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Essay

Poetry

By November 13, 2013 5 Comments
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On a long commute home on the A train, I recently finished Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. Have you read it? Her writing is like eating Ezekiel 4:9’s bread in a world of words that taste more like Wonder Bread. If you haven’t read it and you like words, whether you are a writer or reader, I definitely recommend it. I particularly appreciated her chapter on poetry and wish I could copy and paste the entire chapter in this blog entry, but I think there are copyright laws against such practice. 

Reader, what poetry has tickled your imagination recently? Which poets teach you how to enjoy each morsel of words and savor them?

Chandler McEntyre writes

What the discipline of poetry requires most of all is caring about words and caring for words. I do not believe we steward language well without some regular practice of poesis — reading poetry, learning some by heart, and writing — if not verse as such, at least sentences crafted with close attention to cadence and music and the poetic devices that offer nonrational, evocative, intuitive, associative modes of understanding. To return to the ecological metaphor I suggested in the opening chapter — that stewardship of the word is akin to stewardship of other resources — it might be useful to recognize how poets, like ecologists, are finding new ways to utter the call to remembrance that dates back to the Psalms and beyond: Remember that you are dust, a mortal creature sharing the earth with others. Remember the voice that speaks in the wind. Remember the refiner’s fire. Remember, as Lao Tse taught, that the way of the wise one is the way of water. As we become more and more detached from the whole process, from the cycle of seasons, planting and harvest, building and making by hand, we need these reminders more urgently: that we are made from this earth; that, as Donne put it, “No man is an island,” and as Whitman put it, “Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,”  and as Eliot put it, “The river is within us; the seas is all around us. (page 146)

 

What poetry has tickled your imagination recently?

For me, Mary Oliver will always be at the top of my list. Her poem, Wild Geese, is by far my favorite poem (so much so I have a tattoo of Wild Geese on my back because of this poem). 

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

This poem brings nourishment to me each time I read it. It is one of the few poems that I have chosen to memorize. It is a pastoral poem and perhaps a prophetic poem, calling one to step into the identity of The One who has made us. My anthropology oscillates between the heaviness of total depraviy and the hopefulness of the image of God in each of us; Wild Geese welcomes me to be human and to enjoy the present moment in my place in the family of things. 

What poetry has tickled your imagination recently?

Chandler McEntyre says that poetry requires training. She says that:

Part of the training is to allow oneself to be touched deeply but not too easily, to learn to be both demanding and yielding, like a dancer with the skilled partner both equally committed to dancing well. It is important to ask much of poems, believing that, as in the larger economy, you receive only in the measure that you ask, and what you ask of things will be given.

We train by reading poetry. We train by asking questions of the poem. We train by watching our mind as we read the poems. We train by writing poetry. We train by playing with words in our mouth and seeing how they taste to our palate. 

What poetry has tickled your imagination recently?

I fell in love with poetry about the same time I fell in love with the Psalms (thank you, Dr. Carol Bechtel). The Psalms give voice to the emotions of humanity — unpleasant, joyful, dark, hopeful, and more. The Psalms are representative of the honesty of humanity. I think that is what poetry does — it cuts through and speaks more honestly. Poetry is a way of seeing. Like Richard Wilbur’s poem in The Eye.

 

Charge me to see
In all bodies the beat of spirit,
Not merely in the tout en l’air
Or double pike with layout

But in the strong,
Shouldering gait of the legless man,
The calm walk of the blind young woman
Whose can touches the curbstone.

Let me be touched
By the alien hands of love forever,
That this eye not be folly’s loophole
But giver of due reagrd. 

 

Poetry is a subversive act of slowing down and providing care to words, which is a very important discipline in the bustling city of the Big Apple. Poetry is a way to take care of my soul. Poetry teaches me how to be a better pastor and preacher.

So, dear reader, what poetry has tickled your imagination recently? Please share because I would love to know what is tickling your imagination as you taste good words!

