Archive for September, 2012

Today, two of my students gave a presentation on poetry and social media. They introduced me to the wordsmith, Joshua Bennett, and this astonishing poem about his brother …

Joshua Bennett – “Levi”

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That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


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And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.


And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in Love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

Seamus Heaney
The Spirit Level (1996)

Listen to Seamus Heaney read “St. Kevin and the Blackbird

Fall 2004 – British Columbia, Canada to Chicago, IL

I was flying back from Canada to
Chicago, from the Pacific Northwest,
full of rainy pines, to the Midwest where
it was much colder. But my heart in my breast

was warm. I was sitting beside Kevin,
who told me of his Irish name-sake saint,
a man who opened his palms to pray at Lent
and held so still, a blackbird built her nest

in his hands, and all her hatchlings were born
safe in his prayers and in his gentle palms.
The baby blackbirds grew and flew far ’way
from the patient saint–to new lakes and lands.

This all happened long ago like a dream,
like a kiss that leaves you wond’ring what it means.

Jane Beal
The Bird-Watcher’s Diary Entries, 2nd Ed. (2011)

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The other day, in a poetry workshop I am teaching, we were discussing dramatic monologue. Among several other examples that we read together was one I wrote a few years ago: “Love-Song for a Wanderer.” It is written from the perspective of Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus, celebrated forever by Homer in his epic poetry. A few days later, one of my dear students, Abigail Hullinger, sent me a link to a song sung as if by Odysseus (who is also known as Ulysses). In the midst of a long silence as I am, it touched my heart to hear these two literary figures in dialogue, however imagined their conversation may be.


To me, you are Odysseus.

I have been waiting twenty years
for you to come home.

And you come to me.

Now I touch your scars—
I know the memory of your skin.

Your scars are beautiful under my fingertips.

Tell me the stories of your adventures in the shadow-kingdom
and the way of your ship on the waves.

Calypso wishes she could hear you now.

But I am the one
listening to your voice.

I never wove a shroud for you.

Now you have returned
over the sea, shining, to me.

I dreamed you were an eagle.

And here, you have
settled in my olive tree.


Jane Beal
Love-Song (2009)


from Josh Garrels,
Love & War & the Sea in Between

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“It’s not about keeping the rules!” Paul told the people. “You don’t have to be good at being good for God to love you. You just have to believe what Jesus has done and follow him. Because it’s not about trying, it’s about trusting. It’s not about rules, it’s about Grace: God’s free gift — that cost him everything.”

What had happened to Paul? He met Jesus.

by Sally Lloyd Jones w/ Illustrator Jago
The Jesus Storybook Bible

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I, I can’t promise you
that I won’t let you down,
and I, I can’t promise you
that I will be the only one around
when your hope falls down.

But we’re young, open flowers in the windy fields
of this war-torn world,
and love, this city breathes the plague
of loving things more than their creators.

I ran away–
I could not take the burden of both me and you
It was too fast,
casting love on me as if it were a spell I could not break
when it was a promise I could not make.

But what if I was wrong?

But hold on to what you believe –in the light–
when the darkness has robbed you of all your sight

And now this land means less and less to me
without you breathing through its trees.
At every turn the water runs away from me
and the halo disappears
and the hole when you’re not near.

So what if I was wrong?

But hold on to what you believe –in the light–
when the darkness has robbed you of all your sight

So hold on to what you believed in the light

Listen on YouTube:

Hold Onto What You Believe

Reflection: Yesterday, two my students, Abigail and Brooke, shared this song, this lyrical poem, as part of a presentation on the intersections of music and poetry. I wanted to remember it and share it with others.

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