Monday, October 18, 2021

Brad Davis*

Brad Davis is the author of three poetry collections: Opening King David (2011), Still Working It Out (2014), and his new book Trespassing On the Mount of Olives (Poiema/Cascade, 2021). Similar to how his first book consisted of poems in conversation with the Psalms, his new book’s poems are in conversation with the gospels. He has taught creative writing at the College of the Holy Cross, Eastern Connecticut State University, The Stony Brook School, and Pomfret School, where he served as school chaplain.

Marjorie Maddox has said of this new collection, “…Through persona poems and first-person narratives, the contemporary and biblical intersect with insight and humor. . . . What follows are spiritual and social examinations: ‘How to clear out a self from a self,’ how to protect the environment, how to face doubt and mortality, and, ultimately, how to ‘do whatever he tells you,’ even if that means, according to Davis, writing poems. Thank God for the latter.”

I am honoured to be the editor of the Poiema Poetry Series, and to have worked with Brad Davis on both Still Working It Out, and Trespassing On the Mount of Olives.

The following poem first appeared in Ekstasis, and is from his new poetry book.

The Generative Influence of Q on John’s Gospel

Luke 5:1–11

The fragment is on the mark.
Whoever wrote it down got it right,
and I should know.
From a boat offshore,
my younger self watched it happen:
the crowd pressing upon the Teacher
as he taught on the beach;
he commandeering Peter’s boat
and telling him to put out into deep water;
we rolling our eyes
when he instructed Peter to let down his net,
yet then having to help him land
that crazy haul of fish;
and finally back on the beach, the Teacher
announcing, From now on, you will catch men.
Ever since it was entrusted to me,
I have treasured this fragment,
holding it as first among the other fragments
I keep rolled in a scrap of leather.
And there’s a new reason I hold it dear.
Early last Sabbath, the rains dampening
my eagerness for eldership here in Ephesus,
I unrolled the fragment
to refresh my sense of commissioning—
you will catch men—
when suddenly the words
turned themselves inside out
and I became dizzy, like that day
in the upper room with the Spirit-fire.
Suddenly the crowd on the beach
listening to Jesus teach the word of God
became a crowd on a beach
listening to God.
I felt myself melt, as if into a glorious light.
Then later in the day words occurred to me—
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was—

along with a compulsion
to write them down
and follow them with other words.
And it was as though I were once again
following Jesus up some rocky path
between small towns on the way to Jerusalem.
I’m telling this to all of you
because the idea these words convey
will be called blasphemous.
I may suffer for having written them.
But I know and trust their source,
and when I’m done they must
be sent around to all the Teacher’s friends.
Which makes me nervous
how even they will receive them,
for none of the others have spoken as plainly
of the Teacher in this way—
as the great I AM. So I have awakened you,
the moon still bright above the city,
because I want you to sit with me and pray
as I write what I will write.
You know how tired I become by early afternoon,
and how I have needed your help
shepherding our little flock here in Ephesus.
Well, now I will need you even more
to help complete the new work. Please,
someone bring me my pen, ink, and parchment.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Brad Davis: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Elizabeth Barrett Browning*

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806―1861) is one of the nineteenth century’s greatest poets. She was outspoken against many abuses of human rights ― including against slavery, and the reliance upon slave labour on her family’s Jamaican sugar plantations. She also boldly expressed her Christian faith, and spoke out against issues such as child labour, even though these were not popular with many readers.

Her 11,000-line epic poem Aurora Leigh (1856) ― which is described as a novel in blank verse ― tells the story of the young woman, Aurora, who aspires to be a poet. One important focus of the story is the difficulty for women to have artistic ambitions, due to the restrictive expectations of women’s roles, and limited opportunities for education. Browning saw it as the most mature of her works. The critic John Ruskin called Aurora Leigh the greatest long poem of the nineteenth century.

The opening setting for Aurora Leigh is Florence, where Elizabeth and her husband Robert Browning primarily lived from 1846 until her death.

From Aurora Leigh ― Book VII

And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing's small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

*This is the fourth Kingdom Poets post about Elizabeth Barrett Browning: first post, second post, third post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Jacopone da Todi

Jacopone da Todi (ca. 1230―1306) is an Italian poet and Franciscan friar. The existence of hundreds of manuscripts of his Laud, point to the popularity of these poems. They were written in his Umbrian dialect of Italian. Along with many beautiful poems of rich faith, there are some expressing more extreme views, including glorifying the notion of madness for the sake of Christ. It is commonly thought that Jacopone also wrote the celebrated Latin poem “Stabat Mater Dolorosa,” although this is still in question.

He wrote many satirical poems, critical of corruption within the Catholic Church. He believed in the necessity of ascetic poverty for priests, and was critical of Pope Boniface VIII, whom he did not consider to be the legitimate pope. He was excommunicated and jailed, although later released and reinstated during his seventies by Pope Benedict XI.

Irish poet Pádraig J. Daly has just sent me a copy of the very enjoyable book, The God-Madness (2008, Dedalus Press), his translations from the Italian of several of Jacopone da Todi’s particularly devotional laud. The following poem is from this book.

Laud 82: The Siege of Love

LOVE O LOVE DIVINE,
Why have you laid siege to me?
You have fallen for me madly and cannot let me go.

From five directions you besiege me:
Through sight and hearing, taste and touch and smell.
If I emerge, I am caught: I cannot hide from you.

If I go out through my eyes, all I see is Love,
Depicted in every form, in every colour,
Reminding me over that I must live still with you.

If I go through the gate of hearing,
What does sound tell me? Sir, only of you.
I cannot exit here, for all I hear is bitter.

I cannot go through taste, since what I savour proclaims you:
Love, Love Divine! Love, Hungering Love,
You have hooked me that you might rule me!

If I go through the gate of smell,
Every creature has scent of you.
return wounded, tangled in every odour.

