Monday, August 29, 2011

Seamus Heaney*

Nobel Prize winning, Irish poet Seamus Heaney has recently — once again — proved his worth with the publication of his latest book: Human Chain (2010). In this, his twelfth collection, readers might feel they are reading someone else’s mail, for Heaney doesn’t explain references. There are plenty of localisms (places, particulars of farm life, and specific neighbours), Latin words or Gaelic phrases, classical references — especially to Virgil — and allusions to saints and Irish history — from the spread of Christianity down to “The Troubles”. Even so, pieces begin to come together, as we dwell within his work.

In particular we often encounter the sixth century saint and scholar Columba of Iona (or Colmcille) — who founded a monastery at Derry, where Heaney is from. The poet relates to Columba’s bookish calling of pen and ink.

To Heaney, the everyday lives of people are sacred. His own schooldays appear, disguised within “Hermit Songs” as he writes both of medieval scribes, and of his teacher’s supplies of “nibs in packets by the gross, / Powdered ink, bunched cedar pencils, / Jotters, exercise books, rulers...” In “Chanson d’Aventure” he takes us along on a wild ambulance ride, under the control of “The charioteer at Delphi”.

Mostly, Seamus Heaney is a poet of memory. He preserves sounds and feelings — such as “the clunk of the baler / Ongoing, cardiac-dull” — or the wind “that rose and whirled until the roof / Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore” — or the “chunk and clink of an alms-collecting mite-box” — or the particulars of his new “Guttery, snottery” pen in its “first deep snorkel / In a newly opened ink-bottle”.

The following poem is from Human Chain.


Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in —

Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let-up

Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Seamus Heaney: first post; third 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, August 22, 2011

John Newton

John Newton (1725—1807) is the English writer best known as the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”. When he was only eleven, he went on his first of five Mediterranean voyages with his father, which led to his career as a sailor. Eventually Newton became the captain of a slave ship. Years later, after his conversion to Christian faith, he became an important voice promoting the abolition of slavery; he also became a minister in the Church of England.

In 1779 a book Olney Hymns anonymously first appeared; 280 of the book’s hymns were written by John Newton, and the other 68 by his friend William Cowper. Together, in the small hamlet of Olney, they were a great encouragement to the congregation, which grew substantially. This was the first publication for many great hymns of the Christian faith.

The 2007 movie Amazing Grace, tells the story of British Member of Parliament William Wilberforce and his political battle to end black slavery. The evangelicals of England were very active in this push for change. John Newton (played by Albert Finney) is shown as a significant influence upon Wilberforce. In 1807, the year of Newton’s death, The Slave Trade Act abolished slavery in the British Empire.

Why should I fear the darkest hour

Why should I fear the darkest hour,
Or tremble at the tempter's power?
Jesus vouchsafes to be my tower.

Though hot the fight, why quit the field?
Why must I either fly or yield,
Since Jesus is my mighty shield?

When creature comforts fade and die,
Worldlings may weep, but why should I?
Jesus still lives, and still is nigh.

Though all the flocks and herds were dead,
My soul a famine need not dread,
For Jesus is my living bread.

I know not what may soon betide,
Or how my wants shall be supplied;
But Jesus knows, and will provide.

Though sin would fill me with distress,
The throne of grace I dare address,
For Jesus is my righteousness.

Though faint my prayers and cold my love,
My steadfast hope shall not remove,
While Jesus intercedes above.

Against me earth and hell combine;
But on my side is power divine;
Jesus is all, and He is mine!

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, August 15, 2011

Jack Clemo

Known as “Poet of the Clay”, Jack Clemo (1916–1994) is a British poet who expressed the unique landscape of his native Cornwall, and his personal vision of Christian faith. He saw the scarred landscape of clay-pits and moulded dumps of white sand waste, where he grew up, as representative of the fall. The industrial language of the china clay mines fills his poems.

His formal schooling ended at age 13 when he began to lose his eyesight. He became deaf at about age twenty, and eventually — nineteen years later — became blind. These problems are not the focus of his writing, although he says in his poem “The Excavator”:
-------------And so I am awake:
-------------No more a man who sees
-------------Colour in flowers or hears from birds a song,
-------------Or dares to worship where the throng
-------------Seek Beauty and its old idolatries.

He felt himself to be an outcast throughout his life, because of his disabilities and because of his nonconformist religious views. According to Elizabeth Jennings he was truly “a visionary poet”.

