Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Antoine de Chandieu’s “Octonaires”

This article was first published at The Master’s Artist.

The Calvinist theologian was also a poet.

Antoine de la Roche Chandieu was a Calvinist theologian, student of John Calvin, and a key figure in the French Huguenot church. He was pastor of the French Huguenot Church in Paris from 1556-1562, was active in several Huguenot synod meetings (and for one of which he wrote what is now called the Gallic or French confession).  He remained active in the church in France until it was smashed in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572. De Chandieu escaped the massacre and fled to Switzerland. He continued his studies and writings until his death in 1591 in Geneva.

He was also a poet. He wrote three sonnets on the death of Calvin. He wrote a whole series of eight-line poems called “Octonaires,” and a lot of other poetry as well, especially lyric poems. One of his more recent translators is Nate Klug, a published poet and a divinity student at Yale University. Klug has been translating the Octonaires of de Chandieu, but, as he says in his translator’s note, he’s loosely translating the poems to remain true to the poet’s words and intent. Five of them can be read at the Poetry Foundation’s web site. Here’s one Octonaire, as translated by Klug:

Ice glitters like it’s good.
The whole world glitters,
Sped toward ends,
We all fall in.

Under the ice is water.
But under the world, between you
and the everything
of your vanishing…

Edith Grossman, in Why Translation Matters, speaks to the things that translations can and can’t do. One thing translations do accomplish, however, is to change the original. They can’t help but do that, because no language translates perfectly into another (blame the tower of Babel). Godd translators, however, and Grossman and I suspect Klug and are good translators, strive mightily to remain true to the author’s intent and meaning.

De Chandieu endured imprisonment and persecution. He saw friends massacred. He had to flee his native country for his own life. Through it all, he maintained his faith, and his Octonaires were enormously popular during his lifetime, not only with his Calvinist friends but with French Catholics as well.

Wanting what you fear,
fearing your own desire:
icicles at the heart
form to burn apart.

When, in this cycle
of suffering he sings,
does the martyr begin
to suspect himself?

The Calvinist was indeed a poet. He lived in a time when holding on to one’s faith could mean death. And I suspect he used poetry to understand that.

Related: A post I did on a painting in the St. Louis Art Museum of Gaspard de Coligny, whose death was the first in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. De Coligny would have known de Chandieu.

Painting: St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre by Francois Dubois (1570s).

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Poet and Poems: J.P. Dancing Bear’s “The Abandoned Eye”

Reading the poems of The Abandoned Eye by J. P. Dancing Bear makes me think of razor blades.

The words of the poems, and the poems themselves, cut like sharp knives. They embody a jagged edge, tearing at convention to be sure but also a tearing away of our conceptions of relationships, events, and everyday life.
A baseball game is a baseball game, until hunger steps up to the plate (and the double meaning of “plate” is useful here).

A tree seems just as tree, until you begin to deconstruct it by its rings of age, its squirrel holes, its imperfections.

A pond seems just a pond, until it becomes a metaphor for a graveyard, and a grave.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph by Lynn Greyling via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

John Bude’s “The Lake District Murder”

A farmer is on his way home one night, and runs out of gas. A garage (what we would later call service stations) is not too far up the road, so he hikes the short distance to find his petrol. Instead, he finds one of the garage owners in a car, dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. It looks to be a suicide, with one problem: the young garage owner had no reason to kill himself.

Enter Inspector Meredith of the county police force. Meredith doesn’t accept the idea of suicide. Only a very few clues suggest otherwise, but Meredith doggedly stays at it. And more clues pointing to murder begin to surface.

The Lake District Murder, written by Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901-1957) under the name of John Bude, was first published in 1935, the same year his first crime novel, The Cornish Coast Murder, was published (reviewed here on April 18). Both books were recently republished by the British Library.

The Cornish Coast Murder is a classic whodunit investigation, the kind widely popularized by Agatha Christie. The Lake District Murder is a very different kind of crime story. The focus is not so much on the identity of the murderer as it is the reconstruction of the crime and the process by which the police determine what actually happen.

And the murder is only the smallest part of the story. The author’s successful intention is to tell the story of painstaking analysis, investigation, footwork, wrong turns, new developments, tedium, hunches, and good fortune that is crime detection and investigation.  The novel reads more like a contemporary account than a book published almost 80 years ago.

