Poetry Friday: “Rain”

rain on the window of a car with yellow and purple light from the cars illuminating the droplets.The emotional landscape of motherhood can often be hard to describe and is underrepresented in genres such as poetry. As a poet and mother of a two-year old with a new baby on the way, I appreciated “Rain” by Tara Bray and found it very instructive on several levels. In this candid poem, a “family of flight” rests at a truck stop. The mother, still awake, observes her sleeping husband and daughter and affectionately compares them to birds, husband as “flycatcher, scrub jay, kingfisher” and daughter as “little chickadee.” While the family is placeless and neither here nor there, Bray’s devotional voice both grounds and comforts me. She writes, “There’s only night and rain, husband, babe, sleep, / this black string of small good things.” Amidst uncertainty and the obscurity of a dark, rainy night Bray celebrates her tribe, her “two glimpses / of the afterlife.” She is enlivened, versus saddened, by the sound of the rain and her hope, as well as her honesty, are stirringly contagious.

—Jessica Gigot [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Gravity and Grace”

Balloons against cloudy sky and dark treeThere was a time, early in my process of conversion to Christianity, when I took Simone Weil as my spiritual guide. And a tough one she was—exactly in the ways that Betsy Sholl elaborates in this poem. The epigraph that Sholl chooses is one of Weil’s many expressions of how the self gets in our way if we want to get to God: “Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it.” The void, for Weil, is the human person totally emptied of self. Sholl brilliantly goes deep inside this core concept of Weil’s and fleshes is out by dramatizing it as a lively beach scene of boys blowing up balloons. So Sholl can at once be playful (“the boys…blowing off gravity” as they let the balloons go skyward) and also as serious as Weil herself (“I read / you’d like to be blown away, see a landscape /  as it is when I am not there—as if the self // blocks God the way bodies block light.” Sholl’s title, by the way, is the title of the first compilation of Weil’s essays published after her death.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

The Cult of Emotion

6342521726_1709c6f3f5_zAs a newish, struggling Christian recovering from two years in a fundamentalist youth group, I committed to starting afresh in college. I was going to get fellowship right this time.

My high school church had been all about the rules: No secular music (unless oldies from the 1950s). No shorts with hems higher than the ends of your fingertips. No left-leaning politics.

But the people I met at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of California, Riverside, were all about the heart. As I started spending time in Bible studies where I learned to read the scriptures for myself, I wished I had understood all along that Christianity was about following Jesus, not a list of don’ts.

But even the heart seems to have some rules. The heart can quickly become an idol, our emotions, laws. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “For Whom the Resurrection Is the Full Moon Rising” by Mark Wagenaar

15312920273_04562aa7c5_o-e1456334680521This is a poem to stretch the mind. It begins by stretching our imagination to a cosmic event: a “moondog,” which is a rare bright spot in the moon’s halo. It’s formed by a “mirage of light & cloud & ice”—an image which then brings the speaker down to earth, into his own life. But this life, as he sees it, is stretched among mind-bending options: for instance, he’s “not willing to lose / that which I cannot keep/ for that which I cannot lose.” Then comes what for me is the poem’s core image: “Crumb by crumb the self is whittled down.” It’s the self of the Christian classic The Cloud of Unknowing, the self that must dissolve into “a leash of longing” for God’s very being. The “leash” then leads the poet into a metaphor of himself as “stray dog,” from which more mind-bending apparent opposites follow. All are playing with the self’s “dissolutions,” until the poem’s final line: the diminishment into a mere parenthesis filled with absences.

—Peggy Rosenthal
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Poetry Friday: “Daybreak, Winter” by Betsy Sholl

23666248919_9ed672e6e0_zI have a complicated relationship with the sun, having grown up in southern California and now making my home in the moody Pacific Northwest. I swerve between desperation for even an hour of brightness and a stoic claim that my poet-soul finally feels at home in this rain-soaked climate. So Betsy Sholl’s poem about the longing for light—and its frustration by winter’s darkness—feels like it’s speaking directly to me, even as the lengthening days pitch us toward summer solstice. The poem’s four movements cast me out into the big questions, then draw me back in with quiet, simple sounds: “Now light…In my dream… Dawn in winter…” I love the stepping-stone quality of this poem’s thinking, how it steps carefully from image to image, as if the speaker were groping along the walls of some dark hallway while tracking a dream-truth. I stumble along holding tight to this poem’s unsure but deeply curious and trustful voice, as it moves from room to room. Here are familiar worries like “moths done with hunger, / white as tiny brides,” and a tree bearing fruit “only the birds, / and just a few of them, want to eat.” The poem is in some ways a procession of earthly failures, a meditation on the ways in which everything falls just short of oblivion—and yet finds light and grace again and again.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin
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