Review: Luci Shaw

Every once in awhile, I find a new author (of prose or poetry, whichever) and decide to get as many of his or her books as possible, then read them in a great flurry to form a very clear concept of that writer’s style.  

It usually backfires, because I put off even the activities I enjoy, and fail to read them until they’re all due back at the library.  My tsundoku works against me and I end up reading, like, 2 books of a potential dozen.  

But that fate has been averted, more or less, with Luci Shaw.  I discovered her in trying to find poems about Petoskey stones (which, as you may recall, I adore hunting on the Lake Michigan shoreline).

shaw-petoskeystoneTurning up Polishing the Petoskey Stone: what a boon!  There’s only one poem about Petoskeys in it, but the book’s introduction explains why that title was chosen.  Shaw’s friend showed her how the fossils could be buffed on anything – one’s blue jeans, the arm of a chair, the fabric of a car door interior.  After a road trip’s-worth of rubbing at a stone, the resulting sheen made Luci consider God, polishing each one of us individually; our particular sorrows, joys, dull moments, energetic evenings, manic Mondays are all part of the process of making us shine forth.

Polishing the Petoskey Stone astonished me with its wisdom and imagery.  Every other poem, if not every single one, provided illumination of God’s work through a wealth of natural pictures: frogs, shells, the view from an airplane window, circles, blood.  So much of it provided new and weighty illustrations about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

I eventually recognized that the sub-headings within were not simply section titles but the titles of earlier collections.  Polishing the Petoskey Stone contains poems originally published in Listen to the Green, The Secret Trees, The Sighting, and Postcard from the Shore.  Not all of them, but about two-thirds.  

Likewise, a handful from The Secret Trees turn up in The Green Earth and Water Lines; accompanied-by-angelswhole sections of Water Lines in Water My Soul; various selections from this and that book in Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation.  Where there is any overlap of theme, there will be an overlap of poems. 

And yet, the introductions to each book, the occasional endnotes, the different structure, and the fact that good poetry is worth re-reading and rumination all add up to a complete lack of regret for getting them all out.  

I tried to read in order, more or less, but the strictures of time and the MelCat system mean that I read certain later books earlier on.  Harvesting the Fog is a later book – published in 2010, not the 70’s or the early aughts.  I didn’t care for it half as much, as it seemed more concerned with simple description than with embodying the intangible.  

I still have six books of hers to read, and 4 more to track down and read thereafter, but I doubt they’ll change my judgment of Shaw: carefully observant, fresh and evocative, somewhat familiar in subject and tone to those fond of CS Lewis (while different in form).  I commend her to you all as a poet who will refresh your soul.

Infinity, Plus or Minus One

Over the past few days, I’ve been pondering the extent to which Christians are heirs of infinite blessing, incorruptible and undefiled and waiting for us.

Waiting for us is the worst bit.  It’s frustrating to be the heir who can’t access the fullness of his inheritance yet.  One is left anxiously fiddling with one’s pocket change, and casting about for security elsewhere.  I tend to eye the people who have more capital (so to speak) than I do: the people with more to be happy about (as though contentment were quantifiable), the people more focused on their goals, the people with more graces and gracefulness.

God help me.  When I was younger, I imagined that I would grow out of envy at some point.  Despite the fact that I am just as loved, just as redeemed, as any of them – loved and redeemed by the Creator of the universe, loved beyond my comprehension – I look, and I focus on the +1 that my neighbor has, that I don’t.

The very fact that such a mathematically small gap feels so big should be signal enough that my perspective is skewed.

It feels preachy (also, like cheating) to copy and paste the entirety of Romans 8 right here, even though it’s precisely what I need to reread.  Instead, I will share a poem from Sheldon Van Auken’s A Severe Mercy.  Julian, a friend of Sheldon and Davy’s, wrote it for them; it hung over Davy’s bed as she lay dying of cancer.  Davy’s life and love were part of the +1 that Sheldon enjoyed; the fact that he survived her, the severe mercy that taught him what inheritance was his through Christ.

If everything is lost, thanks be to God
If I must see it go, watch it go,
Watch it fade away, die
Thanks be to God that He is all I have
And if I have Him not, I have nothing at all
Nothing at all, only a farewell to the wind
Farewell to the grey sky
Goodbye, God be with you evening October sky.
If all is lost, thanks be to God,
For He is He, and I, I am only I.

Literary Liturgical Litany

Having been inspired by Thalia’s Blog Birthday post, I put together this litany for writers.  Its format follows the Great Litany of the Episcopal Church.  No disrespect is intended; rather, I hope that we all might seek the aid of the Author of Life as we set out to write.

O God the Father, whose name precedes all discussion of existence; who spoke all things that are into being; who orders the cosmos with a word,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us; the author and perfecter of our faith; whose words will never pass away,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, who spoke by the prophets; who sunders speech and melds it anew into coherence; who intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God, who has given the scriptures by inspiration for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness,
Have mercy upon us.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our first drafts, nor our long-disposed outlines; neither reward us according to our wordcraft.  Spare us, good Lord, spare thy creatures, for whom thou hast poured out the treasure of thy precious blood: the Word become flesh, the myth become fact, the sinless become sin for our sake.  By thy mercy preserve us, for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From tepidity of convictions and weakness of thought, reason, and diction,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From vacuity of substance and fatuous compositions,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From misuse of our time and distractions in our research; from antipathy for labor and the soul-weight of sloth,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From needless verbiage which obscures truth and sense,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From incorrect data, false testimony, skewed perspectives, incomplete citations, and misleading rhetoric,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From disorganized ideas; from overused tropes and clichéd plots; from plot holes and inconsistencies,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From paper-destroying fire and flood; from battery failure, power outages, viruses, frozen screens, unsaved documents, and all other complications,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From writer’s cramp and carpal tunnel syndrome; from smudged ink; from an illegible hand,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From poor grammar and careless editing; from conflation of similar terms and confusion of homophones; from the run-on sentence and typo,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From the evils of comma abuse, apostrophe neglect, and subject-verb disagreement,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From confusion of tense, voice, and mood,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all kinds of aphasia and dullness of expression,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From unconstructive, vicious reviews; from careless readership,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From fear of honest writing and the perils of self-doubt,
Good Lord, deliver us.

In all instances of writer’s block; in all time of springing words; in the hour of editing, and in the day of publishing,
Good Lord, deliver us.

We writers do beseech thee to hear us, O Lord God; and that it may please thee to govern our hearts to glorify you in our writing,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to illumine our minds as we put words to the page,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to breathe into our spirits your life-giving word, and sustain us when fainting,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to inspire us, in our several callings, to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of heart as thy servants, and for the common good,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to grant that, in the fellowship of Francis de Sales and all the saints, we may attain to thy heavenly kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant us thy peace.

O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, hear us.

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Let us pray.

We humbly beseech thee, O Father, mercifully to look upon our infirmities; and, for the glory of your Name, turn from us all those evils that we most justly have deserved; and grant that in all our troubles we may put our whole trust and confidence in thy mercy, and evermore serve thee in holiness and pureness of living, to thy honor and glory; through our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore.
Amen.