Monday, January 16, 2017

Giuseppe Ungaretti

Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888—1970) is an Italian poet, born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt. In 1912 he moved to France to attend the University of Paris. There he became friends with poets including Paul Valéry, and painters such as Pablo Picasso, and became greatly influenced by the French symbolist poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. Ungaretti enlisted in the Italian army when WWI broke out. It was on the battlefield where he wrote his first poetry collection.

After a religious upbringing, he abandoned his faith, but returned to Catholicism in 1928. He was and is controversial in Italy for his support of the Italian fascists, though by the '40s he was denouncing them for joining up with the Nazis and instituting race laws. He appears to have genuinely regretted his early support for them.

From 1936 to 1942 he taught Italian literature at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. When his nine-year-old son died, he expressed his agony — as well as his sorrow over what was happening in Europe — in his poetry. He taught at the University of Rome from 1942 to 1957.

The following poem is from Ungaretti's collection Grief, and from the section "Rome Occupied: 1943—1944." This translation is by Diego Bastianutti.

You Too Are My River

1.

Fateful Tiber, you too are my river,
Now that night already troubled flows;
Now that, persistent,
Like grief gushing from stone,
A groan of lambs radiates
Lost through the stunned streets.
That the dread of unremitting evil
The worst of evils,
That the dread of an unforeseeable evil
Encumbers the soul and footsteps;
That unending sobs, gasping at length
Freeze the homes and dangerous dens;
Now that night already torn apart flows,
That every moment suddenly disappears,
Or fear the offense of many signals
Joined to shine almost divinely
Through the ascent of human millennia.

Now that night already devastated flows,
And I learn how much a man suffers;
Now now, while the enslaved world
Suffers from the abysmal pain;
Now that the unendurable torment
Is let loose between brothers in mortal rage;
Now that my blasphemous lips
Dare say:
“Christ, thoughtful and moving,
Why is Your goodness
So far from us?”

2.

Now that bewildered sheep scatter
With the lambs through streets
That were once urban, desolate.
Now that after the strain of emigration,
After the wicked injustice
Of deportations,
A people suffers;
Now that in the graves
Man tears himself apart
With twisted fantasies
And shameless hands
And pity contracts into a scream from stone;
Now that innocence
Groaning, demands at least an echo
Even from the hardened heart;
Now I see clearly in the dark night.

Now I see clearly in the dark night, I learn,
I know that Hell has come to Earth
To such a degree that
Man, lunatic, dodges
The purity of Your passion.

3.

The burden of pain,
That man spreads across the earth,
Plagues Your heart;
Your heart is the zealous seat
Of a love not vain.

Christ, thoughtful and moving
An incarnate star among the darkness of humanity,
Brother who ceaselessly
Sacrifices graciously
To rebuild man.

Saint, Saint, how you suffer
Teacher and brother and God, how you know us, the weak
Saint, Saint, how you suffer
To free the dead from death
And support those of us who live in misery.
I cry no more from tears that are only mine,
Here, I call You, Saint,
Saint, Saint, how you suffer.

Thanks to Burl Horniachek for suggesting this, and many other poets.

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, January 9, 2017

Adam Zagajewski

Adam Zagajewski is a Polish poet, essayist and translator. He divides his time between Krakow and Chicago, where he teaches at the University of Chicago. His awards include the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize Lifetime Recognition Award.

His poem "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" appeared on the back cover of The New Yorker shortly after the September 11th attacks, and received a lot of attention. His books include Without End: New and Selected Poems (FSG, 2003) and most-recently, Unseen Hand (FSG, 2011).

In acknowledgement of Czeslaw Milosz's question of the Pope, "[H]ow in the 20th century can one write religious poetry differently?” Zagajewski has said, “I think poets have to be able to find fresh metaphors for old metaphysical objects and longings. I’m a Christian, a sometimes doubting one (but this is almost a definition of a Christian: to doubt also). In my writing I have to be radically different from a priest. My language must have the sheen of a certain discovery.”

The following poem is from Without End.

