Poetry Friday: “New Year, Good Work”

Just Bens Photos on flickr woodworkingA 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…]

ImageUpdate’s Top Ten of 2016

iutop10_2016Every 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.

Receive this weekly curation service in 2017 (for free!): become an ImageUpdate subscriber here.

 

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Poetry Friday: “Carol of the Infuriated Hour”

the-night-school-by-gerrit-dou-via-wikimedia-commons-public-domainChristmas 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…]

Kathleen Wakefield’s Invisible Stenographer

givegripandswaykathleenwakefieldbookYou’ve got to meet this character. She’s a stenographer by trade:

From the outset she was the obsessive type,
maker of lists: dates, births and deaths, diagnoses,
times of arrival and departure, the amassing of coins, weapons
and works of art, portions of letters, speeches and grocery lists,
though soon it was statements of motivation, speculations
on the nature of the original crime,
the 33 million names for God.

She goes easily, as here, from the mundane specific (“grocery lists”) to the cosmic (God’s names—but thirty-three million?! She has certainly been around to collect so many).

You’ve got to meet this extraordinary character, whom you’ll find in the final seventeen poems of Grip, Give and Sway, the new collection by Image’s recent Artist of the Month, Kathleen Wakefield. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “A Christmas Story”

oxford-snow-by-tejvan-pettinger-on-flickr

In “A Christmas Story,” Robert Cording evokes Aleksander Wat (1900-1967), a Polish poet that converted from Judaism to Christianity while imprisoned in the Soviet Union. During a brief moment out of prison walls, the poem explains that Wat was awestruck by a simple street scene: a beautiful women in a green dress, the “bell of a bicycle,” blue sky. “It was all thrilling, achingly alive, a feast/ happening right there on the street between / the prison and the government office/ nothing else mattering.” Interestingly, the Christmas story in this is poem is, in fact, the retelling of this moment at a dinner party to a know-it-all, “young professor whose field of expertise / seemed to be ironic distance.” While the weight of Wat’s revelation is amusingly lost on the guest, as a reader we are reminded to stay open to surprise. During this season of expectant waiting, I always seem to experience objects and sensations more intensely. The pearly, full moon rising, frost laden branches, the smell of wood smoke, trumpeter swans flapping overhead. For me, Advent ushers in a new kind of awareness that is both felt and known, surprising and familiar. Similar to Wat’s experience, the practice for the season is to be awake and grateful enough to receive.

—Jessica Gigot

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