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 Sofia M. Starnes whose work is centered on God, as infinite mind and heart. Read her poetry and discover more about the connections she makes between poetry and the sacred. Listen to her read "The Soul's Landscape" below.
A time for keeping quiet,
A time for speaking …
Not the attic light, but the bricks that left us asking
where the house was,
and the widow-walk.
Not the porch lamps, but the blueprint of a sunroom
and a window stripped to bone. Chanticleer.
By early dawn, the swindle of a cockcrow flew apart.
So, did death stop speaking too?
All our ladders have become: ribcage, bruise
appraisal, crackers in a can, dry root—
which is to say, a basement full of words made
music in large cages and small rooms.
And so I turn to voice as sling, to call as latticework
(gossips in a loft),
that breaks our fall through ink and mockingbird,
those nights we test our hand on spring, incur a rustle—
brush before abandon.
From Fully Into Ashes, Wings Press, 2011;
first published in ARTS
Themes of Her Work
Having written mostly in free verse (although the use of formal stanzas and their cadence give my poems visual and oral shape), I recently discovered a 15th-16th century form, the dizain, which captivated me with its conciseness and prescribed constraints.
Against the chaos and disjointedness of the prevailing "outrage culture", I am drawn to the dizain's whispering power. I am exploring it further, hoping to recast it with contemporary voice. The themes of the poems vary, but their center remains the same: God, as infinite mind and heart; our minds and hearts growing only, and fully, by abiding in his.
A word disperses what a breath has caught,
as crimson bird fraying the autumn mist,
or ruffle in a cloth, a thread, once knot,
now a quiver. Tell us, the crowds insist;
for telling means that languages exist
past brokenness—until they taste the salt
of being healed. Far closer now, the fault
that split the girl's lips from her Hebrew tongue.
Talitha koum! Her breath, turned somersault,
pinwheels the distance between gasp and song.
Published in Presence, 2019
Poetry and the Sacred
I think everything we do derives from our having been fed, which is why it is fitting that we say grace, not only before meals, but before anything else we do. Before writing.
Writing is a willful act which takes us closer to or (God forbid) farther from God. There is no staying in place. Not because we do the "approaching"—it is always God's call—but because only in his presence can we respond to God's initiative. So, whenever I write, I try to place myself in the presence of God, praying that the words will neither go astray nor lead me astray. There is no guarantee that the poem will be a good poem (so many poems falter in the race!), only that the moment will be spent prayerfully, will be holy. There is still the hard work, the not-knowing whether a particular poem is worth anything at all, the need to live simultaneously with faith and doubt.
For me, writing poetry necessitates an emptying of the self, so that the poem is no longer about me. The resulting emptiness would be untenable if it were not filled with the sacred, ultimately (God-willing, in God's mercy) with God.
…from Latin emergere, "bring forth, bring to light"
At times this brings a stork, past rains, abandoning
a tower; at times a bubble dying
in a pond. I hear the word emerge and see a fern
or a feather; the first one wild and wispy,
to cure a wound, the role of ancient grasses; the other,
trail of a bird, slim fan or lady's purse—
the kind fairy tales gather.
Does not your heart, weary from things apparent,
ask what each storyline will tell,
which words carry their roots with candor?
Secrets would hunker down, safe in their winter castles,
were it not—
for the prophetic stem, weighty with beans
that rides its pole for air, for what we sense of seeds,
soft inches down, fussing our veins awake,
for every bone that pulls the body alert, to learn
its fragile face. But what about our hands,
the ones we excuse from light, deep in our pockets?
With chambers dark, I think, the dark is change, is key.
From The Consequence of Moonlight (Paraclete Press, 2018);
first published in The William and Mary Review
About Sofia M. Starnes
Sofia M. Starnes, Virginia Poet Laureate (2012-2014), is the author of six poetry collections, most recently The Consequence of Moonlight (Paraclete Press, 2018). She is also the recipient of a Poetry Fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, among numerous other commendations, including five Pushcart Prize nominations. In 2013, she received an honorary Doctorate in Letters from Union College, Kentucky.
From 2007 to 2019, Sofia served as Poetry Editor and Poetry Book Review Editor for The Anglican Theological Review. Currently, in addition to working on her poetry she is a manuscript editor and mentor for writers of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. She is also a freelance literary translator, particularly of art essays, memoirs, and historical texts, most recently for Galería Cayón (Madrid, Spain), the Ayala Foundation (Manila, Philippines), and Iberdrola (Bilbao, Spain).
For more information, please visit SofiaMStarnes.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.