Monday, October 31, 2011

Betsy Sholl

Betsy Sholl was appointed Poet Laureate of Maine in 2006; her term ends this year. She teaches at, both, the University of Southern Maine, and Vermont College of Fine Arts — and has won several awards for her poetry.

Luci Shaw said in Radix, “A kind of fierce honesty pierces much of Sholl’s writing, revealing her proclivity for examining her own heart through the lens of the events and objects she discovers.” This is well-demonstrated in the poem included below, which is the final poem from her seventh collection: Rough Cradle (Alice James Books, 2009).

The journal Image records her words about her approach to writing poetry,
--------“...what starts a poem is usually the experience of paradox or
--------contradiction, two equally true perceptions or emotions
--------co-existing: beauty and pain, love and fear, life and decay.
--------I love Auden’s comment that poetry is the clear expression of
--------mixed emotions, and Czeslaw Milosz’s notion about poetry as
--------a ‘passionate pursuit of the real.’ Of course “the real” eludes
--------us, but the pursuit enlarges us and keeps us aware of the
--------ultimate reality, God.”

Life and Holiness

I couldn’t finish the book because the end
no longer existed, the final words on life
and holiness, that old coin with its two sides
impossible to see at once, so each face
makes you long for the other—unless, of course,
the coin’s been rubbed down, almost out,
as my book was, not dog-eared, but dog-chewed,
a big chunk torn off its lower right,
and the whole book ending coverless
on page 118, so it’s hard to read
the thoughts without thinking of their fate,
and the message bound to what carries it:
Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton,
bound to our dog named Dreug, Russian for friend,
who also ate the edge of my purple dress
as I sat talking on the couch, plus a wooden apple,
and every chair rung in the house. It’s hard
not to think of the monk being chewed on
by silence, gnawed down, past ritual and custom,
to a desert of naked prayer, a dark night
where nothing’s left but the self’s empty shell,
the soul cracked open for something else to rush in,
which the words were just getting to
when Dreug, that zealous friend, aching and driven,
turned the matter into slobber and wag,
his new teeth editing, so the book
ends with:
-------------------------------------------...For such... (crunch)
---...lovers of God, all things, whether they appear... actuality good. All things manifest the...
---------------------...All things enable them to grow in...

Here it stops, the promise digested,
our big brown dog a better reader than I,
licking his lips, swallowing the words, taking in
the such and all things, however they appear.
And were they, in actuality good?
Was the back cover, the spine glue, the wood
or rage pulp of each missing page? “Complete
and unabridged,” it says just where the teeth marks
bite, where the paper’s rough edge, its newly exposed
microscopic threads meet air and morning light,
as if words could turn into life, into window glass
with bickering sparrows, children walking
to school, as Dreug, with his spotted face,
his feathery toes, watches all things
manifest the— enable them to grow in—

As to holiness, you lovers of God, must all things
come to an edge where words stop, and hunger—
that faithful friend who eats away what once
would have been so easy to read—begins?

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, October 24, 2011

Vladimir Solovyov

Vladimir Solovyov (1853—1900) is a Russian philosopher, mystic, poet, and literary critic. He had turned from the Orthodox church in his adolescence, but then reconverted when he was twenty. He was a complex character, drawn to over-arching ideas — sometimes repudiating his earlier writing.

He wrote of three visionary encounters with the Sophia (the Divine Wisdom) — one in childhood, one when studying in the British Museum, and the third when he followed her instructions to meet her in Egypt. These life-changing experiences are recorded in his best-known poem Tri Svidaniya (Three Meetings):
---------------Three times you gave yourself to my living sight —
---------------No phantom, no mere mind's flight —
---------------As omen, aid, and as award,
---------------Your image answered my stifled call.

He advocated what he called “Christian politics”, believing that an ideal society could be established under the pope and the czar; with this in mind, he worked extensively in the 1880s to unite the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

He was a good friend of Dostoyevsky. and is said to be a model for Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov. He also significantly influenced the following generation of Russian philosophers and symbolist poets.

The Eye Of Eternity

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Above white earth a single, single
-----Star burns
And draws one along a path of ether
-----To itself — there.

Oh, why is it so? In one steady gaze
-----All wonders dwell,
The mysterious sea of all life,
-----And the heavens.

That gaze is so close and so clear —
-----Behold it,
You, too, will be measureless and sublime —
-----Master of all.

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, October 17, 2011

Donald Davie

English poet, Donald Davie (1922—1995) was a significant part of “The Movement”, which emerged in Britain during the 1950s, and included such poets as Elizabeth Jennings, and Philip Larkin. Their poetry turned from the imagism of recent poets, to a greater clarity of language and content.

Davie served as an English professor on both sides of the Atlantic, at the University of Essex, Stanford and Vanderbilt. His influence as a critic is as important as his place as a poet. Davie was raised a Baptist — and long defended the dissenting tradition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — although by the 1970s had, himself, moved over to the Anglican church. He is also known for his verse translations of Boris Pasternak, and as the editor of The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse (1981). In his obituary in The Independent he is called “the defining poet-critic of his generation”. His Collected Poems were published in 2002 by Carcanet.

