Okay, I've put this off long enough. Time for this Luddite to blog. Since this is my first entry, I'd like to go back to the "beginning," to share something about how poetry is a lot like
grace: it's more about being grasped than grasping, like there's a Great Hand that holds the life of all and offers it up through this one life I have to live in love to the world. When I
surrender to writing poetry, I'm consenting to become both gifted and giver. I'm handed some unknown gift from God, and, in turn, I offer this newly discovered gift to the world through the
sacrament of language. In the beginning, was the Word--and the Great Hand of God, holding and beholding it all.
So, the beginning. My love for poetry goes way back. Sitting in a Contemporary Poetry class as a junior at Arkansas State University, I read Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Pound at Spoleto" and I was handed, strangely enough, my Delta home again: the sky split blue above me, the flat black fields rose up with glorious elevation, and the weathered, largely vacant Delta towns shone full on. Hard to believe, I know.
So now you know that poetry for me involves hands and home. Much of it hearkens back, or issues forth, from the Delta where far too many people, like my sharecropper grandparents, are still viewed mostly and merely as work units, as "hands." So everything I write comes indentured. I'm indebted to all those who've cared enough about me to refuse the temptation to "keep their hands to themselves," who've reached out in love to help me along.
Lastly, to hands and home let's add in heart, as in our Center, the deathless love where we are most rooted and vital. This close place, so close that it often passes unacknowledged and unheard, is what I seek to honor. I hope to start here and end here. When I began taking poetry seriously as a writer, about seven or so years ago, I noticed that any traction my poems gained in terms of publishing always flowed concentrically, from the heart out into the world. My first poem was published by Desert Call, a journal published by Nada, a Carmelite monastery in Colorado that remains my spiritual home. Two other poems were soon published, "Peter Wept" by the Christian Century, a journal that I subscribed to throughout my 30 years as a pastor, and a Delta poem titled "Secondhand Smoke" by the Oxford American, the finest Southern literary magazine I've found.
Maybe the best example I have of honoring the heart comes from my friendship with Alex Davis. Some years ago, as a senior music student at the University of South Carolina, Alex came to me in search of a poem, something he could put to music for his senior project. (I should say that my friendship with Alex goes way back. I was his pastor when he and my son were just toddlers. We remain friends; he and my son remain best friends.) What emerged from all this is a beautiful choral rendition of my poem "Peter Wept." When it premiered in April of 2010, one member of the choir singing her heart out that day was a young woman named Kathleen, who had just begun dating my son. This July they will be wed in a beautiful valley just outside of Asheville, NC.
God's Great Hand, home, heart--poetry, whatever it is, for me, is made from such as these.