Monday, December 15, 2014

Barbara Crooker*

Barbara Crooker's latest poetry collection Gold (2013) is part of the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books. Many journals, such as The Cresset and Green Mountains Review, and many anthologies including Good Poems for Hard Times (Viking Penguin), have published her work. She has been honoured with several awards, including the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and she has been nominated thirty-two times for the Pushcart Prize.

Every year, I send out a selected poem for Advent to friends. These are among a series that Barbara Crooker sent to me, in return, last December.

Solstice

These are dark times. Rumors of war
rise like smoke in the east. Drought
widens its misery. In the west, glittering towers
collapse in a pillar of ash and dust. Peace,
a small white bird, flies off in the clouds.

And this is the shortest day of the year.
Still, in almost every window,
a single candle burns,
there are tiny white lights
on evergreens and pines,
and the darkness is not complete.

Nativity

In the dark divide of mid-December
when the skies are heavy, when the wind comes down
from the north, feathers of snow on its white breath,
when the days are short and the nights are cold,
we reach the solstice, nothing outside moving.
It’s hard to believe in the resurrection
of the sun, its lemony light, hard to remember
humidity, wet armpits, frizzy hair.
Though the wick burns black and the candle flickers,
love is born in the world again, in the damp
straw, in some old barn.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Barbara Crooker: first post

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.

Monday, December 8, 2014

John Betjeman*

Sir John Betjeman (1906—1984) was Britain's Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death. He was also known as a broadcaster, and for his other writings, such as guidebooks to the English counties. His first poetry collection Mount Zion was privately published with the assistance of a friend in 1931. His Collected Poems (John Murray, 1958) has sold more than two million copies to date. His wide popularity. may be attributed to his nostalgia for the recent past—amid the ever-changing post-war years—and his accessible, conservative style. In 2005 the anthology Faith and Doubt of John Betjeman gathered more than seventy of his religious poems into one volume.

Betjeman appreciated Victorian architecture and was active in seeking to preserve several of London's historic railway stations. A statue of Sir John Betjeman stands in the international terminus for Eurostar at St. Pancras Station, which was reopened in 2007.

Christmas

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare —
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Betjeman: 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 1, 2014

Mary Szybist

Mary Szybist is the author of two poetry collections, Granted (2003) and Incarnadine (2013), which won the National Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares and The Kenyon Review.

Her recent book gives many and varying images of the angel Gabriel addressing the virgin Mary.The poet has said: "The scene to which Incarnadine continually returns—the Annunciation—has long been a site of ‘fine invention,’ especially in the hands of artists like Simone Martini and Sandro Botticelli; it portrays a human encountering something not human...That is part of what I find most moving about the scene: how it plays out the faith, the belief that that can happen—and can change us."

Although she says the idea for Incarnadine came while spending time in the art galleries of Italy, she has also said, "I grew up attending Annunciation Church. It is an especially pretty church, as it was built in the mid-19th century in central Pennsylvania when the lumber industry was booming. I spent many hours looking up at the Annunciation scene. I may not have had regular access to great museums growing up, but each week I did sit and look up at real Tiffany windows of religious icons that changed, continually, with the light..."

Mary Szybist now teaches at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

Insertion of Meadow with Flowers

In 1371, beneath the angel’s feet,

Veneziano added a meadow—
a green expanse with white
and yellow broom flowers, the kind
that—until the sun warms them—
have no scent—

God could have chosen other means than flesh.

Imagine he did
and the girl on her knees in this meadow,
open, expectant, dreamily rocking,
and the girl’s mouth open, quiet,—

is only important because we recognize

the wish. For look, the flowers
do not spin, not even

the threads of their shadows—
and they are infused
with what they did not
reach for.

Out of nothing does not mean

into nothing.

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.

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.