The story centers on the geography of area involved in the criminal investigation (England’s Lake District) and the geography of the mind of Inspector Meredith. The reader travels the roads and lanes and small towns of the area, and travels with Meredith as he pieces his investigation together.

Kudos to the British Library for republishing these entertaining and fascinating novels by John Bude.

Photograph of a landscape in England’s Lake District by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

We waited for renewal

We waited for renewal,
resurrection of the world,
makeover yet unseen yet
imminent, not understanding
the renewal was underway,
had been, stones grinding
and transforming, tectonic
plates above the surface,
mountains reshaping, oceans
cleansing and oxygenating,
forests, fields, prairies
renewing, we waited and
didn’t see it in front of us,
around us, not grasping
we were in the throes
of the firstfruits.

Photograph by Lillian Newman via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lilies, white

Lilies, white, line the walls,
representing memory  but
commemorating hope, sign
of what is to come. The whiteness
blares trumpets, a symphony
of brass. The horns join
the stones in shouting, singing
a new song, always transcending,
always ascending.

Photograph by Karen Arnold via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Some Places in New York City You Can Find Poetry at Work

I wanted to go to New York City this past week with the Tweetspeak Poetry team, but some events kept me at home. So you can imagine my surprise when I started seeing pictures of Poetry at Work from all over New York City showing up on Facebook. Here are a few of them, taken by the team of Nancy Franson and Michelle Ortega (and others, possibly).

Poet's House, Battery Park

With a street vendor
At the New York Public Library
On Times Square
With the minions!
At the Library Hotel

In the back seat of a taxi cab
In front of Good Morning America's studios

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Unexpected storm

He was expecting the storm
when it arrived, almost
suddenly, without portent or
warning, simply arising
in front of him. He held on
as it raged, tearing at his skin,
sharp nails with stinging points.
They found him there, still
holding on. He did not know
salvation was in letting go.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Poems of Padraig Daly

This post was originally published at The Master’s Artist.

Last fall, I discussed the poems of R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), an Anglican minister in Wales whose poetry reflected his faith, his Welsh nationalism, and his love for rural life. Taking a short trip across the Irish Sea to Dublin, one finds a contemporary Irish poet who has often been compared To Thomas – Padraig Daly (1943- ).

Daly is an Augustinian priest in the Dublin parish of Ballyhoden. He’s published several poetry collections and translations from poets writing in Irish and the Italian poet Edoardo Sanguineti. In his own poetry, and especially The Last Dreamers: New and Selected Poems, the reader sees the similarities to Thomas, but also sees something that is uniquely Daly’s.

In these poems, Daly is focused on faith and how it is expressed, in the importance of daily life (be it in Ireland or Italy), in rituals, in loving and comforting, in prayer. The poems are wrapped in simplicity, but they are as deep as they are simple. Consider the poem “Errand:”

Carrying his knapsack,
He shuffled out in his boots
To where the stars hung burning.

The winds of space assailed him.
He was a speck
Smaller than a sootflake.

Dejected by vastness,
He wrapped himself in himself,
Hugging his own warmth;

Till the immense God,
Waking from his dream,
Brushed time and distances aside.

Daly paints a picture here, and you think you understand it on the first reading, until you read it again to find the meaning may actually be something different. So who is carrying the knapsack? And what’s in it? Assume it is a man, and the shuffling implies an older man, who moves outside. If he sees the stars, then it must be night. He’s assailed by winds, finds himself a small speck, is dejected, and can o nothing but wrap “himself in himself,” hugging his own inadequate warmth. And then God wakes from a dream, and brushes “time and distances aside.”

Nothing else is said, but that last line implies something profound has happened. God transcends physical reality, and the man carrying the knapsack is changed.

All of the poems in The Last Dreamers are like that – deceivingly simple. A particular favorite is “Prayer:”

We gather at the river’s edge;
One by one in the darkness
We place our flames in the darkness.

We watch them drift,
Fragile, flickering,
Out to the unsleeping ocean.

We fear at first that they will sink;
But the water carries them past every hazard
As if it loved them.

It’s a beautiful image to liken prayer to flames, tiny flames in the overwhelming darkness. They are fragile, and they drift almost as if meaningless on the ocean’s surface. But they are carried past the hazards, “as if the water loved them.” And, of course, the water does love them.

The Last Dreamers is a moving, thought- and soul-provoking collection, inviting us to deepen our understanding and faith.

Photograph by Anne Lowe via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Poetry at Work: The Poetry of Institutional Memory

I’m talking with a colleague at work about his retirement. We’re going through one of those endless series of departmental reorganizations, and he’s announced his intention to retire some months from now. I’m interested in the mechanics of his decision; he’s less than three years older than I am and once he retires, I will be what’s left of institutional memory not only for our organization, but perhaps even for the entire corporation of 23,000 people.

“I talked with people who’ve retired from the company,” he says. “And while there are the financial things you should have been doing all along, and there are things you might want to do after retirement, what they tell me is pretty simple. You can’t really anticipate it until you’re in it. No one effectively plans for retirement; there will always be little surprises, and likely some big ones to. You really are entering another phase of your life, and life can’t really be planned for.”

I’m reminded of something I just read at Donald Miller’s Storyline blog. “Knowledge over an issue gives us the false sense we can predict it and understand it and in some ways control it,” he writes. My colleague is telling me the same is true for retirement.

This is not idle question for me to while away the hours considering. The question of retirement is not assuming an urgency, but it is looming larger, larger than it ever has.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph by Mel Clark via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, April 21, 2014

“Making Manifest” Review Featured by Sandra Heska King

Last year, I reviewed Making Manifest: On Faith, Creativity and the Kingdom at Hand by Dave Harrity (it’s also available on Amazon). I enjoyed reading and using the book; it’s not your typical set of writing exercises and it has broad application to all kinds of writing.

Starting May 1, Sandra Heska King is hosting a devotional series on Making Manifest at her blog. She graciously asked if she could reprint my review, and posted it this morning. If you interested in the subject of faith, writing and creativity, head on over to Sandra’s place.

Jennifer Dukes Lee’s “Love Idol”

We all have them, those little whispers, reminders that we are not quite good enough, that we need to do more to succeed, buy more, look better, go with the flow, be part of the in-crowd, that then, and only then, will we be considered worthy. Collectively, in all their many permutations, they’re all about our need for approval.

We pay attention to these little whispers. We listen closely and hard. They become so familiar to us that we embrace them and internalize them. They become part of our thinking and our personalities. We do what they say, often without thinking. They become our idols, and in effect we worship them.

In Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes,  Jennifer Dukes-Lee says it doesn’t have to be this way.

A former political reporter for the Des Moines Register (she’s since been promoted to full-time farm wife and mother), Dukes-Lee might have been one of the last people you’d expect to have problems with approval. But she had them, and she still has them. The difference is she’s aware of them of them now, and sees how they come creeping into the most common and mundane of activities.

Like her daughter’s spelling bee. A missions trip to Haiti. Lusting to be assigned that career-enhancing newspaper story. Work. The desire for influence and authority. Volunteering at church.  

We want to be noticed, recognized, and applauded. We hunger for this approval.

Dukes-Lee was as caught up in this as anyone can be, and then slowly realized that she was already preapproved. All the things she was doing for approval were not only insufficient, they were unnecessary.

Love Idol is written squarely for women readers. If no one’s said it before, then let me be the first to say it: men hunger for approval just as much as women do. As I read her words, written in an engaging, straightforward style (I recognize the former journalist), I am reminded of my own need for approval and the ongoing struggle that continues within my mind and emotions.

It’s not only a good book with an important message; Love Idol is a needed book. Reading it will make you squirm at times, because its honesty hits home. Most of all, it’s a hopeful book: it doesn’t have to be this way. As Dukes-Lee keeps pointing out, we are all preapproved.

Illustration by Piotr Siedlecki via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


I never thought of God
as an exhibitionist but
what else can I say
when I am confronted with
the mountains with their heights
the sea in its depths
the sunset, radiant
the pearl encapsulating beauty
the moon permeating my eyes
the flowers in the field erupting
in their riots of color
the porcupine in its waddle
the tomb with its stone
rolled away, empty and
silent in realized glory.

Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Standing in presence

Standing in presence
there is heaviness, abounding;
I turn, slightly, toward
the neon light but turn back,
the reality of what’s before
me overwhelming. To see
the face is fatal, even to see
the back is searing, bleaching
my face, my hair, my soul
as I hide in this cleft. Even
my breath is scorched.

Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, April 18, 2014

John Bude’s “The Cornish Coast Murder”

John Bude was the pen name for Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901-1957), a British theater producer and director. Beginning in the 1930s, he published crime novels under the name of John Bude, and managed to complete 30 of them by the time of his death. He also wrote fantasy novels and children’s stories.