If I go through the gate they call touch,
I trace you in every creature;
It is madness, Love, to try to escape you.

Love, I try to flee,
Not willing to yield my heart:
But I have lost, and cannot find, myself.

If I see evil in anyone, fault or weakness,
You transform me into them and make my heart heavy.
Love I immeasurable, who is it you choose for loving?

Take me, Dead Christ; haul me from sea to sand,
Where I may grieve to see you so full of wounds,
And why it is you have been wounded? Only that I be healed.

Posted with permission of the translator.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Kim Hyunseung

Kim Hyunseung (1913―1975) is a Korean poet ― also known by the pen name Da Hyoung ― who was both influential as a poet and mentor. He was born in Pyongyang, North Korea, but moved with his family to Gwanju in South Korea during early childhood. He made his literary debut in 1934 with a poem in the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper.

He founded the literary journal, New Literature in 1951, and taught creative writing at Chosun University in the 1950s. He was a faithful Christian all his life.

A 40th anniversary memorial service was held in 2015 at Soongsil University featuring readings of Kim’s work and a musical setting of several of his poems.

The following was translated by Cho Young-Shil.

Autumn Prayer

In Autumn
let me pray . . .
Fill me with the humble mother tongue
bestowed on me at the fall of the leaves in time

In Autumn
let me love . . .
Embrace one only—
Plow this fertile
hour for the most beautiful fruit—

In Autumn
let me be solitary . . .
My soul,
like a raven who’s come through the sinuous waters
and the valley of lilies
to alight on a sapless bough

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Karol Wojtyla

Karol Wojtyla (1920―2005) is better known as Pope John Paul II. He was born in Poland and became the first non-Italian pope in 500 years. At the time of his death he had served in this role for 26 years.

When he was 21, Wojtyla co-founded a theatre and worked as an actor, but he gave this up to become a priest. Even so, he continued to write extensively, including poetry and plays. He also became a full university professor in philosophy and theology. He was particularly drawn to the writings of John of the Cross. His own poetry has been described as “…philosophically visionary, mystical and metaphysical.”

In her book, Wind From Heaven: John Paul II ― The Poet Who Became Pope, Monika Jablonska says, “Chronologically, Karol Wojtyla was first a writer, then a Catholic priest, and finally the pope…” She considers his writings to have contributed significantly to his selection as pope.

When his poems (including these two) first appeared in Polish journals Wojtyla was a parish priest and auxiliary bishop in Krakow, who wrote using the pseudonym Andrzej Jawien. These poems have been translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz, and are from The Place Within: The Poetry of Pope John Paul II (Random House).

Actor

So many grew round me, through me,
from my self, as it were.
I became a channel, unleashing a force
called man.
Did not the others crowding in, distort
the man that I am?
Being each of them, always imperfect,
myself to myself too near,
he who survives in me, can he ever
look at himself without fear?

Girl Disappointed in Love

With mercury we measure pain
as we measure the heat of bodies and air;
but this is not how to discover our limits―
you think you are the center of things.
If you could only grasp that you are not:
the center is He,
and He, too, finds no love―
why don't you see?
The human heart―what is it for?
Cosmic temperature. Heart. Mercury.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Margaret Avison*

Margaret Avison (1918—2007) is one of Canada’s most-celebrated poets. She received the Governor General’s Award twice ― for her collections Winter Sun (1960) and No Time (1990) ― was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1984, received the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2003 for Concrete and Wild Carrot, and the Leslie K. Tarr Award (2005) for outstanding contribution to Christian writing in Canada. Her archives are held at the University of Manitoba.

I had the privilege of contributing twice to presentations she gave at a writers’ conference near her home in downtown Toronto ― first in November of 2003 where I read a few of her poems for her (including the one in this post) as extended readings were becoming taxing for her ― and again one year later when I interviewed her. That interview (which I believe is the last she ever gave) appeared in Image, and was later included in her autobiography I Am Here And Not Not-There (2009, The Porcupine’s Quill).

The following poem is from her collection Concrete and Wild Carrot (2002, Brick Books). It also appears in my anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry (2016, Poiema/Cascade).

On a Maundy Thursday Walk

The Creator was
walking by the sea, the
Holy Book says. Finely-tuned
senses — flooded with
intense awareness — tested
a clear serene constancy.

Who can imagine it, sullied
as our senses are? Faulty as are even our
most excellent makings?

The perfection of
created Being, in the perfect
morning was born from the walker-by-the-sea's
imagination. At a word —
the hot smell of sunned rock, of
the sea, the sea, the sound of lapping, bird-calls,
the sifting sponginess of sand
under the sandals, delicate.
April light—all, at a word
had become this almost-
overwhelming loveliness.

Surely the exultation —
the Artist
Himself immersed in
His work, finding it flawless —
intensified the so soon
leaving (lifted out of
mortal life for good
forever).

That too eludes
us who disbelieve that we
also shall say goodbye to
trees and cherished friends and
sunsets and crunching snow
to travel off
into a solo death.

How much more, that
(suffering this
creation to go under
its Maker, and us all)
He, the Father of love, should stake it all
on a sufficient
indeed on an essential
pivot.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Margaret Avison: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, September 6, 2021

John the Apostle

John the Apostle (c. 6 AD―c. 100 AD) is one of Christ’s original twelve disciples, and the author of the Gospel of John, three New Testament epistles, and the Book of Revelation. In his gospel, John frequently refers to himself simply as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He and his brother James, the sons of Zebedee and Salome, were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, and were referred to by Jesus as "Boanerges" that is "sons of thunder". The two brothers, along with Peter, formed Christ’s inner circle.

John was the only one of the disciples who remained at the foot of the cross, along with the women, to witness the death of Jesus. He is also the only disciple, according to tradition, to die of natural causes ― each of the others (besides Judas) dying as martyrs. John had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos, as part of the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian, and there received his vision which he records in the Book of Revelation.

