Monday, November 24, 2014

Edith Södergran

Edith Södergran (1892—1923) is one of the first modernist poets to have written in Swedish. She was born in St. Petersburg, but lived most of her life just across the border in Finland. After her first book, Dikter (Poems) appeared in 1916 she attempted to connect with the literary community in Helsinki, but found the reaction to her work ranged from "puzzled admiration to ridicule." Her early poems reflect an interest in Nietzschean philosophy, which later gave way to a deep Christian faith. She published five poetry collections, the most critically-acclaimed being Shadow of the Future (1920).

She suffered from tuberculosis, which in combination with her poverty eventually took her life. She received little attention for her work in her lifetime, but is now considered Finland's greatest modern poet. The following poems are from David McDuff's translation of her Complete Poems published by Bloodaxe Books.

Two Ways

You must give up your old way,
your way is dirty:
there men go with greedy glances
and the word “happiness” you hear from every lip
and further along the way lies the body of a woman
and the vultures are tearing it to pieces.

You have found your new way,
your way is pure:
there motherless children go playing with poppies,
there women in black go talking of sorrow
and further along the way stands a pale saint
with his foot on a dead dragon’s neck.

Christian Confession

Happiness is not what we dream of,
happiness is not the night we remember,
happiness is not in our yearning’s song.

Happiness is something we never wanted,
happiness is something we find it hard to understand,
happiness is the cross that was raised for everyone.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest 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, November 17, 2014

Peter Levi

Peter Levi (1931—2000) is a British poet whose father was Jewish and Mother was Roman Catholic. He became a Jesuit novice when he was just 17, and became a priest. He left the priesthood in 1977 to get married. In 1984 he became Oxford Professor of Poetry. He wrote more than twenty volumes of poetry including: The Gravel Ponds (1960), Death Is A Pulpit (1971) and Reed Music (2007). He also edited The Penguin Book of English Christian Verse (1984).

When The Paris Review asked for his advice to young writers, part of what he said was, "Steer clear of the writing departments of universities..." and then he added, "Writing is like breathing or it ought to be. One’s got to write poems. Like one has to go to church. Not out of social duty, or because there’s any pressure on one to do so. Not even out of reaction to people who say one shouldn’t do so. But just because of some decent, natural good behavior. One might as well go on with it."

The following poem was included in the anthology British Poetry Since 1945 by Edward Lucie-Smith (Penguin).

"To speak about the soul"

To speak about the soul.
I wake early. You don't sleep in summer.
In the morning a dead-eyed nightingale is still awake in you.
What has been done and suffered
with whatever is left to be suffered
is in the soul.
Oracles are given elsewhere. Their speech is announced with
------bronze.

In the early morning
you see women walking to the sanctuaries:
a light touch of sun on the whitewash:
a light touch of fire burning the oil.
You tell me nothing.
This is the desert I will write about.
The desert is not an island: the island is not enchanted: and the
------desert is no habitation for men.
The bird with the burnt eyes sang sweetest.
A desert further off
One small simple cloud. Heat at midday. A little constellated
------handwriting. Heat at midnight.
You never say.
To be woken by hearing
the voices of the enchanted birds
and the voices of the disenchanted birds.

Say what is like a tree, like a river, like a mountain, a cloud over
------the sun?
My memory has been overshadowed
by that live light and by that dying light.

The soul is no more than human.

The rising sky is as wide as the desert.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest 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, November 10, 2014

John Suckling

Sir John Suckling (1609—1642) is a poet, playwright, ambassador, parliamentarian, and military man. When his father died in 1626, he inherited extensive estates. He was very popular at court, and is credited with having invented the game of cribbage. In 1630 he was knighted.

His prose work Account of Religion by Reason appeared in 1637. His play Aglaura in 1638 was performed twice for Charles I—the same year The Goblins was published, which is said to have been influenced by Shakespeare's The Tempest

In 1640 he was involved in a plot to restore to the king control over parliament. He was forced to flee to Paris, where he died. It is believed he was murdered, although rumour of his death being a suicide was also circulated.

Upon Stephen Stoned

Under this heap of stones interred lies
No holocaust, but stoned sacrifice
Burnt not by altar-coals, but by the fire
Of Jewish ire,
Whose softest words in their hard hearts alone
Congealed to stone,
Not piercing them recoiled in him again,
Who being slain
As not forgetful, whence they once did come,

Now being stones he found them in a tomb.

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, November 3, 2014

Jenny Robertson

Jenny Robertson is a Scottish writer who I first discovered through her 1989 anthology of Christian poetry, A Touch of Flame (Lion Publishing). She has written many books which fit in intertwining ways into her areas of interest: Children's books, adult novels, poetry, books about eastern European peoples (particularly victims of totalitarianism), the Holocaust, Christianity, and mental health. She and her husband have lived in England, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and Scotland.

Her poetry books include Beyond The Border, Loss And Language (both from Chapman) Ghetto (Lion Publishing) and Clarissa, or Arrested Development. George Mackay Brown has written, “Jenny Robertson’s verse has its beginnings in a deep well of compassion; and drawn up into sun and wind, each word falls bright and singing upon the stones of our world.”

Corn King

Corn King
---------spring!
leap, leap, Lord of life,
dance, dance, dear delight.

Grain buried deep
today, tomorrow, sleep
---------then
---------lightward,
---------larkward,
---------skyward,
---------Godward
------------------leap
---------bright to death.

Broken Corn King, harvested,
thrashed, ground, milled for bread,
---------at daylight leap
---------from your dark sleep.

Harvester, begin
the dance, the dear delight.
Yielded sheaves, golden bright,
---------a garnered hoard,
welcome their harvest lord;
while corn-fat valleys shout and sing,
---------honouring
the Harvest King,
---------feasting
the harvest home
with broken bread and one cry: Come!

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, October 27, 2014

Todd Davis

Todd Davis is the author of four poetry collections, the most recent of which are In the Kingdom of the Ditch (2013) and The Least of These (2010), both from Michigan State University Press. He taught from 1996 to 2002 at Goshen College, but is now Professor of English at Altoona College, Penn State University.

Eric Pankey has said, "Todd Davis, in his new collection of stunning poems, In the Kingdom of the Ditch, marries the ordinary names of things to their extraordinary enigma. His acts of taxonomy lead not only to knowledge of this world but as well to gnosis of that other ineffable realm we might call the sacred. His poems see into the mystical and their song reaches toward the visionary, which is to say he is a lyric poet of breathtaking brilliance."

In the Kingdom of the Ditch

where Queen Anne’s lace holds
its saucer and raspberry its black

thimble, the shrew and the rat snake
seek after the same God

who mercifully fills the belly
of one, then offers it to the other.

Veil

In this low place between mountains
fog settles with the dark of evening.
Every year it takes some of those
we love—a car full of teenagers
on the way home from a dance, or
a father on his way to the paper mill,
nightshift the only opening.
Each morning, up on the ridge,
the sun lifts this veil, sees what night
has accomplished. The water on our window—
screens disappears slowly, gradually,
like grief. The heat of the day carries water
from the river back up into the sky,
and where the fog is heaviest and stays
longest, you’ll see the lines it leaves
on trees, the flowers that grow
the fullest.

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, October 20, 2014

Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart is an Australian poet, philosopher and theologian. He has published thirteen books of poetry, beginning with The Departure (1978). His poetry has received numerous awards such as the NSW Premier's Award, and the Greybeal-Gowen Prize. His most-recent collection is Morning Knowledge (2011). His earliest poetry influence was Percy Bysshe Shelley—particularly the poem "Ozymandius".

Hart is the Edwin B. Kyle Professor of Christian Studies and Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of Virginia.

The Room

It is my house, and yet one room is locked.
The dark has taken root on all four walls.
It is a room where knots stare out from wood,
A room that turns its back on the whole house.

At night I hear the crickets list their griefs
And let an ancient peace come into me.
Sleep intercepts my prayer, and in the dark
The house turns slowly round its one closed room.

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, October 13, 2014

Simeon the New Theologian

Simeon the New Theologian (9491022) is a Byzantine monk, poet and mystic. He was born at Galatia, and educated at Constantinople.  In about 980, he became Abbott of the monastery at St. Mamas. He is one of three saints of the Orthodox church given the title theologianthe others being John the Apostle (John the Revelator), and Gregory of Nazianus.

Simeon's Hymns of Divine Loves describe his spiritual experiences.

We Awaken in Christ's Body

We awaken in Christ’s body
 as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ. He enters
my foot and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in his Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? – Then
open your heart to Him.

And let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body

Where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him.
And he makes us utterly real.

And everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in him transformed

and recognized as whole, lovely,
radiant in his light.
We awaken as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

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.