Presence

I was born in a city of wild cherries
and hard-seeded sunflowers (common wisdom
had it halfway from the West
to the East). Globes stained by verdigris
kept careless vigil.

Might only the absence of presence be perfect?
Presence, after all, infected with the original
sin of existence, is excessive, savage,
Oriental, superb, while beauty, like a fruit knife,
snips its bit of plenitude off.
Life accumulates through generations
as in a pond; it does not vanish
with its moment but turns
airy and dry. I think
of a half-conscious prayer, the chapped lips
of a boy at his first confession,
the wooden step creaking
under his knees.
At night, autumn arrives
for the harvest, yellow, ripe for flame.
There are, I know, not one
but at least four realities,
intersecting
like the Gospels.
I know I'm alone, but linked
firmly to you, painfully, gladly.
I know only the mysteries are immortal.

Thanks to Burl Horniachek for suggesting this, and many other poets.

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, January 2, 2017

George Mackay Brown*

George Mackay Brown (1921—1996) is a Scottish poet and writer who was born in Stromness, Orkney, and lived there most of his life. Edwin Muir was a significant encourager of his poetry, writing an introduction to his first collection The Storm (1954), and helping him to get his second collection Loaves and Fishes (1959) published.

He received an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1974. Brown's 1994 novel Beside the Ocean of Time was nominated for the Booker Prize, and was judged to be the Scottish Book of the Year by the Saltire Society. His Collected Poems appeared in 2005.

A Child's Calendar

No visitors in January
A snowman smokes a cold pipe in the yard.

They stand about like ancient women,
The February hills.
They have seen many a coming and going, the hills.

In March, Moorfea is littered
With knocked-kneed lambs.

Daffodils at the door in April,
Three shawled Marys.
A lark splurges in galilees of sky.

And in May
Peatmen strike the bog with spades,
Summoning black fire,

The June bee
Bumps in the pane with a heavy bag of plunder.

Strangers swarms in July
With cameras, binoculars, bird books.

He thumped the crag in August,
A blind blue whale.

September crofts get wrecked in blond surges.
They struggle, the harvesters,
They drag loaf and ale-kirn into winter.

In October the fishmonger
Argues, pleads, threatens at the shore.

Nothing in November
But tinkers at the door, keening with cans.

Some December midnight
Christ, lord, lie warm in our byre.
Here are stars, an ox, poverty enough.

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

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, December 26, 2016

Pauline Johnson*

Pauline Johnson (1861—1914) also known as Tekahionwake, is a Canadian poet, daughter of an English mother and a Mohawk father. She is known for her poetry and performances that celebrated her aboriginal heritage. After a recital of one of her poems in 1892, she very rapidly became a sensation. Her work was championed by many in the Toronto Arts community, which led to wide-spread performances, and the publication of her first book, The White Wampum, in London in 1894.

The following poem is from that book, and also from her complete poems, known as Flint and Feather. My hardcover copy from 1931 is the Twenty-third Edition, and reveals that her poetry had appeared in both prestigious publications — such as Toronto Saturday Night and Harper's Weekly — but also more humble venture's such as The Boys' World, a weekly pulp Sunday School publication.

She died in Vancouver in 1914.

Christmastide

I may not go to-night to Bethlehem,
Nor follow star-directed ways, nor tread
The paths wherein the shepherds walked, that led
To Christ, and peace, and God’s good will to men.

I may not hear the Herald Angels’ song
Peal through the oriental skies, nor see
The wonder of that Heavenly company
Announce the King the world had waited long.

The manger throne I may not kneel before,
Or see how man to God is reconciled,
Through pure St. Mary’s purer, holier child;
The human Christ these eyes may not adore.

I may not carry frankincense and myrrh
With adoration to the Holy One;
Nor gold have I to give the Perfect Son,
To be with those wise kings a worshipper.

Not mine the joy that Heaven sent to them,
For ages since Time swung and locked his gates,
But I may kneel without—the star still waits,
To guide me on to holy Bethlehem.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Pauline Johnson: first post

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, December 19, 2016

Dana Gioia*

Dana Gioia has five poetry collections, including Interrogations at Noon—which won the 2002 American Book Award—and his latest, 99 Poems: New & Selected (Graywolf, 2016). He was the chair for the National Endowment for the Arts between 2003 and 2009. Gioia teaches at the University of Southern California.