In the following opening to John’s Gospel (King James Version), the John mentioned is John the Baptist, not John the Apostle.

From The Gospel of John

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God.

2 The same was in the beginning with God.

3 All things were made by him; and without him
was not any thing made that was made.

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness
comprehended it not.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the
Light, that all men through him might believe.

8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness
of that Light.

9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man
that cometh into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him,
and the world knew him not.

11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power
to become the sons of God, even to them that believe
on his name:

13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,
(and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten
of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Walter Wangerin Jr.*

Walter Wangerin Jr. (1944―2021) is the author of more than 40 books, and served as a Lutheran pastor, and as a professor at Evansville University and later at Valparaiso University ― both in Indiana. His novel Book of the Dun Cow (1978) rocketed him into the spotlight, enabling him to write a wide variety of books across his career.

He has participated as a member of the Chrysostom Society, which includes (or included at various points) such fine writers as Madeleine L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Robert Siegel, John Leax, Doris Betts, Paul Willis, Jeanne Murray Walker, Eugene Peterson and Philip Yancey.

Yancey said in an August 9th memorial piece for Christianity Today, “As both a sermonizer and an artist, with graduate degrees in theology and English, Walt lived with the constant tension of how best to express themes of grace and the Cross. As a pastor, he found that story conveys truth most effectively and profoundly.”

Walter Wangerin Jr. lived with cancer for more than fifteen years, before dying on August 5th 2021. The following poem is from his collection On an Age-Old Anvil (Cascade Books, 2018).

Sacred

The wild geese lace the sky
flying north,
flying to the arctic
to lay and brood
the egg of creation.

The ancient Irishman
laying windrows with his scythe
looks up with a blue, rheumy eye.
He drops the cutting blade
and raises reverential hands.

Once it was a Dove,
the Holy Ghost descending.
Now it is the wild goose
flying.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Walter Wangerin Jr.: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Adélia Prado*

Adélia Prado is a leading Brazilian poet whose career was launched amid praise from modernist Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, who suggested that St. Francis is dictating verses to a housewife in Minas Gerais; he said, “Adélia is lyrical, biblical, existential; she makes poetry as naturally as nature makes weather.” She is the first member of her family to attend university, completing degrees in Philosophy and Religious Education from the University of Divinópolis.

Idra Novey has said, “There is never a day that can’t be improved with a few lines by Adélia Prado.” In 2014 Prado was honoured with The Griffin Lifetime Achievement Award.

The following poem was translated from Portuguese by Ellen Doré Watson and appears in her book, The Mystical Rose: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2014).

Guide

Poetry will save me.
I feel uneasy saying this, since only Jesus
is Saviour, as a man inscribed
(of his own free will)
on the back of the souvenir crucifix he brought home
from a pilgrimage to Congonhas.
Nevertheless, I repeat: Poetry will save me.
It's through poetry that I understand the passion
He had for us, dying on the cross.
Poetry will save me, as the purple of flowers
spilling over the fence
absolves the girl her ugly body.
In poetry the Virgin and the saints approve
my apocryphal way of understanding words
by their reverse, my decoding the town crier's message
by means of his hands and eyes.
Poetry will save me. I won't tell this to the four winds,
because I'm frightened of experts, excommunication,
afraid of shocking the fainthearted. But not of God.
What is poetry, if not His face touched
by the brutality of things?

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Adélia Prado: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, August 16, 2021

John Norris

John Norris (1657―1712) is an English philosopher, theologian, and metaphysical poet. An important concern for him was to try to prove the existence and immortality of the soul ― which I suspect are outside the range of things objectively provable. He was a philosophic opponent of John Locke, however, he and Locke corresponded with each other for many years. Locke even put in a good word for Norris, which led to his rectorship at Bemerton, Wiltshire. Eventually though, the two men quarrelled and expended considerable ink in refuting one another’s views.

Many of Norris’s best-known poems appeared in A Collection of Miscellanies (1687) which includes various writings; by 1730 a ninth edition was printed. One of his most popular books Christian Blessedness was published in 1690.

During the last twenty years of his life he wrote extensively, and lived the quiet life of a country parson in Bemerton, Wiltshire ― which had been the home of George Herbert.

Hymn to Darkness

Hail thou most sacred venerable thing!
What Muse is worthy thee to sing?
Thee, from whose pregnant universal womb
All things, even Light thy rival, first did come.
What dares he not attempt that sings of thee,
Thou first and greatest mystery?
Who can the secrets of thy essence tell?
Thou like the light of God art inaccessible.

Before great Love this monument did raise,
This ample theatre of praise.
Before the folding circles of the sky
Were tuned by Him who is all harmony.
Before the morning stars their hymn began,
Before the council held for man.
Before the birth of either Time or Place,
Thou reign'st unquestioned monarch in the empty space.

Thy native lot thou didst to Light resign,
But still half of the globe is thine.
Here with a quiet, and yet aweful hand,
Like the best emperors thou dost command.
To thee the stars above their brightness owe,
And mortals their repose below.
To thy protection Fear and Sorrow flee,
And those that weary are of light, find rest in thee.

Tho light and glory be th' Almighty's throne,
Darkness in His pavilion.
From that His radiant beauty, but from thee
He has His terror and His majesty.
Thus when He first proclaimed His sacred Law,
And would His rebel subjects awe,
Like princes on some great solemnity,
H' appeared in's robes of State, and clad Himself with thee.

The blest above do thy sweet umbrage prize,
When cloyed with light, they veil their eyes.
The vision of the Deity is made
More sweet and beatific by thy shade.
But we poor tenants of this orb below
Don't here thy excellencies know,
Till Death our understandings does improve,
And then our wiser ghosts thy silent night-walks love.

But thee I now admire, thee would I choose
For my religion, or my Muse.
'Tis hard to tell whether thy reverend shade
Has more good votaries or poets made,
From thy dark caves were inspirations given,
And from thick groves went vows to Heaven.
Hail then thou Muse's and Devotion's spring,
'Tis just we should adore, 'tis just we should thee sing.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Karen An-hwei Lee

Karen An-hwei Lee is an American poet, novelist and translator. Her first poetry collection, In Media Res (Sarabande Books, 2004), won the Norma Faber First Book Award and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize. She has translated the poetry and prose of twelfth century Chinese poet Li Qingzhao in her book Double Radiance (2018), and she has published two science-fiction novels. She is Provost and Professor of English at Wheaton College.

Lee’s fourth poetry book, Rose is a Verb: Neo-Georgics (2021), has just appeared from Wipf & Stock/Slant Books. Virgil’s poetic sequence Georgics is one of the inspirations behind these “Neo-Georgics” which reflect on relationships between the planet, the human, and the divine. Eric Pankey has said of this new collection, “ In the midst of such an innovative poetry, such a radical experimentation, what a surprise it is to find this kind and confident guide to take us on this journey. I cannot resist her pure and radiant voice, cannot help but follow where she leads.” Pankey's allusion to Dante is not lost on us.

The following poem first appeared in Christian Century.

Songs of Comfort

The friendly cellist with a big heart, a long-time resident
of a neighboring town where I grew up, who received
bouquets from the flower shop where I trimmed roses,
said his favorite thing to do after returning from a trip
was grocery shopping, savoring the essentials of small life
away from the airports and applause: buying milk, fruit
like blessings of solace: bread, tea, local honey in a jar
slow, lovely as sarabandes, those songs without words
aired in isolation through the pandemic. After his dose,
Yo-Yo Ma plays an impromptu concert for others waiting
in the fifteen-minute interval after the shots to monitor
allergic reactions. Masked, he lifts his cello out of its case,
perhaps his favorite one named Petunia, then tightens
the horsehair bow adroitly. The cello, with its mellow
notes of melancholy mingled with hope, fills the hall,
like the light at the end of the tunnel, the residents say.
Light at the end of the tunnel. I know it must be true
because I would never put this trite sentence in a poem
otherwise. God is waiting for us to pay attention:
God is waiting in the light.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Rowan Williams*

Rowan Williams is a Welsh poet who served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012. Prior to this appointment he was Bishop of Monmouth and Archbishop of Wales. His earlier career was that of an academic at both Oxford and Cambridge, and subsequently he has served (until last September) as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

His most-recent poetry collection is The Other Mountain (2014, Carcanet). His earlier books ― After Silent Centuries (1994) and Remembering Jerusalem (2001) ― were brought together in The Poems of Rowan Williams (2002) which also includes some newer poems. His New and Collected Poems will appear from Carcanet in November.

Door

The Lord is Always Liminal

A book falling open, the sliced wood
peels apart, jolting for a moment
over the clenched swollen muscle:
so that, as the leaves fall flat
side by side, what we read is the two
ragged eyes each side of a mirror,
where the wrinkles stream off sideways,
trail down the cheeks, awash with tears,
mucus, mascara. Split the wood
and I am there, says the unfamiliar
Lord, there where the book opens
with the leaves nailed to the wall
and the silent knot resolved by surgery
into a mask gaping and staring, reading
and being read. Split the wood; jolt
loose the cramp, the tumour, let the makeup run,
the sap drain, the door swing in the draught.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Rowan Williams: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Novica Tadić*

Novica Tadić (1949—2011) is a Serbian poet who lived most of his life in Belgrade. He has been honoured with several important Serbian literary awards such as the Laureat Nagrade.

Canadian composer Michael Matthews, who set six of Tadic’s poems to music, said, “Tadić depicts a dark and sardonic and unsettling Boschian world, yet within that world I find both innocence and lyricism, and a strangely expressive beauty…” His poems are frequently nightmarish, written in light of the atrocities the Balkan Peninsula experienced in the twentieth century.

His collection The Devil’s Pal (2008) is a book of poems focussed on death ― described in Serbia National Review as “fragments of a prayer.” Its final poem, “Prayer for a Not Shameful Death” says,
-------My Creator and my Lord, I have small tombs on the tips of my
-------fingers. This is where I have buried all my wishes. Only one more
-------is still alive: give me, Omnipotent One, a quick and easy death.
-------Send it to me as soon as possible, so I wouldn’t be a shame to my
-------angel. Praise You in heavens. Praise You who care of me too.


The following poem, translated by Charles Simic, is from the collection The Horse Has Six Legs (Graywolf Press).

Antipsalm

Disfigure me, Lord. Take pity on me.
Cover me with bumps. Reward me with boils.
In the fount of tears open a spring of pus mixed with blood.
Twist my mouth upside down. Give me a hump. Make me crooked.
Let moles burrow through my flesh. Let blood
circle my body. Let it be thus.
May all that breathes steal breath from me,
all that drinks quench its thirst in my cup.
Turn all vermin upon me.
Let my enemies gather around me
and rejoice, honoring You.

Disfigure me, Lord. Take pity on me.
Tie every guilt around my ankles.
Make me deaf with noise and delirium. Uphold me
above every tragedy.
Overpower me with dread and insomnia. Tear me up.
Open the seven seals, let out the seven beasts.
Let each one graze my monstrous brain.
Set upon me every evil, every suffering,
every misery. Every time you threaten,
point your finger at me. Thus, thus, my Lord.
Let my enemies gather around me
and rejoice, honoring You.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Novica Tadić: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Kenneth Steven

Kenneth Steven is a Scottish writer and broadcaster, known particularly for his poetry. He has also written novels, and books for children.

The Scottish landscape features prominently in his work, especially the rocky western islands. He has said, “I just know that faith and poetry have a kinship within my life.” The island of Iona, which he calls his “spiritual home,” looms large within his poetry; so much so that Paraclete Press has just released a collection that draws all of his related poems together ― Iona: New and Selected Poems (2021).