The following is the opening poem from his 1988 collection, To Scorch or Freeze (Chicago), which is subtitled “Poems about the Sacred”; the book is influenced very much by the Psalms.

The Thirty-ninth Psalm, Adapted

I said to myself: “That’s enough.
Your life-style is no model,
Keep quiet about it, and while
you’re about it, be less overt.”

I held my tongue, I said nothing;
no, not comfortable words.
“Writing block”, it’s called;
very discomfiting.

Not that I had no feelings.
I was in a fever.
And while I seethed,
abruptly I found myself speaking:

“Lord, let me know my end,
and how long I have to live;
let me be sure
how long I have to live.

One-finger you poured me;
what does it matter to you
to know my age last birthday?
Nobody’s life has purpose.

Something is casting a shadow
on everything we do;
and in that shadow nothing,
nothing at all, comes true.

(We make a million, maybe;
and who, not nobody but
who, gets to enjoy it?)

Now, what’s left to be hoped for?
Hope has to be fixed on you.
Excuse me my comforting words
in a tabloid column for crazies.

I held my tongue, and also
I discontinued my journals.
(They accumulated; who
in any event would read them?)

Now give me a chance, I am
burned up enough at your pleasure.
It is all very well, we deserve it.
But shelved, not even with mothballs?

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
and please to consider my calling:
it commits me to squawking
and running off at the mouth.”

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, October 10, 2011

Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

Although Jill Peláez Baumgaertner was born in the United States, her family connection with Cuba is significant. This becomes clear in her poetry — particularly in her 2001 book Finding Cuba. Her most recent poetry release is a chapbook from Finishing Line Press — My Father’s Bones (2006).

Jill Peláez Baumgaertner has been on the faculty of Wheaton College since 1980, where she is an English Professor and Dean. She has served (previously) as Poetry Editor for First Things, and (presently) for The Christian Century. She has also written a textbook/anthology, Poetry (Harcourt Brace, 1990); and Flannery O'Connor: A Proper Scaring (Cornerstone Press, 1988). Forthcoming is the anthology Imago Dei: Poems From Christianity and Literature which she has edited, and includes my own poem: “The Sacrifice Of Isaac”.

When asked about her interest in Flannery O’Connor, Jill replied, she “has a lot in common with John Donne, the subject of my dissertation. They both understand that the cross is the center of our faith—that one cannot skip over Good Friday on the way to Easter morning...”

The following poem first appeared in Image.

Prodigal Ghazal

Weightless as a float into the drift of water, one whose sin is
The Far Country a memory of fists and sour apples.

Of that old, heavy plunge through snowfall, frozen, refrozen.
The tug of gravity, slow and silent.

Of no words forming on dry lips, of breath aching to a full
-----inhale and then a letting go.
Of not yet. Not yet. And the longing for release.

The hold of grimy pleasures like a small mouth forming very
-----small o’s,
Like spaces as vast as the tundra with no human voice or as
-----tight as a wound spool.

The wasting disease of sin, God’s serious hand of judgment.
Then his gentle push: the swing into the spring air, back
-----and forth.

And then the breathing, unboxed. And later the fingers spread
wide in the grass, each particular blade a tickle.

The Father runs into the road, his embrace a chunk of earth to
-----the unmoored.
The twisted eyebeams, the Father’s gaze into his son’s tentative

Pupils black with light peering into the lens of revelation,
Now comes the filling in of hunger, the bread hunks spilling

The wine meant for throats dry with salt and dust.
Here is God, his strokes on our dead flesh

Filling capillaries, sparking nerves. We are fed with the crusts
And blood of forgiveness, with the thrill of its gentle float,
-----its ripe music.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Jill Peláez Baumgaertner: second 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, October 3, 2011

William Cullen Bryant

William Cullen Bryant (1794—1878) was one of the foremost American poets and public intellectuals of the nineteenth century. Through his poetry he brought the influence of the English romantic poets Coleridge and Wordsworth to American verse — finding inspiration in the natural world around him. He is also known for his hymn writing, and for having translated both The Iliad and The Odyssey.

At first he earned his living as a lawyer, until he made the transition to journalism. He became very influential politically as the editor of the New York Evening Post — supporting such causes as abolition under Lincoln, and the establishing of New York’s Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unfortunately his newspaper work limited his poetic output. William Cullen Bryant was a mentor to Walt Whitman, and was a great encouragement to the blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby when she was still in school.

In his early poem “Thanatopsis”, Bryant seemed to have forsaken the hope of eternal life. As time progressed — as demonstrated in numerous poems such as “A Forest Hymn” — his views grew more and more consistent with Christian theology.

To a Waterfowl

Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
--While glow the heavens with the last steps of day
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
--Thy solitary way?

Vainly the fowler's eye
--Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
--Thy figure floats along.

Seek'st thou the plashy brink
--Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sing
--On the chafed ocean side?

There is a Power whose care
--Teaches thy way along that pathless coast—
The desert and illimitable air—
--Lone wandering, but not lost.

All day thy wings have fanned,
--At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
--Though the dark night is near.

And soon that toil shall end;
--Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,
--Soon, o'er thy sheltered nest.

Thou'rt gone, the abyss of heaven
--Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
--And shall not soon depart.

He who, from zone to zone,
--Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
--Will lead my steps aright.

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: