Poetry Friday: “Bewilder”

Beluga whales swimming in a bluish cave with light illuminating them in the ocean.This is a poem about scale, about the awesome power of the Creator, who in turn gave humanity the power to create. And it’s about the power of a created being, and its potential to do good or evil. Here we have a whale sighting, her powerful fluke useable for constructive or destructive acts—“so many gestures// a fluke or fin can make with or/ without ruin.” Over time, the Leviathan has stood for evil of various kinds. Yet the bulk of the poem celebrates the whale’s beauty without romanticizing or anthropomorphizing. Indeed, it makes deliberate strides against that temptation, admonishing: “her eye deeply/winking at my eye, no more/ human for that.” The poem affirms, if for no one else than for the speaker, that the whale was made for her own good purpose, for God’s own good purpose, “to sing… for enchantment and for love.” The mystery of creation rises into view, immense, blinking its wild eye, and then disappears again, leaving our hearts pounding. Leaving us feeling more alive, as any good poem— creation—ought to. 

—Melissa Reeser Poulin


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John Slater’s Lean

dying branch with tiny yellow leaves laid across a white table cloth in the afternoon.What is poetry, anyway? I found myself musing about this as I sat with John Slater’s stimulating new collection, Lean.

First I recalled what I’d once heard poet Li Young Lee say at a reading:

In poetry, language is not the only medium; silence is also a medium. This is a difference of poetry from prose. We might even say that, in poetry, the very purpose of the language is to inflect the silences. It’s like after church bells ring: the air resonates with their sound. In poetry, the silences are resonant, from the language that precedes them.

Slater’s poems are as full of silences as of words. First, the poems themselves are—as the book’s title suggests—lean. With one exception, each poem’s lines run from one to four words. So there’s an invited silence at the end of each brief line. Then another, longer reverberating silence: many of the poems present an image, followed by a space with a * in it, followed by another image stanza, then another spaced *… and so on.

Take the whole of the poem “Thaw”:

Freeze
thaw freeze
hollowing
pot-holes in
salty grey-
black asphalt

cracked
seam between
lanes
stitched
by faded
golden broken
line.
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The Next Abraham

motherhood-by-barbara-w-on-flickrA few days ago, I was blessed to be present at my grandson Abraham’s bris, his ritual circumcision. The mohel, the rabbi who officiated at and performed the circumcision, explained to the family and friends gathered for the ceremony, explained that a bris is the way God signs God’s name on a Jewish male baby.

The day before the bris, women marched in solidarity all around the country and the world. Baby Abraham’s father, his uncle on his father’s side, and his oldest brother participated in the march in New York. So did the baby Abraham’s aunt on his mother’s side, uncle, and five-month-old niece. They were joined by baby Abraham’s stepmother on his mother’s side.

My wife, baby Abraham’s maternal grandmother, the baby’s biological grandfather on his mother’s side, and I stayed home with the newborn and his mother. At just a week old, baby Abraham was still too young to be taken to the march. And his mother was still recovering from the delivery. Had Abraham been a month or more old, I’m sure we all would have joined the rest of the family on the march. .

Everyone knows what happened on Friday January 20, the day before the women’s march.

It was a charged moment to witness the circumcision of a baby, marking the moment he ritualistically joined the Jewish people’s covenant with God. It was a charged moment to welcome a baby to the Divided States of America.

But this bris in particular was a deep moment of union, a moment that, for those present and for all those who will, God willing, get to know Abraham as he grows, marked, in its quiet way, a mending of the nation, even the world. This bris marked a moment of joining in love parts of the world that some would keep apart by instilling in us fear of certain others, by dividing the world simplistically, dangerously into friends and enemies. [Read more…]

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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