Together with his wife, photographer Kristina Howard, he leads retreats to Iona each October, exploring the Celtic Christian path.

Of Steven’s book Coracle, John F. Deane said, “Here is poetry of rare honesty, touching on the vital needs of the spirit in our age and manifesting a profound awareness of ― and concern for ― the world about us…”

Kenneth Steven’s BBC Radio 4 documentary on the island of St Kilda won a 2006 Sony Award. He has recently been commissioned to write and present a new series of programs on Scottish islands for BBC Radio 3’s The Essay.

Listen

Silence still lives in the spaces they have not paved;
out of reach of the traffic of an age
that does not sleep, that has forgotten God.
It is somewhere down back roads
where swallows ripple-curve the held air
among blossomings of trees,
where the wind does not need to be.
These are the places to which
one puts one’s ear like a child,
for listening is to be a child again ―
small enough to understand
what silence means.

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, July 12, 2021

William Cowper*

William Cowper (1731—1800) is an important English poet — considered the most-popular poet of his generation. In 1779, Cowper (pronounced Cooper) and his good friend the evangelical curate John Newton published the book Olney Hymns, which consisted primarily of Newton’s compositions, but also around 68 of Cowper’s, such as his well-known hymn, “Oh, For a Closer Walk with God.” His poetry collection Poems by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple appeared in 1782.

He suffered from mental illness throughout his adult life, which prevented him getting married on two occasions, and interfered with his being appointed to the House of Lords. In further bouts of madness and nightmares he came to believe that God had rejected him. When Mary Unwin, a widow to whom he had once been engaged, died in December 1796, Cowper sank into a despair from which he never recovered.

Sonnet to William Wilberforce, Esq.

Thy country, Wilberforce, with just disdain,
Hears thee, by cruel men and impious, called
Fanatic, for thy zeal to loose the enthralled
From exile, public sale, and slavery's chain.
Friend of the poor, the wronged, the fetter-galled,
Fear not lest labour such as thine be vain!
Thou hast achieved a part; hast gained the ear
Of Britain's senate to thy glorious cause;
Hope smiles, joy springs, and though cold caution pause
And weave delay, the better hour is near,
That shall remunerate thy toils severe
By peace for Afric, fenced with British laws.
Enjoy what thou hast won, esteem and love
From all the just on earth, and all the blest above!

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about William Cowper: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Carla Funk

Carla Funk is a Canadian poet of Mennonite heritage. who was raised in the central British Columbia community of Vanderhoof. She has taught in the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Arts, and served from 2006 to 2008 as the inaugural Poet Laureate for Victoria, British Columbia. The most-recent of her five poetry collections are Gloryland (2016) and Apologetic (2010) both from Turnstone Press.

She has recently found success as a memoir writer as well with her book Every Little Scrap and Wonder: A Small-Town Childhood (2019, Greystone Press). This will soon be followed by her new memoir Mennonite Valley Girl: A Wayward Coming Of Age, which will appear in September.

In an interview with Ann van Buren for the Katonah Poetry Series, Carla says that the heritage of growing up in an evangelical Mennonite church “was something I tried to shake off for a long time.” Her husband, conversely, when they married was an atheist with no experience of religion. After he became interested in exploring faith, she says, “Somewhere along the way we found that there was mystery in the world and that was part of the pursuit of faith and spirituality.”

Psalm from the Dollhouse

The hearth is cold. The mantle clock, unchiming.
Piano locked and lidded in the den.
Windows shuttered, slack-hinged, bent.
Through grey slats, a fence of splintered pine,
shadows where the ivy greened and climbed
towards the attic bedroom’s unmade bed.
Pitched in corners and under chairs, cobweb
dust, moth husk, old flies. Nothing left alive.
Reach down a hand to set things right in me.
Room by room, sweep through. Make true the crooked door.
Gather up the figure lying facedown on the floor,
and blow the ashes from her eyes. Let her see
the table’s feast. Let her drink. Let her eat
and then walk singing to the star-washed street.

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, June 28, 2021

Paul Murray

Paul Murray is a Dominican priest and poet. He grew up at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland, in a house facing the sea. He has lived in Rome since 1994, where he teaches the literature of the mystical tradition ― Catherine of Siena, and John of the Cross, as well as Thomas Aquinas ― at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (a.k.a. The Angelicum).

Murray has written more than a dozen books, besides his poetry titles. Two of his poetry books, The Absent Fountain, and These Black Stars (both published by Dedalus Press) have been combined into the single volume, Stones and Stars (2013). His new collection Moling in Meditation: A Psalter for an Early Irish Monk will be published this year from St. Augustine's Press.

The following poem is from the special issue of Poetry Ireland Review (#112 Name And Nature: ‘Who Do You Say That I Am’) which was edited by John F. Deane.

O Merciful One

When without hope, without aim,
we find ourselves turning and turning
on the outermost rim
of the circumference of our own lives ―

When our hearts are cold, our minds
no longer open to the conviction
of the unseen
or to the sources of that conviction ―

When words which were fiery
once, electrifying the mind and heart,
now seem but a mimicry of
flame, a dazzle of frozen sparks,

burn us with your fire of truth,
with your flame of love.

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, June 21, 2021

Marianne Moore*

Marianne Moore (1887―1972) is a Presbyterian whom the Poetry Foundation calls, “One of America’s foremost poets." In 1918 she moved to New York City, and became an assistant at the New York Public Library. Her poems had started appearing in journals, and then her first collection, Poems (1921), was put together and published by H.D. without her knowledge.

She was widely admired by other poets. In 1925 William Carlos Williams wrote an essay about her, saying that through her particular focus, “in looking at some apparently small object, one feels the swirl of great events.”

T.S. Eliot, wrote in the introduction to her Selected Poems (1935), “Living, the poet is carrying on that struggle for the maintenance of a living language, for the maintenance of its strength, its subtlety, for the preservation of quality of feeling, which must be kept up in every generation … Miss Moore is, I believe, one of those few who have done the language some service in my lifetime.”