Jes Kast

The Reverend Jes Kast is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament and serves West End Collegiate Church as their Associate Pastor.

5 Comments

  • Harriette says:

    The poem that has touched my imagination lately has been put into song. Carrie Newcomer wrote "As Holy as a Day is Spent." One of its verses goes like this:

    Holy is the place I stand
    To give whatever small good I can
    The empty page, the open book
    Redemption everywhere I look
    Unknowingly we slow our pace
    In the shade of unexpected grace
    With grateful smiles and sad lament
    As holy as a day is spent

    I am working on McEntyre's book after hearing her speak at an educator's convention. So good.

  • Mike Weber says:

    I have been fed recently by the book, Upholding Mystery: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Poetry, edited by David Impastato (Oxford University Press, 1997). One of my favorites, although quite long, is Maura Eichner's poem, "The Father," which plays with six words freighted with Christian meaning–journey, dark , water, light, fire, wind.

    The Father Maura Eichner
    Luke 15:11-32

    Never had the old man made such a journey.
    His robes enfolded him like driving wind.
    No one remembered the old man running. Even fire
    had never moved him. His estates were the light
    of the town. Yet, there he was, running to a dark
    figure huddling the road. Love was the flood-water

    carrying him forward. Some tried to dike the water;
    nothing could hold him. Love loosed a wind
    of words: “My son is coming home.” Dark
    grief behind, the father ran, arms open as light.
    He had to lift the boy before his son’s fire
    of sorrow burned the father’s sandals. Journey?

    The old man could remember no other journey
    but this homecoming: he held his son in the fire
    of his arms, remembering his birth: water
    and fire. Servants ran along thrusting at the wind
    of excitement: what shall we do? what torchlight
    prepare? “Bathe away the pig-pen-slopping-dark

    that cloaks my son. Prepare a banquet. Jewel the dark
    with fires. My son was dead. My son is afire
    with life. The land is fruitful. Joy is its water.
    Where is my eldest son? The end of the journey
    is ours. My son, do you grieve? turn from the light
    to say you are unrewarded? Son, is the wind

    from the south closer to you than me? is the wind
    of your doubt stronger than my love for you? Water
    your hardness, my son. Be a brother to the dark
    of your brother’s sorrow. Be a season of light
    to his coming home. You will make many a journey
    though cities, up mountains, over abysses of fire

    but for tonight and tomorrow, my eldest, fire
    your heart, strike at its stone. Let it journey
    toward dawning, be a thrust in the dark
    your brother will never forget. Find a woman of water
    and fire , seed her with sons for my name and wind-
    supple daughters for bearing daughters and sons of light.

    I am a father of journeys. I remind you the dark
    can be conquered by love-blasting fire. I made air and wind
    a compassionate homeland. Be at home in the light.”

  • /s says:

    poetry breathtaking
    typos distracting
    can you repair
    before we share
    a page worth multiplying?

  • Jeff Munroe says:

    Jes – Good post. I am a fan of the book by MCM you reference. I like this poem called Imperatives by Kathleen Norris a lot.

    Look at the birds
    Consider the lilies
    Drink ye all of it
    Ask
    Seek
    Knock
    Enter by the narrow gate
    Do not be anxious
    Judge not; do not give dogs what is holy
    Go: be it done for you
    Do not be afraid
    Maiden, arise
    Young man, I say, arise
    Stretch out your hand
    Stand up, be still
    Rise, let us be going…
    Love
    Forgive
    Remember me

  • Bill Postma says:

    And here are poetic lines from the master of the language – William Shakespeare, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" .

    The lunatic, the lover and poet
    Are of imagination all compact:
    One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
    That is the madman: the lover, all frantic,
    Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
    The poet's eye in a fine rolling,
    Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
    And as imagination bodies forth
    The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
    Turns them into shapes and gives to airy nothing
    A local habitation and a name.

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