Last spring we launched a series with poets whose work we love and want to feature and will continue it moving forward.
Our next poet is Mark Burrows, whose work is deeply inspired by the idea of home and stability of place. You can hear Mark reading his poem “I Still Marvel” below and read more about the connections he makes between poetry and the sacred.
I STILL MARVEL
Each spring I wait for the crocuses to come,
eager to greet their purple bursts as they rise
from the soggy earth and stubborn patches
of late-lingering snow, and while I know
what their veils will show of radiance,
this does nothing to blunt my wonder
at their shining spread across the lawn.
They never bother to argue or complain,
but simply spear their greening blades
up beyond the hold of winter’s grip,
as if to sing in a gentle soundless way.
And though I’ve seen all this before,
I still marvel when they come, stem and
leaf and flower unfurling themselves
from the clutch of roots, a solitude we
yearn for, the lure of this long listening.
Themes of His Work
Seven years ago, I left the United States to live and work in Europe. It was, in some ways, a homecoming, returning to the land my grandparents had left a century ago to find a new life in America. In a sense, I found myself living my way back into my ancestral homeland, with all that suggests. “Home” is an abiding theme for me, in the deepest sense: it points to our yearning to belong to something larger than our own lives. It calls us to accept our place as creatures in a larger realm of life. It invites us to sense how the plant and animal world embody for us a sense of stabilitas loci, or “stability of place,” the bedrock of monastic life as St. Benedict understood it. My poems have been circling such themes for some years now.
—a late-afternoon reverie in Taizé on a gentle hill looking westward
The world of things is what it is, no more or less,
yet we imagine we’re more important than the rest—
like trees rooted where a seed once fell, aspiring to no
other place or nobler form, or winds that blow wherever
they will without a trace of fear; like well-worn stones
that lie here and there in the field where I idly sit, warmed
all day by the late-spring sun, or the flow of the creek that
I can see but not hear, swollen by weeks of steady rain.
Across the gleaming field a herd of cows stands grazing
contentedly, giving themselves to the day’s needs without
a single thought, while on and on a swoop of swallows darts
through clouds of gnats that come from no place I could see.
All these are what they are without a worry in the world—
as we also long to be who are often uneasy with our lives;
each lives within a presence not theirs, each teaching us to
seek nothing less than the ordinary miracle of everything.
Poetry and the Sacred
In her marvelous recent collection of essays on poetry, Jane Hirshfield suggests that “the desire of monks and mystics is not unlike that of artists: to perceive the extraordinary in the ordinary by changing not the world but the eyes that look.” She goes on to suggest that poetry is the means by which “the inner reaches out to transform the outer, and the outer reaches back to transform the one who sees” (Ten Windows. How Great Poems Transform the World[New York: Knopf, 2015]). Poems carry the magic of conversion, the energy of transformation, bending the imagination in both directions—from inner to outer to inner, and around again. They change the way we learn to look, and thereby shape how—and what—we see. They call us to reach into our inner being. They invite us into the power of change.
In writing as in reading poems, what matters has nothing to do with information. It is about transformation. About an allurement into the mystery present in ordinary moments. It is an awakening into a presence we call “divine,” but know only in and through the texture of human experience. It lures us to value the outward order (and disorder) of life as the only means we have of sensing something of the unseeable depths among which we ever live. Good poems invite us into the slow, meditative journey that the poet Rainer Maria Rilke called “heart-work” (Herz-Werk), by which he meant coming to inhabit our lives with greater awareness and opening ourselves to those glimpses of the sacred present in all that is. Call it the path of creativity. Call it the journey into insight. Call it salvation.
WHAT WE’RE MADE FOR
Song opposes the power of distance.
There are at least three reasons to sing:
because we can, sometimes because we
must, and yes, because in the deep-down
truth at the heart of things, silence does
not deserve the last word, because after
all is said and done we’re not made for
the clarities of prose alone, but for what
song can bring of solace and delight.
About Mark Burrows
Mark S. Burrows is well-known as a speaker and much in demand as a retreat leader in Europe, Australia, and the United States. A poet by nature and disposition, he has taught historical theology at the graduate and undergraduate level, always with a keen interest in religion and literature, mysticism and poetics. His recent collection of poems, The Chance of Home, has been described as a gathering of “wise and tender poems [that] practice ‘long listening,’ [voicing the poet’s] ongoing record of those instances of connectedness when we are at home in what the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa called ‘the astonishing reality of things,’ a reality which is, as Burrows so touchingly knows, ‘nothing less than / the ordinary miracle of everything.”
He is also an award-winning translator of modern German poetry and literature, having published the only English translation of Rilke’s Prayers, which eventually became the opening part of his Book of Hours (Prayers of a Young Poet), 2016. He has also translated a remarkable book of poem/prayers by the Iranian-German poet SAID, published as 99 Psalms. More recently, he published with Jon M. Sweeney a collection of poems inspired by Meister Eckhart’s writings, Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart. Meditations for the Restless Soul . His forthcoming sequel to this, Meister Eckhart’s Book of Secrets. Meditations on Letting Go and Finding True Freedom, due out in October.
He is the recent recipient of the Witter Bynner Prize in Poetry, with a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. A member of the Bochumer Literaten, a circle of professional writers in the Ruhr Region of Germany, Burrows currently lives between Bochum, Germany, where he teaches theology and literature at the Protestant University of Applied Sciences, and Camden, Maine. He edits poetry for the journals Spiritus and Arts, and is poetry editor at Paraclete Press. msburrows.com
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.