Monday, September 29, 2014

Dunstan Thompson

Dunstan Thompson (1918—1975) is an American poet who settled in England after WWII. At Harvard he gained much towards his goal of being a writer, but not through academic pursuits. He was befriended by Conrad Aiken, who introduced him to T.S. Eliot. Another early mentor was Oscar Williams. Early in his career Thompson published Poems (1943, Simon & Schuster) followed by Lament for the Sleepwalker (1947, Dodd Mead).

In New York before the war, and later in London, Thompson lived a life of promiscuous homosexuality. After converting to Christian faith he completely transformed his lifestyle. It has been suggested that his subsequent inability to attract the attention of publishers may be in part due to his inclusion of religious poems in his manuscripts, and because his new work lacked the incoherence some "avant-garde" publishers were looking for.

Despite this discrepancy between the publishing success of his earlier and later work, Dunstan Thompson wished to be remembered for the poetry he wrote after 1950—even giving instructions for his earlier books to not be reprinted. Posthumously, his final three poetry collections were published as Dunstan Thompson, Poems, 1950—1974. The way he saw his early verse is expressed well in the following poem.

Early Poems

These are the ruins of a desperate day.
Among cold jagged stones
The serpents used to sway;
But now their empty skins, dull diamond tones,
Litter the lifeless towers.
The secret grief-enveloped complex rooms
A moment gleam with truth;
For, while the spinning spider winds
His way among the poisoned blooms
That loiter through the arches,
The dank deceitful foliage still reminds
The curious traveller: ‘Here is sadness
And the waste of youth.’

Jesu

However alone
There is always One
Who cares.
Hence, prayers.
At the end time
Will seem
As dreamily done
As this rhyme.
Not alone
But forever with Him.
Happy, I suppose
It is not too much to say.
So for all those
Also alone
Let us pray.
Jesu,
By Thy agony
Remember me,
Alone,
Longing to belong
To You.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, September 22, 2014

George Whipple*

George Whipple (1927—2014), a well-respected Canadian poet, has died at age 87. His most-recent book is the third and final installment in a series of New and Selected Poems published by Penumbra Press: The Language Tree in Winter (2013). His first poetry collection Life Cycle appeared in 1984.

Whipple was born in St. John, New Brunswick, grew up in Toronto, and lived for the past 29 years in Burnaby, British Columbia. According to the Globe & Mail his papers and other works are archived in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.

He sent me a hand-written card in 2009—never one to use e-mail—where he wrote, "Art is long, life is short." (God bless you, George.) The following poem is from his book The Colour of Memory.

Churches

One of my favourite churches
is Strathcona Gardens
with its long grape arbour nave,
its baptismal font an oval cistern where
water undulates the sky's
wind-rippled dome supported by
four stoic evergreens;
the censers a few lilac blooms
scenting the warm air with cool perfumes;
the lulling homily the buzz of bees,
my heart the altar, and my eyes
two shining windows gathering the light
reflected from rose bushes everywhere;
and in the choir loft of apple boughs
the last light evensonged of orisons of birds.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about George Whipple: first post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, September 15, 2014

James McAuley

James McAuley (1917—1976) is an Australian poet, who was also known as a right-wing intellectual. Before he became known as a poet in his own right, he jointly concocted "The Ern Malley Hoax" (1944) with his friend Harold Stewart. Their idea was to expose what they considered to be shallowness in modernist poetry. McAuley and Stewart prepared poems in the modernist style "using partly random composition methods", and submitted them to the journal Angry Penguins, which quickly accepted and published them. Although the influence of modernism in Australian verse slowed in the aftermath of the hoax, ironically, interest in the Ern Malley poems continues to this day and even overshadows McAuley's own critical legacy.

McAuley's first collection Under Aldebaren appeared in 1946. By 1955 he was selected to be editor of the influential Australian journal Quadrant, and in 1961 he became Chair of English at the University of Tasmania. His Collected Poems (1971) was joint winner of the Grace Leven Prize.

Credo

That each thing is a word
Requiring us to speak it;
From the ant to the quasar,
From clouds to ocean floor—

The meaning not ours, but found
In the mind deeply submissive
To the grammar of existence,
The syntax of the real;

So that alien is changed
To human, thing into thinking:
For the world's bare tokens
We pay golden coin,

Stamped with the king's image;
And poems are prophecy
Of a new heaven and earth,
A rumour of resurrection.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Edwin Thumboo

Edwin Thumboo is a pioneer of English language poetry in Singapore. His poetry books include: Rib of Earth (1956) Gods Can Die (1977) and A Third Map (1993). He has edited many anthologies, promoting the poetry of Singapore and Malaysia. From 1970 to 1993 he taught at the National University of Singapore, heading the Department of English Language and Literature for 16 years.

Another Singapore poet, Aaron Lee, calls Thumboo, "our unofficial poet laureate"—a title others have used as well due to the nationalism in his writing. W.B. Yeats is a significant influence on Thumboo's poetry, such as in his well-known poem "Ulysses by the Merlion", concerning Singapore's break from colonialism, which he sees as mirroring Ireland's nationalistic struggles.

The Poetry Reader

Bring life and living, untidiness and order,
Carbuncles and pearls, dark half-closed doors,
To image, metaphor; lingual calm; a grammar’s
Entity, whose first act lifts the id into super self.

Let burnished, blazing power renew dim faces;
Fire those memories that keep you standing. Nerves
Power roots tingling sap, as discourse smoothes
Its rough moments into damask; filigree syllables.

You know, afresh, why in the very beginning there
Was the Word. So move in the flow, the curving tide,
The drift and wash. So primed for another verbal icon,
While by the waters of the Seine, more poems gather.

--------------I read them; they read me.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Scott Cairns*

Scott Cairns is the 2014 winner of the Denise Levertov Prize. Earlier this year his seventh poetry book, Idiot Psalms, was published by Paraclete Press. He is the Catherine Paine Middlebush Chair in English at the University of Missouri. Every June, on the Greek island of Thasos he directs an annual 4-week writing workshop. Newly available is Parable—a CD of Scott Cairns reading his poetry—recorded by Roy Salmond in Vancouver. Cairns' newly updated spiritual memoir—now titled Slow Pilgrim—will be released by Wipf & Stock this year as well.

B.H. Fairchild has said that Cairns "is steadily making himself indispensable to the richness and breadth of contemporary poetry, an ascent confirmed both beautifully and movingly in Idiot Psalms."

The following poem first appeared in Poetry.

Idiot Psalm 3
—a psalm of Isaak, whispered mid the Philistines, beneath the breath

Master both invisible and notoriously
---------slow to act, should You incline to fix
---------Your generous attentions for the moment
---------to the narrow scent of this our appointed
---------tedium, should you—once our kindly
---------secretary has duly noted which of us
---------is feigning presence, and which excused, which unexcused,
---------You may be entertained to hear how much we find to say
---------about so little. Among these other mediocrities,
---------Your mediocre servant gets a glimpse of how
---------his slow and meager worship might appear
---------from where you endlessly attend our dreariness.
Holy One, forgive, forgo and, if You will, fend off
---------from this my heart the sense that I am drowning here
---------amid the motions, the discussions, the several
---------questions endlessly recast, our paper ballots.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Scott Cairns: first post

Posted with permission of the poet.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Aemilia Lanyer

Aemilia Lanyer (1569—1645) is the first woman writing in English to have sought patronage to publish a substantial volume of poetry. Her father was a court musician who died when she was just seven. She was eighteen when her mother died, and she attracted the attention of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who was Queen Elizabeth's lord chamberlain. She became his mistress, for several years, but when she became pregnant by him, she was forced to marry one of the court musicians. This doesn't seem to be a promising start for a woman who eventually wrote important Christian verse. Another puzzling chapter in her life sees her visiting an astrologer, Simon Forman, several times in 1597.

Her book, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611), begins with several dedicatory poems; all are written to women, one of which is Mary Sidney Herbert—famous for her verse translations of the Psalms. She gives credit for her conversion to the countess dowager of Cumberland, to whom the book is primarily dedicated. The section known as "Eve's Apology", which is written from the perspective of Pilate's wife, is seeking to divert blame from Eve for the fall of mankind, in part by pointing out Adam's responsibility:
-----But surely Adam cannot be excused,
-----Her fault though great, yet he was most too blame;
-----What Weakness offered, Strength might have refused,
-----Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
-----Although the Serpent's craft had her abused,
-----God's holy word ought all his actions frame,
-----For he was Lord and King of all the earth,
-----Before poor Eve had either life or breath.

The central focus of the title poem, "Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum" ("Hail God King of the Jews"), is Christ's passion. The entire poem is 1,840 lines. The poem is particularly interesting because of it's particularly female perspective—showing her to be an early voice of Christian feminism.

from Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum

Therefore I humbly for his Grace will pray,
That he will give me Power and Strength to Write,
That what I have begun, so end I may,
As his great Glory may appear more bright;
Yea in these Lines I may no further stray,
Than his most holy Spirit shall give me Light:
That blindest Weakness be not over-bold,
The manner of his Passion to unfold.
In other Phrases than may well agree
With his pure Doctrine, and most holy Writ,
That Heaven's clear eye, and all the World may see,
I seek his Glory, rather than to get
The Vulgars breath, the seed of Vanity,
Nor Fames loud Trumpet care I to admit;
But rather strive in plainest Words to show,
The Matter which I seek to undergo.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gordon Johnston

Gordon Johnston taught poetry at Trent University, in Peterborough, Ontario, for over 40 years, where he organized the university's Writers Reading Series. His books include the poetic fiction of Inscription Rock (1981), his first poetry book, Small Wonder (2006) and his new poetry collection But For Now (2013) which is published by McGill-Queen's University Press. In retirement, he volunteers in Pastoral Care at a local hospital.

In March, 2014, I shared the stage with Gordon Johnston at The Art Bar in Toronto. The following poem is from his new collection.

A New Psalm, Of The Oboist

God's orchestra is encouraging,
---the music blooms and mounts,
------we are lifted up with it, we are improved.

The orchestra of God is capacious,
---the harmonies are rich, complex,
------the melodies soar, we're a little overwhelmed.

I am an oboist in the orchestra of God;
---I colour the sound around me,
------or disappear into the noise.

Occasionally I have a solo to play,
---a minor cry from the heart before the strings
------sweep in again and carry us away.

I do what I can, I play the notes
---with all the feeling my skill allows.
------We hope for the best; we try to watch your baton.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.