We are launching a new series this spring with poets whose work we love and want to feature!
Our next poet is Barbara Crooker, whose work is deeply inspired by paying attention to how God whispers in the world. You can hear Barbara reading her poem "Sanctus" below and read more about the connections she makes between poetry and the sacred.
In those last few months my mother didn't want to eat, this woman
who made everything from scratch, and who said of her appetite,
I eat like a bricklayer. Now she listlessly stirred the food
around her plate, sometimes picking up a piece of chicken,
then looking at it as if to say, What is this? Wouldn't put
it in her mouth. But Peeps! Marshmallow Peeps! Spun sugar
and air, molded in clever forms: a row of ghosts, a line
of pumpkins, a bevy of bunnies, a flock of tiny chicks,
sometimes in improbable colors like purple and blue. . . .
One day, she turned over her tray, closed her mouth, looked up
at me like a defiant child, and said, I'm not eating this stuff.
Where's my Peeps?
When it was over, the hospice chaplain said some words
in my back yard, under the wisteria arch. The air was full
of twinkling white butterflies, in love with the wild oregano.
Blue-green fronds of Russian sage waved in front of the Star
Gazer lilies, and a single finch lit on a pink coneflower, and stayed.
When there were no more words or tears, I ripped open
the last packet of Peeps, tore their little marshmallow bodies,
their sugary blood on my hands, and gave a piece to each
of us. It melted, grainy fluff on our tongues, and it was good.
Themes of Her Work
In my new book, Some Glad Morning, coming out in the fall 2019, from the University of Pittsburgh Poetry Press in the Pitt Poetry Series, I find I'm exploring transience. Here, in the final decade (s) of my life (I may be past my sell-by date already, according to some acutuarial charts), the hardest part is loss, losing friends, losing the body's capabilities, etc. I worried that the manuscript had too many elegies, but as I read it over, I realized it also had a fair amount of joy (hence the title). I live by this quote from Wendell Berry, "Be joyful though you have considered all of the facts."
The Books of Kells: Chi/Rho
The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript
of the four Gospels, created in around 800 AD.
The Chi/Rho page consists of the Greek letters
chi and rho that were used in medieval times
to abbreviate the word "Christ."
With quills and ink of iron gall on folded vellum,
monks in their cells labored in hives of stone,
producing pages that glistened like honey,
sweetening the word of God. On this page, the chi
commands the eye, its arm swooping to the left
in an elegant scrawl, the smaller rho and iota
nestled to the right. Knotwork fills each letter
to the brim. Three angels fly from the crossed
arms, heaven and earth intertwined, coiled spirals
connected by curves. Despite the gleam, no gold
is used, just layers of color built up like enamel.
In the interstices, creatures of air: birds and moths;
creatures of sea: fish and otters; creatures of land:
cats and mice. For the whole world was holy,
not just parts of it. The world was the Book of God.
The alphabet shimmered and buzzed with beauty.
from The Book of Kells
Poetry and the Sacred
It is my ardent belief that most of us are sleepwalking through our "one wild and precious life" (Mary Oliver), looking down at our phones, spending hours on social media (photos of the moon instead of going outside and looking at the moon), etc. Reading and writing poetry is the opposite of this; it's paying attention. And attention is, I think, a form of prayer. Frank Lloyd Wright said, "I believe in God, only I spell it 'Nature'," and, for me, that's where I feel God the most, outside in the woods, fields, gardens, rather than in a church (although I'm a regular church-goer). I try to write outside whenever I can, especially when I'm in residence at a colony, which has been part of my practice. I've tried to have two weeks or so every couple of years, and during that time, all I do is read, write, and take walks. And pay attention to everything that shows up (I believe in serendipity), whether it's an inchworm, a conversation at dinner, a painting (artists usually have open studios), or a piece of music (there are often concerts or musicians performing after dinner). I try to be open to everything, as that's how, I think, God whispers.
A brown hare washes her face
in the lane while the hare in the moon
looks on. The hare in the moon
carries an egg, new cycle of life
that comes in the spring. But now,
it's autumn, the sky closing in,
fir trees inking footprints
on the gray silk sky. A luminous sky,
tattered with crows. Two swans,
ruffled lilies, float in the lake's bright bowl.
Some fairy's touched all the trees overnight,
turned them orange, yellow, and red. All of
the green fields are clotted with sheep. What
is the world, but the body of God?
from The Book of Kells
About Barbara Crooker
Barbara Crooker's work has appeared in many journals, including The Christian Century, America, Sojourners, Saint Katherine Review, Perspectives, Literature and Belief, The Cresset, Tiferet, Spiritus, Assisi, Dappled Things, Ruminate, Rock & Sling, Relief, Seminary Ridge Review, The Anglican Theological Review,and anthologies such as The Bedford Introduction to Literature and Imago Dei: Poems from Christianity and Literature. She is a recipient of the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and the author of twelve chapbooks and nine full-length books of poetry; The Book of Kells is the most recent, with Some Glad Morning coming out in the Pitt Poetry Series (University of Pittsburgh Press) in the fall, 2019. She is a poetry editor for Italian American and lives and works in rural northeastern Pennyslvania.
Dreaming of Stones
Christine Valters Paintner's new collection of poems Dreaming of Stones has just been published by Paraclete Press.
The poems in Dreaming of Stones are about what endures: hope and desire, changing seasons, wild places, love, and the wisdom of mystics. Inspired by the poet's time living in Ireland these readings invite you into deeper ways of seeing the world. They have an incantational quality. Drawing on her commitment as a Benedictine oblate, the poems arise out of a practice of sitting in silence and lectio divina, in which life becomes the holy text.