He is one of the poets featured in my new anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry, which came out in November — (available here) and through Amazon.

The following poem is from the December issue of First Things. More of his poems are available on the First Things website.

Tinsel, Frankincense, and Fir

Hanging old ornaments on a fresh cut tree,
I take each red glass bulb and tinfoil seraph
And blow away the dust. Anyone else
Would throw them out. They are so scratched and shabby.

My mother had so little joy to share
She kept it in a box to hide away.
But on the darkest winter nights—voilà—
She opened it resplendently to shine.

How carefully she hung each thread of tinsel,
Or touched each dime-store bauble with delight.
Blessed by the frankincense of fragrant fir,
Nothing was too little to be loved.

Why do the dead insist on bringing gifts
We can’t reciprocate? We wrap her hopes
Around the tree crowned with a fragile star.
No holiday is holy without ghosts.

Posted with permission from the poet

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Dana Gioia: first post

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, December 12, 2016

Sarah Klassen*

Sarah Klassen is a Manitoba poet and writer who has won several awards, including the Gerald Lampert Award for her debut collection Journey to Yalta (1988), and a National Magazine Gold Award for poetry (2000). She lives in Winnipeg where, in the 1990s, she edited the Mennonite women's magazine Sophia. Her seventh poetry book — which I consider to be her best yet — is Monstrance (2012, Turnstone Press). Her novel, The Wittenbergs, was published by Turnstone in 2013.

She is one of the poets featured in my new anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry, which came out in November. (available here)

The following poem is from Monstrance.

Night sky at Deep Bay

Midnight, and the sky above the lake
ablaze with a zillion fires lit while I slept.
Each flame a declaration, each solemn planet bright.
I tilt my head way back, and there's The Milky Way,
there's Cassiopeia, Orion, Ursa Major the Pleiades,
a whole bright host.

Years ago while snow fell quietly on Latvia,
I entered the majestic Riga Dom.
From the balcony a choir sang, a capella,
from Schubert's Deutsche Messe,
the Sanctus.

The Baltic Sea slept
while the sanctuary's hushed, cold corners
overflowed with: Holy, Holy, Holy
and our eyes with tears.

On the beach tonight I shiver, not with cold,
but overcome—unwitting witness
to the firmament's explosion—with astonishment.
As if the host of Bethlehem's angels
and the celestial Latvian voices joined
to wake the midnight world
with radiant, resounding Glorias.

(When I am old or ill
will all the stars be there, still
burning, still untarnished,
declaring truth and beauty
are not dead, not even dormant?
And will that choir sing?)


Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Sarah Klassen: first post

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, December 5, 2016

Pamela S. Wynn

Pamela S. Wynn is an adjunct professor, teaching poetry and writing, at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. She grew up in North Carolina, but has lived in Minnesota for 34 years. Her husband is medieval historian Phillip Wynn. Her poetry collection Diamonds on the Back of a Snake appeared in 2004 from Laurel Poetry Collective. She has also edited the anthology Body of Evidence (2012) with Laurel.

She was commissioned by Northwestern University in Minnesota, to write the libretto for the opera “Ruth” with composer Barbara Rogers. It was performed in 2008.

The following poem is from the December issue of Sojourners. It is one of the annual Christmas poems she has written over the past ten years, which she sends out to friends on handmade bookmarks along with her Christmas cards. Here is a link to other Sojourners poetry.

Advent Candles

for St. Teresa of Avila

Lighting these candles—porous and buoyant—
Grounds us

Flames draw our eyes to heavens dotted white
With celestial thought

To look back in time through the stars
Hundreds of light-years away

To glimpse God standing
On the shore of God’s self

With outrageous visions and promises
Of hope that strain our belief

What can we do with such promises?
With tradition that grounds us in hope

In stars-----in candles-----in souls set alight?

Posted with permission of the poet.

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.