Monday, June 24, 2024

Luci Shaw*

Luci Shaw is 95 years old, and a trail-blazer for generations of Christian poets who value her accomplishments as a model for how to walk the precarious path of faith and art. Her seventeenth poetry collection Reversing Entropy appeared from Paraclete Press this spring. She says in the Prologue,

-----“Our universe, and the systems within it, constantly shift from
-----their created states of order towards disorder, or chaos. The
-----second law of thermodynamics asserts that entropy, or disorder,
-----always increases with time. Creative human activities such as art,
-----architecture, music, story, or film are human efforts to halt and
-----reverse this loss of meaning…. [Poems] reverse entropy because
-----they are moving from a state of disorder (all the random ideas,
-----words,and phrases available to the writer) into an orderly form
-----designed by the writer to create meaningful images and concepts
-----in the reader’s mind….This transfer of images, concepts, and ideas
-----into the mind of a reader is the task of poetry and the calling of
-----the poet. Just as a composer of music gathers rhythms, notes,
-----melodies, or harmony, organizing them into fugues or sonatas
-----or concertos, so poets work and write to discover ways of
-----arranging their responses to the world in words that introduce
-----meaning and beauty in the mind of the reader. Which is what I’ve
-----been trying to do for most of my life."

The following poem is from Reversing Entropy (2024, Iron Pen/Paraclete).


Aging haunts, will hunt us all, a predator,
rapacious, ravenous, toothed with sharp anxieties.
The scars of old and unhealed wounds hide
in the folds of soul skin. Blood stains the ground.
Failures, regrets have left torn tissues,
ragged blemishes and a crimson trail
across the room. You feel it wet, sticky, seeping
between your bare toes. In the thick night,
You wrestle with dreams, contend with confusion.

How good it would be if the anxiety of aging,
bulky and useless, were a piece of furniture.
You might remove it from the living room and
store it somewhere dark, out of sight—
in the basement, perhaps, locked behind
the cellar door. Then you could climb back up to
the clean kitchen, a room predictable enough
to allay suspicion. You’d open a window,
maybe prepare a simple meal. Pray.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the fourth Kingdom Poets post about Luci Shaw: 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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, June 17, 2024


Yared (505—571) is an Ethiopian composer, hymn writer, and priest, who was a leader in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which venerates him as a saint.

He is renowned for having established his own system of musical notation, which predates the familiar European system, and is still in use today.

One of the important festivals within the Ethiopian Church is Meskel, where they celebrate the reputed discovery of the true cross by Queen Helena, the mother of Constantine. The story goes that while she was seeking for the Holy Sepulchre, she prayed for assistance, and was directed to where the cross was buried by the smoke from a fire. What interests me most here, is not the artifact’s authenticity, but the extent to which Yared and his contemporaries valued it, because they celebrated the work Christ did on the cross.

The following selection from Yared’s “The Finding of the True Cross” was translated from the Ge’ez by Burl Horniachek with Ralph Lee, and appears in Burl Horniachek’s anthology, To Heaven’s Rim: The Kingdom Poets Book of World Christian Poetry (2023, Poiema/Cascade).

From The Finding of the True Cross

Look and proclaim, how good
it is that men have obtained
this exalted wood.
Brief gold was not the currency
----to purchase back man’s soul,
--------but with his precious blood
------------he chose to pay that toll.
The cross shines out.
The cross shines out and is so bright
that earthly kings do trail its light;
the thing that seemed so dark and damp
is now the world’s great guiding lamp.
The cross’s feast takes place
----both high in heaven’s face
and low upon the earth.
----We know its worth,
prize and praise it, with no dearth
----of trust. It is man’s rebirth
and help in need.

Posted with permission of Burl Horniachek.

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 10, 2024

Samuel Taylor Coleridge*

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772—1834) is a significant figure in the Romantic Movement in English poetry — which he and William Wordsworth established. Besides the poetry he is known for, he wrote literary criticism, philosophy and theology.

Malcolm Guite writes in his biography Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge (2017, Hodder & Stoughton) that “Prayer is not only the turning point, but the very subject of The Ancient Mariner, and any reader of Coleridge’s letters and notebooks will be struck by the frequency, range and depth of the prayers that weave through his writing.”

