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.



Once, in pursuit of expanding my musical horizons a very little bit, I checked The Best of the Thistle & Shamrock out of the library, and thus added William Jackson’s “Corryvreckan” to my playlists. I never knew what exactly Corryvreckan was, though given all the pictures of Scottish countryside in the video I just linked (after the baffling phoenix at the start), I assumed it was some place that Mr. Jackson found especially inspiring, and never bothered asking why.

Sure, every video YouTube links to it involves whirlpools, but I more or less ignored the implications of that.

Or I did, until a friend on Tumblr shared a post today with some information on Bolton Strid, a river in Yorkshire that kills anyone who tries to cross it and fails (or, worse, tries swimming in it).  Obviously I was fascinated, looked it up, and found a 2.5-year-old Cracked article listing Bolton Strid as one of the “5 Most Spectacular Landscapes on Earth (That Murder You).”

Wouldn’t you know it: said article also lists the Corryvreckan maelstrom. Well. That answers that!

Lured by the promise of some fascinating force of nature, I found the following video. Most of it is a rather soothing video of the Scottish shoreline, accompanied by equally soothing music, but check out 2:20 to 4:15.  If I thought the video from the surface too placid-looking, there’s an animation of the sea bed which somehow impressed upon me the weight and depth of all the water right there.  Go and have a look at the Charybdis Brecani!

Travelogue: Grand Canyon

Trekking across the wide expanse of land that comprises the western part of the United States of America, there was once one person who first stumbled over the Grand Canyon.

I can only barely imagine how he felt.

I have seen photos, so I was prepared in some degree. But the sheer . . . . largeness staggered me.

We left Santa Fe, with its rich history and perfect weather and pretty scenery and fake adobe buildings.

(Even the McDonald’s was faux adobe. We called it . . . . faudobe.)

And we reached Grand Canyon National Park just before sunset. It had rained a little, so the air in between the south and north rim slightly hazy.

(For a better view of the photos, click on them.)



And it was so huge that I could physically not absorb it all. I would fill my eyes with as much of it as possible, and still see barely a quarter of what was available to be seen. It is should be the definition of “overwhelming”.



The very thought of hiking it me breathless.

And then I realized that we were at 7000 feet above sea level, and it was probably just the thinner atmosphere that impeding my breath.



It should have stunned my with wonder, left me speechless at the Glory of God.

But I am afraid to admit that I only felt . . . numb. It is pretty. Huge. Scary.

However, it is almost alienating in its grandeur.

Chesterton is right when he says in Orthodoxy that when we love something we call it in a diminuative; the small and delicate tugs on out hearts in ways that the awe-inspiring never can.



The photo above is more intriguing than the others, is it not? A photographer will tell you that it is because the frame is formed and the eyed directed by the ceder tree.

I think it is because the ceder there gives the photo the feeling of the immediate, the personal, the tactile, and, yes, the small.




We can gasp in awe at the huge and sweeping, but it is the small and tender that reaches into our own cozy worlds and takes our breath away.

Wondrous works of Nature can never move you like your first sight of your first child.

At least, I imagine that it can’t.



The Grand Canyon, (or, as they call it there, Grand Canyon, sans article,) is beautiful.

But I prefer the quieter, more homelike prettiness of Flagstaff. We only passed through the town, (well, and stopped for gas,) but I fell in love with it. The smaller, gentler beauties are enough for me.

Flagstaff is a city with a small country town feel. It has the attitude and pretty pine and birch forests reminiscent of my favorite place on earth: Northern Michigan. But it also has surrounding mountains!

Could it be that I have found my own personal Heaven on Earth?