Monday, June 26, 2023

Stephen Cushman

Stephen Cushman is a poet from Connecticut who moved south in 1982 to be a Professor of English at the University of Virginia, where he specializes in American literature.

He is the author of seven poetry books ― all published by Louisiana State University Press ― including his latest: Keep the Feast (2022). His other publications include two books of literary criticism, and three books about the American Civil War.

His publisher’s website says that Keep the Feast “sings in the tradition of the psalmists and devotional poets…” and that the title poem is structured after Psalm 119. Maurice Manning praised the book, saying, “Schooled equally in Thoreau and folklore, the poems in this book are nourishing in their humor, edifying in their precision, and enlivening all around.”

Atheism’s Easier

Abstain from staring too long at the sky.
Stick to screens, little keyboards;
block out birds with private earbuds;
never hear the wind breathe harder.
Watch TV. Always drive.
Try to avoid a night outside
in ladled moonlight, glowing broth.
Eschew solitude; cut back on silence;
call up someone just to gossip;
send lots of messages; read them, too.
Make sure not to spend a winter in the woods,
a month on a summit, a week in a desert,
time by the sea if it promotes thinking
how it’s acceptance without conditions
that makes me acceptable, and pretty soon,
though tough at first, atheism’s easier.

Posted with permission of the poet.

This post was suggested by Lisa Russ Spaar.

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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, June 19, 2023

W.R. Rodgers

W.R. Rodgers (1909―1969) is a Belfast poet, who served as a Presbyterian minister, before becoming a broadcaster with the BBC in London, at the invitation of Louis MacNeice. His first collection, Awake! and Other Poems was published in 1941, with its first edition being almost completely wiped out during the London Blitz. His early poetry was greatly influenced by W.H. Auden.

At the BBC he broadcast a number of significant programs on Irish writers. In 1966 he moved to California to become Writer-in-Residence at Pitzer College. It was in California that he died in 1969.

A booklet, put together by the BBC concludes with the following: “Rodgers’ ashes were returned to Belfast and after a memorial service in First Ballymacarret Presbyterian Church ― which he had attended as a boy ― he was buried in Loughgall. The Minister-poet’s life had come full circle. Seamus Heaney read a short selection of Rodgers’ poetry at the memorial service ― reflecting his importance for a new generation of northern writers.”

The following poem, demonstrates Rodgers’ war-era modernism. It first appeared in Horizon in 1943, and later (I believe) in his 1952 collection Europa and the Bull.

Christ Walking on the Water

Slowly, O so slowly, longing rose up
In the forenoon of his face, till only
A ringlet of fog lingered round his loins;
And fast he went down beaches all weeping
With weed, and waded out. Twelve tall waves
Sequent and equated, hollowed and followed.
O what a cockeyed sea he walked on,
What poke-ends of foam, what elbowings
And lugubrious looks, what ebullient
And contumacious musics. Always there were
Hills and holes, pills and poles, a wavy wall
And bucking ribbon caterpillaring past
With glossy ease. And often, as he walked,
The slow curtains of swell swung open and showed,
Miles and smiles away, the bottle-boat
Flung on one wavering frond of froth that fell
Knee-deep and heaved thigh-high. In his forward face
No cave of afterthought opened; to his ear
No bottom clamour climbed up; nothing blinked.
For he was the horizon, he the hub,
Both bone and flesh, finger and ring of all
This clangorous sea. Docile, at his toe's touch,
Each tottering dot stood roundaboutly calm
And jammed the following others fast as stone.
The ironical wave smoothed itself out
To meet him, and the mocking hollow
Hooped its back for his feet. A spine of light
Sniggered on the knobbly water, ahead.
But he like a lover, caught up,
Pushed past all wrigglings and remonstrances
And entered the rolling belly of the boat
That shuddered and lay still. And he lay there
Emptied of his errand, oozing still. Slowly
The misted mirror of his eyes grew dear
And cold, the bell of blood tolled lower,
And bright before his sight the ocean bared
And rolled its horrible bold eyeballs endlessly
In round rebuke. Looking over the edge
He shivered. Was this the way he had come?
Was that the one who came? The backward bowl
And all the bubble-pit that he had walked on
Burst like a plate into purposelessness.
All, all was gone, the fervour and the froth
Of confidence, and flat as water was
The sad and glassy round. Somewhere, then,
A tiny flute sounded, O so lonely.
A ring of birds rose up and wound away
Into nothingness. Beyond himself he saw
The settled steeples, and breathing beaches
Running with people. But he,
He was custodian to nothing now,
And boneless as an empty sleeve hung down.
Down from crowned noon to cambered evening
He fell, fell, from white to amber, till night
Slid over him like an eyelid. And he,
His knees drawn up, his head dropped deep,
Curled like a question-mark, asleep.