And John Ashbery, expressed on the back of the Penguin edition of her Complete Poems (1967), “More than any modern poet, she gives us the feeling that life is softly exploding around us, within easy reach.”

The following poem arises from the opening of Psalm 1.

Blessed Is The Man

who does not sit in the seat of the scoffer―
-------the man who does not denigrate, depreciate, denunciate;
-------------who is not “characteristically intemperate,”
who does not “excuse, retreat, equivocate; and will be heard.”

(Ah, Giorgione! there are those who mongrelize
-------and those who heighten anything they touch; although it may
-------------------well be
-------------that if Giorgione’s self-portrait were not said to be he,
it might not take my fancy. Blessed the geniuses who know

that egomania is not a duty.)
-------“Diversity, controversy; tolerance”―that “citadel
-------------of learning” we have a fort that ought to armor us well.
Blessed is the man who “takes the risk of a decision”―asks

himself the question: “Would it solve the problem?
-------Is it right as I see it? Is it in the best interests of all?”
-------------Alas. Ulysses’s companions are now political―
living self-indulgently until the moral sense is drowned,

having lost all power of comparison,
-------thinking license emancipates one, “slaves who they themselves
-------------------have bound.”
-------------Brazen authors, downright soiled and downright spoiled, as
-------------------if sound
and exceptional, are the old quasi-modish counterfeit,

mitin-proofing conscience against character.
-------Affronted by “private lies and public shame,” blessed is the author
-------------who favors what the supercilious do not favor―
who will not comply. Blessed the unaccommodating man.

Blessed the man whose faith is different
-------from possessiveness―of a kind not framed by “things which
-------------------do appear”―
-------------who will not visualize defeat, too intent to cower;
whose illumined eye has seen the shaft that gilds the sultan’s tower.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Marianne Moore: 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, June 14, 2021

Gillian Allnutt

Gillian Allnutt is an English poet who was presented the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry by Queen Elizabeth II in February of 2017. She has published nine collections, including How the Bicycle Shone: New & Selected Poems (2007) and wake (2018) both from Bloodaxe Books.

In a recent review in the Church Times, Martyn Halsall said, “Gillian Allnutt’s spare, elegiac poems are like runes on bone; messages from another world” which is an apt description since her poems are often spare to the point of being obscure. He also said, “These are pilgrim poems, light-footed, and yet dedicated to spiritual quest; ambitious in their intensity; profound in their search for grace…”

The following poems are both from Lintel (2001, Bloodaxe Books).

Meditation

I said to my soul: be still and wait
where the light green sediment collects

at the lake’s near edge.
An old red lifebelt hangs in silence, sedge-

still. Still the long rope,
loosely gathered, loops

on its cast-iron post
like hope, at rest.

The Road Home

It is the road to God
that matters now, the ragged road, the wood.

And if you will, drop pebbles here and there
like Hansel, Gretel, right where

They’ll shine
in the wilful light of the moon.

You won’t be going back to the hut
where father, mother plot

the cul de sac of the world
in a field

that’s permanently full
of people

looking for a festival
of literature, a fairy tale,

a feathered
nest of brothers, sisters. Would

that first world, bared now to the word
God, wade

with you, through wood, into the weald and weather
of the stars?

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, June 7, 2021

Joanne Epp*

Joanne Epp has just had her second poetry collection launched by Turnstone Books, which is now being celebrated with a “blog tour” ― which is their creative take on advancing a new book during our current pandemic! The book is Cattail Skyline and is her follow-up to her earlier collection Eigenheim.

The landscape captured in these pages is predominantly the Saskatchewan of her youth, both remembered and revisited: a land of railways, buffalo rubbing stones, an ancestral cemetery, pin cherries, chokecherries, raspberries, riverbanks, treaty territory, wild strawberries, cranberries, bunchberries, saskatoon berries, and cattails. There’s also one section about the author’s trip to Cambodia in 1994 with the Mennonite Central Committee.

Epp is a Winnipeg poet who consistently speaks of her perspective on the artform. “I approach poetry as a way of expressing and giving shape to what I encounter in the world,” she said in recent interview with Poetry In Voice. “[W]hile a love of language is essential, poetry also has to come out of a love for the world.”

She serves as assistant organist at St. Margaret's Anglican Church in Winnipeg. The following poem is from Cattail Skyline.

Image in a country church

Horse Lake, Saskatchewan

Sunday, white clapboard unbearably bright.
People shading eyes as they greet
and pass inside to hear the preacher read
the Revelation of John: a lamb standing
as though it had been slain
—the paradox
we can hardly speak, the reason
we’ve come and sung, reminded again
how mystery resides in that harsh death,
the rising after, its unnerving glory. It’s here
in this small clearing—that glory, declared
in morning rays through arched windows,
shining the varnished pews;
in brightness flashing out from everything:
white doors, chrome on cars, flecks of mica
in the gravelled yard. Each waxy needle on spruce,
each trembling aspen leaf, each face.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Joanne Epp: 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, May 31, 2021

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874―1942) is a Canadian author, particularly famous for her 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, and its sequels. Much of her fiction is set in Prince Edward Island ― which has become a significant focus for the island’s tourism. She went on to publish 20 novels, hundreds of short stories, and more than 500 poems. As is often the case, as her fiction increased in popularity, her poetry writing decreased.

As a poet she was greatly influenced by the Romantics, and Lord Tennyson. Her most ambitious poem “The Watchman” is a dramatic monologue reminiscent of Robert Browning, which tells the story of a Roman soldier, Maximus, who witnessed the resurrection of Christ.

The following poem first appeared in The Christian Advocate on October 1st 1908, and is from The Watchman and Other Poems (1916). John Ferns, an English professor at McMaster University, wrote in 1986 about this poem, “Perhaps it is the Biblical subject of drought or the Christian idea of rebirth that provokes the increasing use of religious language as the poem proceeds.”

