Archive for June, 2017

Growing an Anthology of Favorite Poems: Four More

Friday, June 30th, 2017

Summer arrived in the northern hemisphere on June 21 this year when the sun stood above the Tropic of Cancer and seemingly “stopped” before beginning its return toward the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn where it will bring summer to the southern hemisphere.

A new season seems a good time for me to share more of my collected favorite poems. I began this listing back in January and promised to recommend a few more as the year went by periodically. Six months later, I’ve determined that each change of season is a good time to add to my anthology.

For anyone interested in my inspiration for building my collection of favorites, I recommend poet Robert Pinsky’s 2014 book, Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters. New York: W.W. Norton.

My previous postings in this exercise are available at http://wp.me/p86oI1-7D and http://wp.me/p86oI1-8Q. Here are four more, added for Summer 2017:

  • “Ars Poetica” by Archibald MacLeish. From Collected Poems 1917-1982. Houghton-Mifflin, 1985.

For me, MacLeish was the first poet I read who defined poetry. His opening and closing lines capture the notions of metaphor and being: “A poem should be palpable and mute/As a globed fruit,/ . . . A poem should not mean/But be.”

(https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/17168) 

  • “A Shropshire Lad: XIII” by A.E. Housman. The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman. Public Domain. This version is from “The Writer’s Almanac” on Public Radio broadcast on March 29, 2017.

I was introduced to this poem in college when I was “one and twenty.”  Housman struck a chord for a young man working hard to study and keep my fancy free.

(https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/shropshire-lad-xiii)

  • “Flock” by Billy Collins. From The Trouble with Poetry.

–Collins introduces this poem with a note regarding the Gutenberg Bible from an article on printing. The spiritual power of the ending will catch you off guard.

(https://poetry-fromthehart.blogspot.com/2011/06/flock-billy-collins.html)

  • “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye. From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Portland, OR: Far Corner Books, 1995.

–Almost every poet at some point writes what poetry teachers call a list poem. Nye’s is one of the best in that form; it defines the notion of fame as no lexicographer could imagine. That’s why we need poetry!

(https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/47993

A Reflection for Father’s Day, 2017

Friday, June 16th, 2017

The Posture of Loving God and Being Loved.

Jesus Cleanses a Leper (Mark 1:40-41–NKJV)

Now a leper came to Him, kneeling down to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

My parents raised me in New York rental dwellings whose floor plans gave them the label of “railroad apartments” because their rooms lined up like train cars stretching from backyard to street.

To walk from the dining room that overlooked our backyard to reach the living room or my bedroom facing the street, one had to pass through two other bedrooms, one of them my parents’ master bedroom, with its load-bearing wall opening widely to a large living room and my tiny adjoining bedroom.

The master bedroom thus provided a thoroughfare for pedestrians. One closed door and heavy curtains to cover the opening to the living room provided privacy for my parents, but I frequently had to pass through en route to and from my bedroom.

My father, an ironworker, went to bed early and rose every morning before sunrise and headed for a subway or bus trip to some skeleton of a skyscraper going higher somewhere in Brooklyn. Each night, usually when “I Love Lucy” or “Red Skelton” or “Tennessee Ernie Ford” or “What’s My Line?” was signing off, he stepped into his bedroom and readied for sleep.

And as I tiptoed back and forth, the indelible image I retain is my pajama-clad father kneeling beside his bed, his steely hands folded and his head bowed, as he silently engaged in private conversation with God and undoubtedly recited the prayers he learned in his Methodist childhood and taught to my older siblings and me.

So, as I read about St. Mark’s leper imploring Jesus, I hardly attend to the conversations exchanged; I am impressed by the kneeling, the stretching, and the touching. These provide dancing expressions of need, hope, and love. In these movements, Jesus and the leper share desire, willingness, and hope.

So too, my father in his prayerful liturgy–on his knees, hands folded, head bowed–left me images of compassion and healing and modeled for me a skyscraping posture of love.

“Give It Away”

Monday, June 5th, 2017

I was enrolled in an online Devotional Writing Workshop through the Lifelong Learning Center at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia when I wrote this reflection.

For a long time, I have been developing a criticism of seminaries for their lack of courses and programs aimed at teaching future clerics the craft of writing. In my experience and research, writing courses offered at seminaries across the nation almost exclusively teach writing as a handmaiden to preaching or model a typical graduate school research course, emphasizing the mechanics of academic writing and manuscript preparation. Future pastors would be better serving by studying creative writing, I think.

Emphases are changing in scattered institutions that train clergy. Some are beginning to explore writing as a form of ministry–thanks be to God.

I think writing poetry and creative fiction demands a place in the curriculum for future pastors, and I think I’d find support for this idea from one of my favorite writer/clerics, Frederick Buechner, who gave much to establishing a place for creative writing students at King University in Bristol, Tennessee.

I joyously learned that a former professor of mine wrote a book in his retirement concerning the biblical tales told in the writings of Flannery O’Connor. He has been teaching this subject part-time.

(I’ll get back to that after I’ve finished his book. If you’d like a head start, it’s Passing By the Dragon:  The Biblical Tales of Flannery O’Connor, by J. Ramsey Michaels, Wipf & Stock. 2013.)

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Here is a sample example of my devotional writing from the workshop:

“Give It Away”

“When Jesus heard that, he said, “Then there’s only one thing left to do: Sell everything you own and give it away to the poor.”

(Luke 18:22a; The Message)

   As my wife and I approached the entrance of a supermarket, I pulled some bills from my wallet and gave them to her so she could buy a birthday card for our daughter-in-law on our way to the party. We planned separate routes as we entered the store: she would seek the stationery while I dashed up the aisles headed for party nuts and birthday candles.

   “Can you let me have two dollars?” asked an unknown woman standing at the market’s entrance as I nearly bumped into her in my haste.

   I stopped, and my wife walked on. The woman, about as tall as my six feet and not at all disheveled, wore a black T-shirt with the bold white letters of Christ’s Church emblazoned across it.

   “What do you need two dollars for?” I asked, thinking she might be soliciting for her church and swallowing my instinctive “Excuse me,” as we stood nearly face to face.

   “I’m going down to Sander’s to get something to eat,” she said.

   I slid two dollars from my billfold, handed them to her and asked, brazenly sounding like an interrogator, “Where is Christ’s Church?”

   Unspoken was my judging thought, “Why don’t you go to your church for aid?”

   I never actually heard her response, but my sudden thought staggered me: “I am Christ’s Church.” And then, “Give it away!” I heard my faith say.

   My children at times when we’ve been traveling call me a sucker for anyone soliciting money who hastens between columns of cars halted by a red light. My fatherly retort has been: “We’re not called to judge their need, and I can’t know what they intend to do with the money.”

   I put two bills in the woman’s hand as she said, “God bless you,” and stepped away toward sunlight. I started toward party nuts and birthday candles, mouthing a similar blessing for her, and strode up the aisle still squeezing my billfold.

   “Give it away,” I again heard my faith whisper.