On Whitman

Poet C. K. Williams’ new volume “On Whitman” returned me not only to Whitman’s work, but to remembrance of participation in a public celebration of his work as well. The setting was at a Meeting House in Genesee Country Village and Museum, south of Rochester, New York. The occasion was a reading in full of “Leaves of Grass” by 52 area readers in 2006.


Was it happenstance, the intent of the organizer, or a lingering nod from Walt himself that provided the opening for a pastor such as myself to be assigned the subsequently-altered portion of his 1855 poem which begins “O Christ! My fit is mastering me!”
 
Hearing the whole of the original “Leaves” read out loud nearly mastered me that day. It’s like sitting through a reading of the Gospel of Mark, prior to its own subsequent “roundings.” Not un-planned in its native form by the author, of course, but powerful in its telling all at once and in one breath; or in 52.

Art and Courage

What happens when a poem, or rather, to a poet, when her poem is released to others?
 
In “Art and Fear,” David Bayles and Ted Orland touch on acceptance (or not) and approval (or not) by others of one’s art, and the effect such may have on the artist. I was especially struck by their comment that, apart from those “artists who thrive on confrontation,” for others “survival means finding an environment where art is valued and artmaking encouraged” (p. 46). I suspect over time this applies to most.
 
I wonder, too, if the need for the latter is not heightened for those necessarily engaged in live presentation — dance, theatre, teaching — in which the distance in time (and space) between presenter and audience is compressed. The buffer between isolated artist and intended recipient shrinks and, in the case of a class (or congregation), in fact, may become semi-permeable. When “I” and “them” become, for the duration of a specified time together, at least, an “us.” The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
 
Perhaps I should revisit my opening question, and that implied in Bayles and Orland’s subtitle, “Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.”

What happens when we articulate (or refuse to) the stuff of life before us. (On the risk to one-self of not making one’s art, see their p. 33).

How do we begin to make known “out loud” that which stirs us deep within.

And where does the poet find courage for the poeming.

 

The Journey toward God

“Poetry and the Journey Toward God” was the name of the gathering that sparked this blog — or at least centered its author in a place still enough that he thought to try and capture something of its essence after.

 


On receipt of a watercolor note-card showing the view out onto Chesapeake Bay from the same place in which a group of us had begun by reflecting on TS Eliot’s line “The Still Point of the Turning World,” it seemed a kindred spirit had captured the same.

sky-borne

 

sky-borne

 

like Mary at Cana, the mother of the bride
has shrouded the wine to be served at the end;
the father deputized nephews to escort
their guests to the wedding tent, taut under rain,
beneath which the pastor has not failed their nuptials,
nor yet their candle set blaze to the trellis

 

but after, an aunt has to slip away still,
making her way stealth from tittering nieces,
hearing aids laid on the ground by her side
to lie on the hillside and search out the star;
the one burned in heaven her daughter made leaving
when she, gathered first, pierced her way into night

 

and, who’s to say, if there’s more love to find
than the arc a fifteen-year-old left in her wake.

 

(William B. Jones, 2009)

Poet of Assisi

This past Sunday, July 4, along with weaving together threads of a  “regular” worship service with first-Sunday Communion, heightened-Sunday Baptisms, and (oh yes) Independence Day, Francis of Assisi dropped by.  Not the “Saint Francis trapped in the stone bird bath,” but Francis the young stonemason who heard read in church 800 years ago the same gospel account we did yesterday — of Jesus’ sending disciples out to proclaim peace, heal the infirm, taking nothing on the journey not needed.

 

Franciscan students differ on precisely which gospel lection Francis heard when he decided to give up the hermit’s garb of sandals, tunic and belt he wore while literally rebuilding churches.  Luke 10 was the reading given for yesterday; Matthew 10, however, also includes mention of lepers, which were key to Francis’ –and Jesus’ — ministry. Whichever reading of Jesus’ sending Francis asked the priest about following worship that Sunday eight centuries ago, it offered a model beyond either ordained priesthood or isolated hermitage for him in its sending forth into the world; a model he adopted himself as followers began to come to him.  From this beginning he took up the call to preach and practice the gospel of peace.

 

In my own meeting with Franciscans, it was in coming to work with those suffering with AIDS that I met the Francis who stepped “down from the bird-bath” into the world of human suffering and compassion. My poem “Mercy” (in Sacred exchange) tells something of that encounter. Beyond that, I’ve met Francis in the quiet of the “Enchanted Mountains” on Sabbatical at the Franciscan Institute; on asking a mentor how to “pastor peace” in a country bending easily into war; and in arguing whether snow-children really keep one truer in faith than blood and flesh. Francis surprises me wherever he shows up, and perhaps sometimes I surprise him. A sacred exchange, indeed.

A Still Point…

View from Saint Mary's City Old Statehouse (Trisha Coghlan watercolor © 2010, tcoghlan@rocketmail.com)

 

View of Chesapeake headwaters from Old Statehouse, Saint Mary’s City

And from a particular setting, too — the campus and environs of Saint Mary’s  College, Maryland, on a poetry and faith retreat.  Warm.  Inviting.  At the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay.  With crabcakes and lightning over the water come evening.  What a beginning!