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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Zach Czaia

Zach Czaia is a Minneapolis poet with two collections available: Saint Paul Lives Here (in Minnesota) (2015, Wipf & Stock) and his recent Knucklehead: poems (2021, Nodin Press). He has been teaching high school English for several years.

In Knucklehead, Czaia speaks honestly of his life ― at one point looking back to his first year of teaching high school down in Belize, where the boys called him Dante since he was leading the group of seventeen-year-olds through Inferno ― at another time reflecting self-deprecatingly on himself as a husband ― at yet another being overwhelmed by the murder of George Floyd, in part, because it happened in his own backyard.

He hosts a new poetry podcast called “Open Your Hands” where he reads a contemporary poem, and interacts with it. One recent episode features Mark Jarman’s poem “Questions For Ecclesiastes.”

The following Zach Czaia poem first appeared in Ekstasis and is from Knucklehead.

Saint Paul Talks Strategy

So I went down to a potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. Whenever the vessel he was making went wrong, as clay is apt to do in a potter’s hand, he would remake it in a different shape, such as he thought suitable. — Jeremiah 18:3-4

It’s a go-to, I’ll admit it,
the potter at his wheel. I say,
“I’m the stuff in his hands, the clay—
a pot gone wrong, he remade it,
remade me, my life.” The prophet
knows more than I do. Hearts don’t change
that much from age to age, the range
of feelings the same now as then.
We’re all still waiting for the moment when
these hearts we carry don’t feel so strange.

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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Bruce Beasley

Bruce Beasley is the author of ten poetry collections, and has won several awards, including from University of Georgia Press, and Ohio State University Press. His books include The Corpse Flower: New and Selected Poems (2007, University of Washington Press), and his new collection Prayershreds (2023, Orison Books). In 1996 Charles Wright selected his book Summer Mystagogia to receive the Colorado Prize for Poetry.

Prayersheds is a fascinating collection, woven both from Beasley’s obsession with words, and our attempts at communication through words that we call prayer. His brain seems to continually be in a musical whirl of homonyms, homophones, etymologies, and nonce words combining familiar syllables for greater precision of meaning. Kathleen Norris insightfully compares his playfulness to that of E.E. Cummings. His word-wrestling doesn’t seem to be intended to distance himself from the reader, since many of the poems are quite accessible, however the poems sometimes take a path that require us to make our paradigm of what a poem should be more flexible. Rather than a book of prayer poems, this is more a book of poems about prayer.

The following poem first appeared as “The Responsive Amens” in the journal Subtropics, and it is from Prayershreds.



Shut your eyes―we were taught
in the Children’s Sermon
on how to pray―
shut your eyes tight until
you hear the pastor say Amen

but sometimes when I forgot to listen

for that end-signal word, sleep and prayer
would indistinguish themselves


Mandatory postrequisite
of creed
prerequisite for exit Amen

Vocally italicized Yes

that compelled and terminal

It means Verily, so be it, decidedly it’s true,
means Here is where we go
back to normal-talk

We make it

Please Lord let it end make it
mean Oh God
would would would
that it were so


To my body I will be as the
is to the flesh’s
Let us pray Let us pray Let us pray


Every amen
scissors the traced
outline of the prayer, ripping
the cut-out space of what we say to God

from the scrapped
silver silk of all we’d never say

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 Wipf & Stock.