The Gift of Poetry Now at Hand

I'm currently in a Rabbit Room reading group with author Ben Palpant and others from around the world interested in writing. We are discussing his recent book, Letters from the Mountain, a collection of letters addressed to his eldest daughter, a bourgeoning young writer. highly recommend this book to any sojourner in the way of Christ seeking wisdom for their vocation; it's saturated in helps for the journey. I was caught off guard when I started reading his book, thought, realizing I had stumbled upon - by God's divine leading - letters I need to hear. 

Being in this community of artists and writers has already nourished my own craft and kindled inspiration. Palpant’s writing motivates me toward more attentiveness to the grace all around me - to see, to notice - for unless I pay attention to what I’m paying attention to, what words could I possibly offer the world? Prior to this book, Palpant published some collections of poems that I look forward to reading. You can view an example here.

I remember now as a young boy, I enjoyed poetry. 

I was not enlightened with any avante garde poetry in my upbringing, but rather simple rhymes lyricized by the likes of Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and Roald Dahl, as well as the rhyme I discovered in the hymns and liturgy of the church (though, we were not a "liturgical" church, as they say). I have fond memories of creating a poetry notebook in sixth grade. 

As an adult, I sense the Spirit of God pulling this affection for poetry down out of the attic and blowing the dust and cobwebs away. Really, I suppose I simply like words, beauty, mystery, and transcendence, and poetry is one of those art forms that somehow awakens the imagination and stirs the slumbering heart. As Shakespeare has written, in Midsummer Night's Dream, poets take us further than reason can travel, beyond the veil of what is empirically known, to a reconciliation of the visible and invisible:

The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”

I'm probably only now secure enough (getting there!) to admit I have a fondness for poetry. Perhaps over the past decade I have seen the signs, as I jot a poem into my journal, or attempt a hip hop rhyme, or gravitate towards books, podcasts, movies, magazines, and works of art that feature poetry. Possibly, there is a movement afoot by the leading of God to stir our hearts - through the arts - to see and hear what the enlightenment, industrialism, secular materialism, and scientism cannot deliver to our hungry souls. Which reminds of something Malcolm Guite has said, that poets must not seek self-expression but to point to truth beyond ourselves. Rightly he has pointed out that all language is metaphor - signifiers pointing to something beyond which we can't fully grasp; think of river in which you step, it is never the same river twice. This is the marvel of Scripture, as seen in the Genesis narrative and in John's gospel - pointing to Jesus as the supreme Logos, the word of God, the creator's voice calling life into being and now we, as imago Dei, have the capacity to be co-creators with him!

I'm slowly learning in very small doses about the works of poets like Ben Palpant, Luci Shaw, Malcolm Guite, Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, Wendell Berry, Hebrew poetry (Genesis, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, etc.), and more. Even in that list, I see the embarassing absence of people of color, indigenous voices, and more. Maya Angelou? Amanda Gorman? Who would you introduce me to? Who are poets, and what poems, have quickened your imagination and filled you with truth, goodness and beauty? What poets have brought comfort and depth to your searching? What poems have illuminated Christ and his wisdom for living in your life?

There's a world of wonder awaiting, and I feel as if I am just now standing upon the threshold, eager to explore, learn and discover how my imagination and faith can mature along the contours of one of God's greatest gifts: poetry.


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