Christ in the Clay-pit

Why should I find Him here
And not in a church, nor yet
Where Nature heaves a breast like Olivet
Against the stars? I peer
Upon His footsteps in this quarried mud;
I see His blood
In rusty stains on pit-props, waggon-frames
Bristling with nails, not leaves. There were no leaves
Upon his chosen Tree,
No parasitic flowering over shames
of Eden's primal infidelity.

Just splintered wood and nails
Were fairest blossoming for him who speaks
Where mica-silt outbreaks
Like water from the side of his own clay
In that strange day
When He was pierced. Here still the earth-face pales
And rends in earhquake roarings of a blast
With tainter rock outcast
While fields and woods lie dreaming yet of peace
‘Twixt God and his creation, or release
From potent wrath — a faith that waxes bold
In churches nestling snugly in the fold
Of scented hillsides where mild shadows brood.
The dark and stubborn mood
Of him whose feet are bare upon this mire,
And in the furnace fire
Which hardens all the clay that has escaped,
Would not be understood
By worshippers of beauty toned and shaped
To flower or hymn. I know their facile praise
False to the heart of me, which like this pit
Must still be disembowelled of Nature’s stain,
And rendered fit
By violent mouldings through the tunnelled ways
Of all he would regain.

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, August 8, 2011

Anne Bradstreet

Anne Bradstreet (1612—1672) was a Puritan who emigrated to America in 1630, along with her parents and her husband — whom she had married when she was just sixteen. She was the first American woman to have a book published, and is considered by many to be America's first poet. Woman were not allowed to speak their minds in the colony; however it was Anne’s brother-in-law who took her poems to be published in England as The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up In America in 1650. It is her later poems, however, that caught the attention of admirers in the twentieth century.

Both her father and her husband served as governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and were instrumental in the founding of Harvard University. Anne enjoyed a happy marriage, and became the mother of eight children. She wrote many of her poems while her husband was away dealing with the business of the colony — sometimes even as far away as England. Her poetry expresses both her love for her husband, and her deep faith in God.

In 1956 John Berryman paid tribute to her in his long poem Homage to Mistress Bradstreet. In 1997 a gate was dedicated to her memory at Harvard University.

By Night when Others Soundly Slept

By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bowed his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he filled with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washed in his blood,
And banished thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Love him to Eternity.

*This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Anne Bradstreet: 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, August 1, 2011

John Leax

John Leax is the author of four poetry collections, as well as several books of non-fiction. Recently he retired from Houghton College in upstate New York where he has taught for more than thirty years. His writing is influenced by such writers of the outdoors as Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry.

Although he’s writing from within an evangelical community, his writing often lacks the religious tone of much evangelical writing. His collection Tabloid News, is a series of fourteen poems inspired by the absurd headlines in supermarket tabloids. Leax doesn’t try to force any spiritual message onto his subject, although they often lead him in meaningful directions.

The Task of Adam

Bare lists of words are found suggestive to an
imaginative and excited mind

Opened by chance to page 1376
and left on the desk outside my office door,
The American Heritage Dictionary
arrests my attention.

The photograph in the margin is what does it.
Nestled neatly between a drawing of
-----Salmo trutta,
the brown trout, fat substitute
for the classy rainbow, introduced
to New York waters by eager sportsmen
at Caledonia, and outline sketches
of six different trowels,
the mustached face of Trotsky
glares up at my complacency.

I read “Russian revolutionist
and Soviet statesman; banished (1929);
assassinated in Mexico.”
That is all I know of revolution
and all I need to know.
The trout and the trowel,
the stream and the garden,
mark the limits of my care.

The task of Adam cast into the brambles,
no more,
is all I choose.

Ah Emerson. The corruption of man
is followed by the corruption of language.
These old words are perverted.
Take for example the guide words
in the corner of this page,
troposphere and truckle. They enclose
the revolution as surely as trout and trowel.
I could live a good rich life
within their definitions. They are
-----suggestive words:
troubadour, trousers, and trousseau
fall between them. The succession
from poetry to pants to the bridal bed
is achieved as readily as my eye
glides down the page.
But the guide words fly off into abstraction.
Troposphere and truckle.
Fasten them to the world.
Breath and bed.

Let Trotsky glare.
Revolution is redefining words.
Adam among the brambles
in alliance with truth and God
is panting after Eve.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Read my Books & Culture review of John Leax's poetry collection
Tabloid News here

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about John Leax: 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: