Recently, I have been reading The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle with my 16-month old daughter. In this story (which we have read many times now) the spider is diligent and focused, despite many distractions, and at the end of this very busy day she completes her masterful web. Spiders have always fascinated me, but I know that is not the case for everyone. In fact, according to a recent study by the National Institute for Mental Health, 30.5% of people in the U.S. are afraid of spiders. While some cultures revere the spider as a benevolent creature, they are more commonly perceived as dangerous pests. What is unique to the poetry of Pattiann Rogers is her ability to weave minute scientific details into gorgeous, moving imagery. Her poem “Hail, Spirit” not only celebrates the mechanical beauty of the spider and its web-making process, but it also delights in the spider as musician, artist and teacher. She writes, “We can never hear/ the music she makes as she plucks her silk/ strings with the toes and spurs and tarsal/ tufts of her eight legs at once. She performs the reading of her soul.” In an interview with Poets & Writers in 2008 Rogers said, “The life forms on our earth are amazing to children, and they remain amazing for many adults. The more we learn about them the more amazing and mysterious they become.” As a translator for the natural world, Pattiann Rogers reminds us that before we choose fear, perhaps we should try wonder. Then we can begin to innocently observe and learn from what is before us. After reading this poem I know I will never forget to admire the delicate craftsmanship and impermanence of a spider’s web again. I have been reminded, “The work is her heart strung on its tethers, ravenous, abiding.” [Read more…]
Poem for the New Year: “In the Candleroom at Saint Bartholomew’s on New Year’s Eve” By Heather Sellers
This poem moves me and impresses me with its sense of almost-but-not-quite arriving at connection. Everywhere I turn within the walls of this poem, I come face to face with human need and the world’s shortcomings in meeting that need. Mourning her mother, the speaker attempts throughout the poem to do a simple thing: light a candle. Instead, she finds herself confronted with failure and dampening hope. In the candle’s failure to light and in comparing herself to the other mourner’s open grief, the speaker sees the distance between herself and her mother, some final failure to connect or satisfy. Struggle, longing, and love are three threads tightly woven through stanzas of vivid detail and painful confession. Formally, the linked sounds, repetition, and snatches of rhythm give hints of the familiar, adding to a feeling of déjà vu that is mirrored by the narrative itself. The final stanzas push the walls of the cathedral outward, identifying this one speaker’s pain with a bigger wound shared by us all, and perhaps offering, there, the possibility of solace.
—Melissa Reeser Poulin [Read more…]
A delightful scene is set in this poem. At the start of the new year, the speaker and some friends are doing volunteer woodwork to repair their church’s altar. As the speaker details the steps of their careful work, we’re carried along by the poem’s base rhythm of iambic pentameter. Soon religious language enters the speaker’s account: as their sawdust fills the church, they feel their labor to be “sanctified,” and the motions of their attentive work become a “ritual.” Though they’re amateur carpenters, they strive for “such perfection / as can be achieved on this job, in this lifetime.” Then, taking a break, they recall that their “patron in this place” (who is Jesus, though he’s not named) was a carpenter. But Jesus’ carpentry immediately becomes symbolic. Paintings of him at work, “a long shaving furled / round his wrist,” holds in its grain “the meaning of life and death / and pretty much everything in between.” As carpenter, they muse, could Jesus have made anything “less then perfect?” The scene then shifts, for the poem’s final stanza, back to the church that the speaker and his friends are working in. “The incense of our craft” will linger in the sanctuary during Sunday worship. And this, the speaker concludes, is all the payment they need: “an answered prayer for good work, done.” This “good work,” here and in the poem’s title, carries a double meaning: it’s work well done, but also morally good work—like that of Jesus.
—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]
Every week, the Image staff curates a digital dispatch of compelling new books, music, artwork, and more, with personal recommendations, links from around the web, and a community message board with calls for art and job postings (not to mention exclusive access to Image discounts and VIP workshop registration!). We deliver these dispatches from the world of art and faith entirely free of charge. We call it: ImageUpdate.
And at the end of every year, we review the 100+ books, albums, art exhibitions, and other artworks shared in this e-newsletter and choose the ImageUpdate Top Ten. It’s an almost-impossible challenge to narrow our selection down to the ten “best,” and to make matters even more complicated, ImageUpdate strives to direct readers’ attention to new and emerging artists, and others we feel deserve your time.
That said, we’re pleased to give you the following list of outstanding work featured in ImageUpdate in 2016. Click the links to see the original issues with full reviews.
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Christmas carols: we love their joyous celebration of the birth of Christ. In “Carol of the Infuriated Hour,” David Brendan Hopes takes the carol form—its rhythm and rhyme scheme—to present a more complex view of the Christmas event. The poem’s speaker has “warred” with God, but he decides to cease his struggle “for the sake of this season in the stories.” The stories are the traditional ones of “talking beasts” and the “Christmas rose” and “the white stag in the tangled wood” (a medieval image, with Christ as the pure white stag and the tangled wood as the Cross that awaits him). To what extent is the Cross embedded in the Christmas stories? This is the question that the poem explores. In stanza 3 the speaker seems to resent bringing the Cross into Christmas (“they who stole / the stories have the stories wrong”). But in the following stanza he sees as salvific “the Cross and the Rose on the same snow hill.” Torn between these two attitudes, he feels “infuriated.” Yet the poem’s extraordinary closing image “saves” him — saves all of us (since the poem’s “I” has changed to “we”). The very cosmos, “newborn” when the Word becomes flesh, is cradled in our own arm—as the cosmos too becomes motherly, murmuring to the Child. Yet even in this cosmic salvation, ambiguity creeps in. Is “crooked” the one-syllable verb meaning “bent,” as we bend our arm to cradle a baby? Or does it hint also at the two-syllable adjective “crooked,” meaning “criminal,” and hence at the Cross? The poem’s achievement is that, in the softening motherly image, it moves to a (literal) embrace of the paradox of the cradle and the Cross.
—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]