After Drought

Last night all through the darkling hours we heard
The voices of the rain,
And every languid pulse in nature stirred
Responsive to the strain;
The morning brought a breath of strong sweet air
From shadowy pinelands blown,
And over field and upland everywhere
A newborn greenness shone.

The saintly meadow lilies offer up
Their white hearts to the sun,
And every wildwood blossom lifts its cup
With incense overrun;
The brood whose voice was silent yestereve
Now sings its old refrain,
And all the world is grateful to receive
The blessing of the rain.

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, May 24, 2021

Adam Zagajewski*

Adam Zagajewski (1945―2021) is one of Poland’s most celebrated poets. He was born in Lvov, Poland, but in the wake of WWII his family was forced to move west as territories shifted and Lvov became part of the Ukraine. His early writing was protest poetry, which led to his works being banned by Poland’s communist leaders in 1975. Later his focus transitioned to “night, dreams, history and time, infinity and eternity, silence and death.” He died on March 21st in Krakow, Poland.

Although he identified himself as a Catholic ― “a failed Catholic” ― he was not at home in the Catholic Church in Poland, which he called a disaster, where the majority of bishops are not even Christian, and where sermons bring political messages. In an interview with Catholic Herald last year he said:
----------But if you ask me what use can my readers make out of the
----------religious accent of my poems, well, it is not my business
----------to comment on this. If you are a serious poet you embark
----------on a search and you never know what you find at the end.
----------The idea of the search is for me the capital element in my
----------work. It is very hard to define oneself if the substance of
----------what you do is the quest, because it goes towards something
----------that you can’t define, something that does not have a strong
----------shape. Search is in searching, not in strong definitions.

The following poem is from Unseen Hand (2014, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) translated by Clare Cavanagh.

First Communion

Gliwice, Piramowicz Street

Dark gray houses and triangular bay windows,
near a little park with German statues
(pseudo-baroque from the thirties).
Mrs. Kolmer took my picture there
right after my First Communion
against the backdrop of a freshly laundered sheet:
I'm that chubby child. Earnest,
upright, candle in hand.
I'm a beginning Catholic,
who struggles to tell good from evil,
but doesn't know what divides them,
especially at dawn and dusk, when
for a long moment the light wavers.
The poplar leaves in the garden are black,
the light is black, the homes are black,
the air's transparent, only the sheet is white.
Color photos will come later
to mute the contrasts and perhaps permit
an ordinary life, splendid holidays,
even a second communion.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Adam Zagajewski: 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, May 17, 2021

Bedřich Bridel

Bedřich Bridel (1619―1680) is a Czech baroque writer, poet, and missionary. He was educated in Prague, joined the Jesuit order in 1637, was ordained a priest around 1650, and worked in the Jesuit printing office. Besides his own original works, which were for religious education, Bridel also translated German and Latin texts into Czech. He spent the last twenty years of his life in mission work in Bohemia. He died of the plague in 1680.

The following poem was translated into English, for a forthcoming Kingdom Poets anthology, by Rhina P. Espaillat (with Henry R. Cooper Jr.). The anthology is edited by Burl Horniachek and will appear as part of the Poiema Poetry Series (Cascade Books). This is the first translation of this poem into English.

What Is God? Man?

Three-cornered and three-sided, you
are both triangular and round;
A spherical abyss far too
immeasurably deep to sound;
you are justice, but with no
plumb line, cord, or bounden duty.
Ageless, unadorned you go,
clad in wholly perfect beauty.

Flawless beauty that you are,
and happy beyond every joy,
greater than all love by far,
your purity without alloy
is too clean for time to touch you,
age deface you, force defy,
treasure own you, or death clutch you:
eternal, you can never die.

You are what perfect truth there is.
Since only perfect things can be,
all things, and man, as things are his,
wants to be yours eternally.
You are earth, but still unploughed;
you are the ocean, but still dry,
where no storm blows wild and loud.
You are god, most great, most high.

The unexplained is your disguise:
the unkindled, smokeless flame;
wind—the air on which you rise;
the sea without its seashore frame;
a valley waiting for its hill;
the sun without its morning gleam
or sunset glow; and strangely still,
that flowless interrupted stream.

You are roses with no thorn;
sourceless well; beginning; ending;
all as it was when newly born;
flawless love that needs no mending;
wine unfermented; grapes unpressed;
book without words that makes no sound;
sound not yet voice, still unaddressed;
you everywhere, as yet unfound.

Grove are you, but with no shade;
pure gold mined without the tailing;
beauty no cosmetic made;
glorious throne behind its veiling;
heaven by the light of day;
sea without the waves grown wild;
health that keeps disease away;
laughter, but serene and mild.

You’re a garden with no hedge;
speech without tongue; and without rind
you are fruit; you are the edge
of the abyss no sight can find,
where I drown, dark in that light,
under the homeland that I love:
wholly immersed, and out of sight,
far from all that lives above.

Now I ask, What is my god?
Everything here confuses me!
I wander; everything seems odd.
I’m baffled by the deity.
I can’t make sense of god: however
I prod my mind to comprehend,
however hard I try, I never
pursue god’s nature to the end.

What kind of night awaits me now,
I’m wondering, untangling such
imponderable thoughts as how
great god is? And more—so much!
I’m purified enough to think
such thoughts, to laugh like this, and be
ready to drown in them, and sink
while pondering divinity!

Posted with permission of the translators.

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, May 10, 2021

Laura Reece Hogan

Laura Reece Hogan is a California poet who is a professed Third Order Carmelite. Her chapbook O Garden-Dweller appeared from Finishing Line Press in 2017. I referred to that book as “a twenty-first century Song of Songs,” and said, “She carries us down the path to her desired destination with lovely alliteration and internal rhyme. The aptness of her word-choice delights again and again, and the subtlety of her images encourages us to dwell there.”

