Conversation on Religious Poetry:
Two Statements made by Peter Menkin
(“Religious Poetry, How does it work?”) My interest here is to again provide artistic and spiritual statement about my work as an aspiring poet. I say again, do go to Eratosphere and look under the link provided above to find remarks by many very good and knowledgeable poets on the subject. These are of course by their group of participants, and I do not post on that workshop anymore, and only for a short time. But I did find the discussion part helpful, and some of the other.
My side of the text only, provided here since I haven’t permission to reprint the discussion in its entirety.
For a few years now I have been interested in both writing and reading religious poetry. Some I’ve written better than others, and some I’ve written I like more than others.
Some critics say the work needs a more personal voice and modern statement (as T.S.). So I read religious poetry both for devotion and to learn about it.
I’ve enjoyed a wider range of religious poetry (Christian in faith), much of it modern. An example, the poet named Ephrem:
Perhaps his more passionate, and Marian oriented are more interesting to readers, and religious Christians.
I have not come to the popular notion that religious poetry must evoke and reveal the personal experience and passions of the writer. Or that it needs to show some doubt or metamorphisis in belief. I have practiced praise and Thanksgiving, as I am able. My intent is to stay with the Anglican tradition, as I am an Episcopalian. So much for a statement of intent.
I think my attitude is fair game, criticism has improved my own efforts. Some religious poets show something of their attitude and interest.
William Blake is a popular religious poet, and I think he represents how such poets represent their time:
“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?”
Unlike Blake, who was a spiritual man not so beholding to the views of the Church, though certainly an asset, his interest are more “free-thinking.” There is a very nice (as in fitting series of poems) from which I took the quote in the book, “The Poetry of Piety: An Annotated Anthology of Christian Poetry.”
In some important way, I have read the poems published by Immaculate Heart Hermitage in Big Sur, California (where I am received). I have enjoyed the monastic tradition that the Camaldolese offer. Because of this, I’ve tried my hand at the same kind of ethos.
I have a few examples of responses to quiet days at a monastery in Berkeley, California (being an Oblate, I do such things, visit a study house for instruction and education). One I have posted is a lengthy series on contemplation, and a statement by a monk put into “poetry). Taking great liberties with what is a poem, I made this verbatim(?) and copied poetic statement rather than an oral report. The monks liked it, as did some others. They posted it. One time I posted it for comment and suggestion, and gladly it was received as a centering prayer. Probably useful that way. If you’d like to check out some of my poetry, visit my blog: http://www.petermenkin.blogspot.com http://www.petermenkin.com
The first URL is the blog, the second my web site.
I find I have improved with time, even had a a few poems published in religious (Christian) magazines. This satisfies my ambition. Here is a very good poem by a favorite poet of mine, also a religious poet.
By Denise Levertov (“The Showings: Lady Julian of Norwich, 1342-1416):
“And you ask us to turn our gaze
inside out, and see
a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and believe
it is our world? Ask us to see it lying
in God’s pierced palm? That it encompasses
every awareness our minds contain? All Time?
All limitless space given form in this
(“Upholding Mystery: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Poetry.”
Forgive me my excesses in this post.
About the monks of the Order of St. Benedict in Big Sur, California (USA), they express their interest in various poetic statements. One slim book I bought at their bookstore at the monastery is by Patrick W. Flanigan, M.D., a local of the region. (“Surviving the Storm” by Pacific Grove Publishing, Pacific Grove, California.)
A quote from “Fog.”
On the face, not a religious poem. But as those who follow The Rule of St. Benedict, this poem speaks of place (stability), creation (Biblical), and of quiet (contemplation). I think this implies a mystery about life.
Another, “The Basin”:
“A metal basin
full of water,
sits on the rocky bank
This poem says later, “just be” and that statement is like the Biblical quote, “Be silent and know that I am God.”
There is another poetry book, even slimmer, that they sell and I suspect endorse. A visitor to their monastery (silent retreat only) writes of place with reference to its natural setting, making a statement of hallowed and holy ground. She is not a Christian, and finds the monastery a deeply spiritual place of holiness for herself and others. I haven’t a sample, otherwise I would post it as an example of religious poetry. For though she herself doesn’t interpret her statement as Christian or religious, but rather spiritual, I think that others do.
Peter Menkin, Mill Valley, CA USA (North of San Francisco)