The British Library has republished two of his crime novels, The Cornish Coast Murder and The Lake District Murder. In the introduction to The Cornish Coast Murder, crime novelist Martin Edwards said that the novel had a small print run when it was published in 1935, but Bude occupies a place in the golden age of the mystery and crime novel genre.

The story is fast-paced and intriguing. Julius Tregarthan, who occupies a home called The Greylings in Cornwall, has been murdered, shot in his study with a World War I service revolver. the crime doesn’t lack for potential suspects, including Julius’s niece Ruth and the man she’s in love with, Roland Hardy. Inspector William Merritt leads the investigation; he’s assisted by the local vicar, the Rev. Dodd. They soon discover that Ruth is hiding something and Roland Hardy has dis appeared.

The story isn’t exactly the classic country estate mystery; Julius Tregarthan has lived there year-round with his niece Ruth. But it has enough of the elements of the classic country estate mystery to make one expect to see Miss Jane Marple show up at any moment.

But it’s not a clich├ęd story. Actually, The Cornish Coast Murder is well written, with Bude keeping the reader engaged and intent upon learning where all of this is heading. A few minor quibbles the reader might have don’t detract from the overall story. It is of its time, the 1930s, but the writing quality keeps the story current and fresh.

And now I’m turning to The Lake District Murder.

Photograph: A Cornwall beach, by Mike Coates via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The alleyway

He sat in the alleyway
oblivious to the smell,
familiar, to the filth,
familiar, to the open sewer
flowing in the center
of the stones, familiar,
to the cries of children,
familiar, the dogs full
of sores and mange
chasing the rats
familiar, the cockroaches
crawling over whatever
was in their way, familiar,
his legs. He sensed
the presence kneeling
next to him, unfamiliar,
the hand offering a burrito,
unfamiliar, a bottle of water
fresh, unfamiliar, the light,
unfamiliar, the sun rising,
unfamiliar, the light softening
the lines and creases
of his ten-year-old face.

You will go to Babylon
there  you will be rescued.

Photograph: The Micah Project, Honduras.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

William Faulkner’s “Soldier’s Pay”

William Faulkner wrote Soldier’s Pay, his first novel, during the first six months of 1925. He was living in New Orleans, in a ground-floor apartment on Orleans Alley in the French Quarter. The house had been built in 1840 on what had been part of the Spanish colonial prison, located at the rear of the administration building known (then and now) as the Cabildo.

Today, Orleans Alley is called Pirate’s Alley, in the very heart of the French Quarter. Faulkner’s ground-floor apartment is now occupied by Faulkner House Books. A plaque on the wall outside notes that this is the place where he wrote his first novel. The story is that Faulkner, who had considered himself a poet, wrote the novel at the urging of novelist Sherwood Anderson.

Soldier’s Pay is the story of Donald Mahon, an American who became a captain in the British Royal Air Force in World War I. He had supposedly been killed when his plane was shot down; but he is on his way home, severely injured, his face scarred, and not much of his mind left. He has a relatively small part in the story, but there is no question he is the character around which the entire story revolves.

Donald is engaged to Cecily Saunders, a hometown girl who is known as something of a flirt. She is shallow, somewhat vain, and in love with another man. Donald doesn’t recognize or his father, an Episcopal priest. Nor does he recognize Emmy, the family’s servant.

The wounded soldier is accompanied home by a fellow veteran, Joe Gilligan, and a woman they meet on the train, Margaret Powers. And there is Januarius Jones, whom Donald’s father meets early in the story and becomes in a way the narrative’s anti-hero, if not the villain. It says something of Faulkner’s writing ability that Joe and Margaret move in with the family, Joe to dress and care for him, and Margaret is some of a protective role, and it doesn’t seem odd.

As these characters respond and react to each other and what is clearly Donald’s declining health, secrets begin to play themselves out. Even Donald had at least one secret of which he and the other characters are unaware, and that is how he got his terrible injuries. But the secrets are of lesser importance; what is happening here is a theme that Faulkner will return to again and again in later novels, and that is the impact of modernization on family, relationships, love, and the social structure.

In Soldier’s Pay, modernization takes on the guise of war and its aftermath. It is not so much deadly as deadening, eroding what have long been the foundations of social and family life. Donald’s father seems to move through the story in something of a trance, his faith not rejected but forgotten and almost irrelevant. Joe Gilligan and Emmy are the characters who represent faith at work, as Joe ministers to Donald’s basic needs and Emmy feeds him. Margaret Powers is the hard, perhaps hardened, realist in the story, her own husband killed in the war and Donald offering a kind of atonement.

What Faulkner will later produce in a series of remarkable novels is foreshadowed here – the tantalizing secrets that shape so much of what the reader can see but not all at once, the complexities of the story, and even some of the circularity of the narrative. Soldier’s Pay may not be quite in the same league as The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, but in many ways it is the father to those children, and the resemblance is there to see. 

Image by Karen Arnold via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Poets and Poems: Charles Wright’s “Caribou”

I started reading Charles Wright’s new collection of poem, Caribou, and immediately was reminded of something that happened 20 years ago.

I was on the board of the World Bird Sanctuary, an organization on the preservation of raptors (think birds like hawks, falcons, great horned owls, and eagles). We met monthly at different locations. One month we met at the ranger’s station at Lone Elk County Park in far western St. Louis County.

Our meeting began at 4 p.m. and spilled over into the evening hours. I had to leave at 7:30, and as I stepped outside to go to the parking lot. I instantly realized two things: it was pitch black, with no outside light; and I was in the middle of something large and alive.

I froze in place, not knowing what to do, until the ranger’s car appeared on the road and I could see by his headlights. I was in the middle of the elk herd, which liked to come down to the station at night to sleep. Some were already asleep; others were standing on the sidewalk, blocking the way to my car. The park, by the way, was misnamed. There was no lone elk; there was actually a herd of about 100 elk.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Humanity of Listening to Light

This article was originally published at The Master’s Artist.

In 2003, Cyra Dumitru published a volume of poetry entitled Listening to Light: Voice Poems. The poems are divided into three sections: the first in about Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel; the second is about the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris; and the third is about the characters of the gospel story – Mary, Mary Magdalene, Jesus, Peter, Judas and Joseph, among others.

While all of the poems are about “myths” (in the sense of archetypal stories), they have one thing in common – Dumitru focuses our attention on the flesh-and-blood people who are Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Jesus and Judas. (I’m reminded of Anne Rice’s “Christ the Lord” books – Out of Egypt and The Road to Cana.)

She does what can be done well with poetry – forcing us to consider Biblical characters in three dimensions, as individuals with recognizable hopes, dreams, problems and challenges. We see more humanity here than we’re used to reading. And the effect is immediate – we understand these characters as recognizable, and we experience Mary’s visit by the angel and Judas and his betrayal as events happening just as if we ourselves were the characters involved. Consider the dilemma Mary’s mother faces with her daughter:

Mary’s Mother

What does a mother do with such a daughter?
She’s not interested in marriage, having children.
Says she’s too busy listening to God.

I’ve watched Mary sit with her back against a fig tree,
eyes shining, fixed on somewhere I can’t see.
For hours she sits heedless to flies, dust, heavy sun.

Then suddenly she stands, shakes herself
breathes deeply and opens
her arms to the fading light.

When she embraces me
sparks flow from her fingers
down my arms and back.

I am afraid for Mary.
She speaks f hearing a voice deep within
of seeing angels at the well.

I tremble because I believe her
but I am only a poor woman
who sees the way men look at her.

Judas and his betrayal become familiar not because the story is familiar but because we can see ourselves in his place: “Before his greatness my spirit shrinks. / The others speak of God’s voice enlarging them. / Inside me – silence. / His radiance – shadow…”

My favorite poem in the collection is “Joseph Recalls.” Joseph is one the pivotal characters in the story of the birth of Jesus, and yet we know so little about him. Dumitru positions him as remembering Jesus – we don’t know whether it’s before or after the crucifixion (presumably before) but it is clearly a time when Joseph knows he is unlikely to see Jesus again. He recalls what happened the day Jesus laid down his hammer and told Joseph “It is time now / for me to build / a house within / for God.” Joseph knows it is true as soon as Jesus utters the words and understands the sacrifice that is to come. And then Joseph says:

I have always
felt his light
see it streaking

the grain
of this table
he made as a boy.

It is all
I have
left of him.

One feels the pain of a father who has physically lost a son, a son he raised and trained, a son he knew was destined for other things.

It is this poignancy that tears at our hearts, that helps us understand that these Bible characters are people like ourselves. Poetry can help do that.

Photograph by Lynn Greyling via Public Domain Pictures. Used with Permission.