She is one of the poets who is included in my anthology In A Strange Land: Introducing Ten Kingdom Poets (2019, Poiema/Cascade). Her first full-length poetry collection Litany of Flights is the first place winner of the inaugural Paraclete Poetry Prize competition. One of the poems from her new book first appeared in the web journal Poems For Ephesians.

The poetry in this new collection is conspicuously a poetry of place. It's populated with scrub jays, and glows with the ominous approach of California wild fires. The following poem is also from Litany of Flights (2020, Paraclete Press).

Fusion

After Salvador Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross

1.
Uncrucified arms a sculpted triangle,
Not-thorns a crown of chestnut hair,
Splendid. The light of the world, head

bowed, radiates. The pigments flare,
suffuse gold fire:
he cannot be dimmed.

2.
John of the Cross, the friar or fire,
in love with the living flame of love
prayed to be a bonfire

of this Light. Unreservedly he selects
this angle, a wick of a man longing
for his lightning strike.

3.
In Dali’s cosmic dream, Christ
blazes as the nucleus of the universe,
a moment which bears all,

scintillating atoms caught under
the brush, a death reversed by creator.
Gaze on him, resplendent, join

these your atoms to his, and ignite.

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, May 3, 2021

William Stafford*

William Stafford (1914 —1993) is a prolific American poet whose first poetry collection appeared when he was 46 years old. Two years later his Traveling Through the Dark (1962) won the National Book Award. His poetry is characterized by a simple accessible style ― understated, restrained, and unforced. His work often investigates the relationship between humanity and the natural world.

He was a disciplined writer who didn’t think anyone need experience writer’s block. He said, “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.”

He was a pacifist who was part of the small Christian denomination the Church of the Brethren. One of his collections Scripture of Leaves was published through the Brethren, and although he taught for most of his career at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon, he did teach for one year at their Indiana school, Manchester College.

Assurance

You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightning before it says
its names― and then the clouds' wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,
long aisles― you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head―
that's what the silence meant: you're not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about William Stafford : 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, April 26, 2021

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens (1812―1870) is perhaps the 19th century’s best-known novelist. His most celebrated books include: Oliver Twist (1839), A Christmas Carol (1843), David Copperfield (1850), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1861). He began as a journalist, and took the chance of having his first novel published serially; the success of The Pickwick Papers established his career, and led to all of his novels first appearing in this way.

Dickens in the 1840s wrote The Life of Our Lord, a book to express his faith to his children. In it he expressed his disapproval of Roman Catholicism, 19th century evangelicalism, and populist fads of spiritualism ― all of which he saw as deviations from true Christian teaching. Unfortunately, he was better at critiquing others, than himself. In 1857 he met a young actress with whom he had an affair. He hushed his critics by taking control of the periodicals he was associated with.

Despite his inconsistency, he used his influence to draw attention to the important issues of his day. He was greatly concerned with issues of poverty and exploitation, speaking out against capital punishment, and championing better living and working conditions for the poor, sanitation, housing, education, workplace safety, and trade unions.

The following poem expresses Dickens’ understanding of the gospel.

A Child’s Hymn

Hear my prayer, O heavenly Father,
Ere I lay me down to sleep;
Bid Thy angels, pure and holy,
Round my bed their vigil keep.

My sins are heavy, but Thy mercy
Far outweighs them, every one;
Down before Thy cross I cast them,
Trusting in Thy help alone.

Keep me through this night of peril
Underneath its boundless shade;
Take me to Thy rest, I pray Thee,
When my pilgrimage is made.

None shall measure out Thy patience
By the span of human thought;
None shall bound the tender mercies
Which Thy Holy Son has bought.

Pardon all my past transgressions,
Give me strength for days to come;
Guide and guard me with Thy blessing
Till Thy angels bid me home.

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 19, 2021

Marguerite de Navarre

Marguerite de Navarre (1492―1549) is an outstanding figure of the French Renaissance. She was a French princess and the older sister of the French king Francis I. She was both an advocate for the arts, and for reform in the Catholic Church. Her brother was being held prisoner in Spain after having been captured during a battle in Italy. In 1525, through her diplomatic skill she managed to free him. In 1526, she married Henry II of Navarre (a small territory along what is now the border between France and Spain).

She was a prolific writer of poetry, plays and stories ― including Heptameron (a collection of short stories), the long poem Mirror of the Sinful Soul (which was translated into English by eleven-year-old princess Elizabeth ― later Elizabeth I), and The Triumph of the Lamb.

She was significantly influenced by Martin Luther, and had his writings and those of other reformers translated into French. Her intention, like Luther’s original intension, was to promote reform within the Catholic Church. Her own writing ― expressing her belief that eternal salvation was only attainable through repentance and sincere faith rather than through following the actions dictated by the Catholic Church ― was condemned by the Faculty of Theology of the University of Paris. Although her book Mirror of the Sinful Soul was judged to be heretical, King Francis intervened so it was no longer blacklisted; the faculty censors, however, managed to get her printer hanged. Because her religious writings were controversial, many only circulated in manuscript form within her lifetime.

Marguerite de Navarre was also a generous patron of the arts, including to François Rabelais and Leonardo da Vinci.

Luther’s expression of the All and the Naught ― “All” being the Creator and “Naught” the faithful Christian aware of his sins and of his being unworthy of his grace ― appear in the following poem.

The Rapture of Divine Love

Perfect love — would that it were known!
bestows a pleasure that can never end,
and every breath of bitterness is blown.
Perfect love, it is the eternal God,
which sheds abroad in hearts its charity
and raises up the whole man from the sod.
He who by love is brought to utter naught
loves only that which is naught
and thereby to wholeness he is brought.
I did not know, I would not have believed,
that love by dying can increase.
But now I know, for now I have received.

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 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.