The following poem was sent in a letter to his friend and brother-in-law Robert Southey, in September of 1803, as Coleridge had just walked an incredible 263 miles in eight days in his efforts to defeat his addiction to opium. The poem was first published in Christabel (1816). Malcolm Guite emphasizes, “Once again, like so much of The Mariner, [this] poem is focused on prayer.” Listen to Guite reading The Pains of Sleep, here, where you'll also find his commentary.

The Pains of Sleep

Ere on my bed my limbs I lay,
It hath not been my use to pray
With moving lips or bended knees;
But silently, by slow degrees,
My spirit I to Love compose,
In humble trust mine eye-lids close,
With reverential resignation
No wish conceived, no thought exprest,
Only a sense of supplication;
A sense o’er all my soul imprest
That I am weak, yet not unblest,
Since in me, round me, every where
Eternal strength and Wisdom are.

But yester-night I prayed aloud
In anguish and in agony,
Up-starting from the fiendish crowd
Of shapes and thoughts that tortured me:
A lurid light, a trampling throng,
Sense of intolerable wrong,
And whom I scorned, those only strong!
Thirst of revenge, the powerless will
Still baffled, and yet burning still!
Desire with loathing strangely mixed
On wild or hateful objects fixed.
Fantastic passions! maddening brawl!
And shame and terror over all!
Deeds to be hid which were not hid,
Which all confused I could not know
Whether I suffered, or I did:
For all seemed guilt, remorse or woe,
My own or others still the same
Life-stifling fear, soul-stifling shame.

So two nights passed: the night’s dismay
Saddened and stunned the coming day.
Sleep, the wide blessing, seemed to me
Distemper’s worst calamity.
The third night, when my own loud scream
Had waked me from the fiendish dream,
O’ercome with sufferings strange and wild,
I wept as I had been a child;
And having thus by tears subdued
My anguish to a milder mood,
Such punishments, I said, were due
To natures deepliest stained with sin,
For aye entempesting anew
The unfathomable hell within,
The horror of their deeds to view,
To know and loathe, yet wish and do!
Such griefs with such men well agree,
But wherefore, wherefore fall on me?
To be loved is all I need,
And whom I love, I love indeed.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Samuel Taylor Coleridge: 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 Wipf & Stock.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Irina Ratushinskaya

Irina Ratushinskaya (1954—2017) is a Russian poet who in 1983 was accused of “Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda in poetic form.” Her poetry has far more to do with her observations of the natural world than with politics, but its repression ironically brought international attention to human rights violations by the Soviet regime.

It is uncertain why she was singled out, being merely a primary school teacher who abhorred the government-sanctioned atheism, and sought to influence her students towards her Christian faith.

She spent three years in a forced-labour camp “where she worked to make gloves for Soviet workmen and was fed little more than bread and rotten fish broth”. Her poems were written on cigarette papers and smuggled out of the camp to her husband, who arranged for publication in the West. She was freed in 1986 on eve of the Reykjavik summit between the US president Ronald Reagan and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Her collection Beyond the Limit appeared in 1987, and her memoir, Grey Is the Colour of Hope in 1988.

Joseph Brodsky said — “a crown of thorns on the head of a bard has a way of turning into a laurel,” and he wrote of her as “a remarkably genuine poet.” She and her husband returned to Russia in 1998, to raise their sons as Russians. She died of cancer in 2017.

Somewhere a pendulum moves

Somewhere a pendulum moves, and softly a cuckoo is weeping,
Why should she count the hours, and not the long years for us.
And in the abandoned house, the old woman opens the shutters,
At the appropriate time, and with the same care as before.

Somewhere in the gloom a lamp is burning, the knitting continues.
And the rare letters are kept, and news is awaited.
And she, as is her custom, grieves only with her eyes.
And needlessly straightens the portraits of the children who have grown.

And what is all this for, And who before her is not sinful?
And over whom, departing, did she not make the sign of the cross?
But the one that she loves, may be comforted, saved.
And the one whom she awaits, may he find her on his return.

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.