms of her sweet
----------------mouth? (So says the old poet.) Or, eavesdropping,
Curious Man, did he wonder about the Crystal Gate, the proffered
-------------the deadly enticements of wisdom? Whichever, flouting
-------------the order he chose.
-----------------------------Just one more query — those tunics of
-----covering skin,
--------were those the first-born lambs they had loved above all

(Posted with permission of the poet)

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about John Robert Lee: second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Jean Janzen

Jean Janzen was born in Saskatchewan in 1933. When her father became a Mennonite pastor, the family moved to Minnesota, and later to Kansas. When first married, she and her husband moved to Chicago, and eventually they settled in Fresno, California. All of these places, her love of music and art, and her Mennonite heritage are strongly reflected in Janzen’s poetry. Emily Dickinson was an early influence, long before Jean considered becoming a poet herself.

She is the author of six collections, the most recent of which is Paper House (Good Books). In Radix, Luci Shaw recently wrote, “These are poems to be read aloud, loved and lived into repeatedly. Though she has titled the book Paper House, this is no fragile, empty shell, but a sturdy and satisfying piece of architecture.” The following poem comes from Jean Janzen’s 1995 collection Snake in the Parsonage.

Sometimes Hope

The mountainsides blazed
for weeks, ashes falling
on our heads as we stood
in the hazy air.
And then our son came home
with his blackened gear
and slept for days.
He had fought fire with fire
to do the impossible.
Now we see it, the giant
black slash with stumps
in grotesque postures,
acres and acres where nothing
moves or sings, where
nothing waits.

But sometimes hope
is a black ghost
in a fantastic twist,
an old dream that flickers
in the wind.
Not the worried twining
of selfish prayers, but
a reach for something
extravagant, something holy,
like fire itself,
which in its madness
devours the forest for the sky,
and then dreams a new greening,
shoots everywhere breaking
through the crust of ash.

*This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Jean Janzen: second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: