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.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Evangeline Paterson

Evangeline Paterson (1928—2000) is the founding editor of the journal Other Voices. She grew up in Dublin, married an Englishman, and lived for many years in St. Andrews, Scotland, then in Leicester, England.

She is the author of several poetry collections including, A Game of Soldiers, Lucifer at the Fair and What To Do With Your Poems. Her New and Selected poems, entitled Lucifer, with Angels (Dedalus) appeared in 1994. I first encountered her work in The Lion Book of Christian Poetry (1981) which was reproduced by Eerdmans in the United States.

Death on a Crossing


What he never thought to consider was whether
the thing was true. What bewildered him, mostly,
was the way that the rumours had of reaching him
from such improbable sources — illiterate pamphlets
pressed in his hand, the brash or the floundering stranger
who came to his door, the proclamations, among
so many others, on hoardings

--------------------------------------though sometimes waking
a brief dismay, that never quite prodded him
to the analyst’s couch.

-----------------------------But annunciations, he thought,
should come to a rational man in a rational way.
He walked between a skyful of midnight angels
and a patch on somebody’s jeans, both saying
the same things to his stopped ears

----------------------------------------------till the day
when he stepped on a crossing with not enough conviction
to get him safe to the other side, and he lay
among strangers’ feet, and the angels lowered their trumpets
and no sweet chariot swung, to carry him home.

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 4, 2014

The Beowulf Poet

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem which was written between the eighth and eleventh century. In the 3182-line poem, the Scandinavian hero, Beowulf, defeats the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother and later a dragon.

J.R.R. Tolkien, whose translation of the poem was only published this year, believed it contained too-genuine a memory of paganism to have been written more than a few generations after the completion of the Christianization of England (around 700 AD). The earliest-surviving complete manuscript dates from the late 10th or early 11th century.

The following is from Seamus Heaney's excellent 2000 translation, which I highly recommend.

from Beowulf (lines 170-188)

These were hard times, heart-breaking
for the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counsellors,
the highest in the land, would lend advice,
plotting how best the bold defenders
might resist and beat off sudden attacks.
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
offerings to idols, swore oaths
that the killer of souls might come to their aid
and save the people. That was their way,
their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts
they remembered hell. The Almighty Judge
of good deeds and bad, The Lord God,
Head of the Heavens and High King of the World,
was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he
who in time of trouble has to thrust his soul
in the fire's embrace, forfeiting help;
he has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he
who after death can approach the Lord
and find friendship in the Father's embrace.

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, July 28, 2014

Anya Krugovoy Silver

Anya Krugovoy Silver is the author of two poetry collections The Ninety-Third Name of God (2010), and I Watched You Disappear (2014), both from Louisiana State University Press. She teaches English at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.

In 2004, when pregnant with her son, Noah, she was diagnosed with a rare, incurable form of inflammatory breast cancer. After years in remission, the cancer returned in 2010. “Although I loathe cancer and wish that I didn’t have it," she has said, "I think it’s made me a better poet because it’s given me a subject matter that I feel compelled to write about,” Even so, living with cancer is only one of the subjects in her new collection. At last report, her cancer was relatively stable.

The following poem first appeared in Image.

Ya-Quddus

-------One of the ninety-nine names of God

Yours is the name of God that comes most easily to me
God holy, pure, perfect as geometry, that which is set apart.
God to whom I pray, though I deserve no favors.
And would you, Ya-Quaddus, whom I simply call God, Lord,
bargain with my heart for life? As other from human as ether,
would you turn your non-self, whole self, toward my voice?
I stand in a circle of women chanting your name.
No, begging your name. Swimming in your strange indigo.
Our voices ring out like copper prayer bowls.
Refined one, breathe yourself into my spoiled body,
my body bitter as rind, which I am trying so hard to love.
Like steam, draw out the stains in my bones and lungs.
Let me feel whatever it is you are (since I can never know),
---------heal me.

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, July 21, 2014

F.W. Pitt

F.W. Pitt (1859-1943) was a pastor in London, who wrote poetry, and books relating to the Christian faith. He was born in Bristol, as one of nine children. His poetry book The Human Touch (Pickering and Inglis) was published in London in 1933. Other books include: Coming Events Cast Their Shadows In The Air (1936), Wonder-Working Prayer (1938), Morning Meditations (1940) which included 31 of his poems, and The Romance of Women Hymn Writers (1949).

The following poem, is by far the best-known thing Pitt ever wrote. Guitarist Phil Keaggy, put the poem to music, and in 1986 released it on his album Way Back Home.

The Maker of the Universe

The Maker of the Universe
As Man, for man was made a curse.
The claims of Law which He had made
Unto the uttermost He paid.

His holy fingers made the bough
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.

He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.

The sky that darkened o’er His head
By Him above the earth was spread.
The sun that hid from Him its face
By His decree was hung in space.

The spear which spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.

The throne on which He now appears
Was His from everlasting years.
But a new glory crowns His brow
And every knee to Him shall bow.

Follow this link to watch a Phil Keaggy video of : Maker of the Universe.

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, July 14, 2014

Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893—1957) always saw herself as a poet who wrote fiction. She was born in Oxford, the daughter of an Anglican chaplain. She is best known for her aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who appeared in eleven novels and many short stories. The first of these novels, Whose Body appeared in 1923. Others from the series include: The Five Red Herrings, Murder Must Advertise and Gaudy Night.

Her first two published books were poetry collections. She also wrote non-fiction books, such as The Mind of the Maker, many plays, including, The Man Born to be King—twelve radio dramas about the life of Christ, which were first broadcast on the BBC Home Service during WWII—and what she considered to be her crowning achievement, her translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, which was not quite completed at the time of her death.

Sayers was friends with Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot. She expressed her personal philosophy as: "The only Christian work is good work, well done."

Hymn in Contemplation of Sudden Death

LORD, if this night my journey end,
I thank Thee first for many a friend,
The sturdy and unquestioned piers
That run beneath my bridge of years.

And next, for all the love I gave
To things and men this side the grave,
Wisely or not, since I can prove
There always is much good in love.

Next, for the power thou gavest me
To view the whole world mirthfully,
For laughter, paraclete of pain,
Like April suns across the rain.

Also that, being not too wise
To do things foolish in men's eyes,
I gained experience by this,
And saw life somewhat as it is.

Next, for the joy of labour done
And burdens shouldered in the sun;
Nor less, for shame of labour lost,
And meekness born of a barren boast.

For every fair and useless thing
That bids men pause from labouring
To look and find the larkspur blue
And marigolds of a different hue;

For eyes to see and ears to hear,
For tongue to speak and thews to bear,
For hands to handle, feet to go,
For life, I give Thee thanks also.

For all things merry, quaint and strange,
For sound and silence, strength, and change,
And last, for death, which only gives
Value to every thing that lives;

For these, good Lord that madest me,
I praise Thy name; since, verily,
I of my joy have had no dearth
Though this night were my last on earth.

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.