Monday, August 26, 2013

Li-Young Lee

Li-Young Lee was born in Jakarta, Indonesia to Chinese parents; as political refugees they eventually made it to the United States in 1964, where they settled. His debut poetry collection, Rose (1986), won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award from New York University. In 2006 Breaking the Alabaster Jar, a collection of interviews, was published.

Many of Li-Young's poems are flavoured with memories of being:
-----"a child at mid-century
-----following your parents from burning
-----village to cities on fire to a country at war
-----with itself and anyone
-----who looks like you..."
----------("After the Pyre")
and those of his father, a Presbyterian minister,
-----"In the room with the shut curtains, of course.
-----He's talking to God again, who plays
-----hide and seek among His names..."
----------("God Seeks a Destiny")

In 2012, I attended an interview with Li-Young Lee at the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. He said, that his real desire is not to be a poet, but to make contact with the divine. His poems "need a word from God [but] sometimes they are just me talking." Lee also described speech as the "out-going breath", and said, "life is in the in-going breath". "A poem," he said, "is a musical score for the dying breath." The following poem is from his fourth poetry book, Behind My Eyes (Norton, 2008), as are the poems referenced above.

Descended from Dreamers

And what did I learn, a child, on the Sabbath?
A father is bound to kill his favorite son,
and to his father's cherishing
the beloved answers Yes.

The rest of the week, I hid from my father,
grateful I was not prized. But how deserted
he looked, with no son who pleased him.

And what else did I learn?
That light is born of dark to usurp its ancient rank.
And when a pharaoh dreams of ears of wheat
or grazing cows, it means
he's seen the shapes of the oncoming years.

The rest of my life I wondered: Are there dreams
that help us to understand the past? Or

is any looking back a waste of time,
the whole of it a too finely woven
net of innumerable conditions,
causes, effects, countereffects, impossible
to read? Like rain on the surface of a pond.

Where's Joseph when you need him?
Did Jacob, his father, understand
the dream of the ladder? Or did his enduring
its mystery make him richer?


Why are you crying? my father asked
in my dream, in a which we faced each other,
knees touching, seated in a moving train.

He had recently died,
and I was wondering if my life would ever begin.

Looking out the window,
one of us witnessed what kept vanishing,
while the other watched what continually emerged.

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 19, 2013

Maura Eichner

Maura Eichner (1915—2009) grew up in New York City where she was educated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, whose order she joined at age eighteen. From 1943 to 1993 she taught in the English department of Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore. After her death the many tributes to Sister Maura painted her equally as being a beloved teacher, as well as a talented poet.

The first of the eight poetry collections she published in her lifetime, Initiate the Heart, appeared in 1946. In 2011, her selected poems After Silence became available.

Sister Maura Eichner once said in a New York Times interview, that a poet needs to write "with the humility of a craftsman and the ardor of a saint" and to be "flaming with the good tidings of the Incarnation."

What My Teachers Taught Me
I Try To Teach My Students

A bird in the hand
is not to be desired.
In writing, nothing
is too much trouble.
Culture is nourished, not
by fact, but by myth.
Continually think of those
who were truly great
who in their lives fought
for life, who wore
at their hearts, the fire’s
center. Feel the meanings
the words hide. Make routine
a stimulus. Remember
it can cease. Forge
hosannahs from doubt.
Hammer on doors with the heart.
All occasions invite God’s
mercies and all times
are his seasons.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Maura Eichner: 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 12, 2013

William Cowper

William Cowper (1731—1800) is celebrated as a poet and hymn writer. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called him "the best modern poet". Even though he was a significant influence on the romantics, and the author of many well-loved hymns, his life was troubled. When he was six years old his mother died, and he was sent away to a boarding school where he was neglected and bullied. Cowper struggled with mental illness throughout his life — both before and after he embraced Evangelicalism — experiencing four extreme bouts of depression during which he unsuccessfully attempted to take his own life.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning expresses well the paradox of Cowper's melancholy in her poem "Cowper's Grave", which begins, as follows, with struggle but concludes with a vision of hope.

---It is a place where poets crowned may feel
--------the heart's decaying —
---It is a place where happy saints may weep
--------amid their praying;
---Yet let the grief and humbleness as low as
--------silence languish!
---Earth surely now may give her calm to whom
--------she gave her anguish

---O poets! from a maniac's tongue was poured
--------the deathless singing!
---O Christians! at your cross of hope a hopeless
--------hand was clinging...

One of the most important friendships in his life was with John Newton — the former slave ship captain and writer of "Amazing Grace". Newton encouraged Cowper in his faith, and in the writing of hymns. In 1779 the two published Olney Hymns, which included many famous songs. Cowper experienced what he called his "fatal dream" which caused him to feel, during his darkest days, that the truth he believed in God's plan of salvation applied to everyone but himself.

In 1782 his first poetry collection — Poems by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple — was published and very well received. Read John Piper's excellent reflection on the tragic life of William Cowper, here

God Moves In A Mysterious Way

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
And works his sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purpose will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about William Cowper: 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 5, 2013

John Terpstra*

John Terpstra — poet, writer and cabinet maker — is the author of nine volumes of poetry, including Disarmament (which was short-listed for the Governor General's Award for poetry in 2004) and Two or Three Guitars, his selected poems. His newest collection, Brilliant Falls, has just appeared from Gaspereau Press — the publisher behind Terpstra's poetry and prose books since 2000.

Don McKay has said, “John Terpstra’s meditations have the soundness and snug fit of consummate carpentry, measure in language and in thought showing ‘the ultimate patience involved / in all things made.’ His writing is religious writing from the ground up, negotiating the difficult moral terrain between wildness and ‘development’ with an imaginative grasp reminiscent of Dennis Lee’s Civil Elegies. His are important books, with the toughness of maple, and the compassion of cedar.”

The following poem is from his new book — Brilliant Falls (2013).

Topographies of Easter

We are walking in the mild mid-winter
snow and thin ice, up Coldwater Creek,
its many tributaries, their steep ravines
tracing the blue and brown lines that wind
dizzily over the unfolded whiteness of our new
map, like staves for the crazy earth song we've been
sight-reading with our feet. We are singing the impossible
pitch of these slopes and cliffs, losing our place
in a landscape that lives to improvise, and the map
helps, but nothing written is in stone,
and it's always a revelation, stopping to
compare what's on paper with being there.

Because I did not for a moment doubt in childhood
the story of this rising, shall I, now
I am wiser? The world still has no
boundary. The lines still shiver and wave;
the impossible takes place; people are kind.
And these woods are still as real and magic
as when I first chased and followed any path
that found me, and just as fearful, and brown death
still haunts the green, discolouring all
in brilliant falls ground to sodden mulch,
from which, in deepest regions of the wood,
the bright stem still rises, witnessed by
those few who run like children home to tell us.

I'll say this: whom she supposed to be
the gardener sings and dances the contour lines
that are his body; this body that is broken
for us to wonder at the source, broken
into beauty that lures our present rambling
and leads us to the edge of this escarpment,
where the waters fall, where all our many streams
cascade and plunge, in curtain and ribbon, over
terrace and washboard
--------------------------(our terms for the living text:
earth's open veins)
----------------------and where we meet her,
who has run and sung and danced these trails
since the day she first saw
the massive rock dislodged
from the cliff-face
----------------------of any reasonable expectation.
And all these years removed from childhood
we still leap aboard, to feel if it shifts
of moves us, trusting and not trusting,
not willing and willing
--------------------------the rock to roll on.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Terpstra: 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: