You may have noticed (or not!) that I don't publish overtly “political” poetry. Not that I don’t have plenty of opportunity. In this season of polarization and heated emotions, I thought I’d reflect on why.
Artists/poets will disagree with me, and maybe you will too. I think when art gets “political” it becomes a polemic—a sermon for one side—and the audience may begin to question the artist’s motives. That little bit of doubt can shadow what I think art and poetry is—a meeting ground for a community who values the power and insight of language. It takes much restraint to not vent in your poem, a put off for any theme, not just a political one. Once you choose a “side” you risk alienating the other “side,” and lose your community.
Many of you could be thinking of great works of art that indeed, took a “side.” Picasso’s Guernica comes to mind. Maybe Beethoven’s 1812 Overture. The war poetry of John McCrae and Rupert Brooks. Fair enough.
This really isn’t a right or wrong judgment. Perhaps we need to examine our assumptions and expectations about art and politics. What did you think about the cast of Hamilton speaking to VP elect Mike Pence, who was in attendance? My question is, would a pro-life cast have been as celebrated for speaking to a pro-choice politician in the audience?
That last line surprised me. I only realized I was venting and had crossed the line on a reread. And I teach critical thinking to college students. . . Some humble pie is appropriate about now!
Always a challenge, isn’t it? My intellect can lead me into fraught emotions in a moment. No wonder we are told in the Scriptures to seek peace and pursue it. Living in peace is a spiritual reality, not an intellectual exercise. Jesus is my peace. I need to seek Him.
I pray that peace for you and your loved ones in the coming year.
Lora Homan Zill, Editor
I have several part time teaching and writing gigs that I cobble together to make a living. Of course, included is my job as your humble editor. Another is as a teaching artist for the Pennsylania Council on the Arts. That means I teach poetry and creativity in public schools and community centers.
I’ve used poetry to teach third grade math. The students wrote each line of their poem on a tongue depressor and arranged them into stanzas. When they take away sticks, what fraction is left?
Last May I taught in high school English classes. The ninth graders were studying Romeo and Juliet, so I had them make comic strips based on a soliloquy. They chose strong lines and rendered them visually, one line/illustration per frame. The teacher loved it. Creating visuals of the blank verse would help her students remember the play better.
I also visited an AP English class. The teacher became so caught up in what the students were writing and sharing she wrote a poem of her own about a her beloved brother’s recent death and shared it with the class. I was moved by her courage and vulnerability.
Some great stuff, huh? For a long time I’ve considered myself a teacher first then a writer, since teaching is how I earn most of my living. But the Lord spoke to me during a prayer retreat and reversed the order: I am a writer /artist and teacher. There is art and craft to both vocations. Frederick Buechner wrote that we find our vocation where our deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet. Both writing and teaching make me glad; in them I feel God’s pleasure. The world has a deep hunger for our passion. I hope you are pursuing your passion and finding your great joy, and God’s. That’s what the world needs, for in them they will see God.
Lora Homan Zill, Editor
If you’d like to read more, here’s a nice article about my work:
Lately the Lord has been challenging some of my Christian assumptions, revealing where my faith is a reflection of Christian culture and not His Word. I think Jesus challenged a lot of assumptions when He walked on earth—particularly religious ones—don’t you? He hasn’t stopped, at least in my life!
TOS honors the person and work of Jesus Christ and that often means challenging our assumptions. I think both are worthy goals of the Christian artist. To me, honoring Jesus includes writing about the world as it is, not as we wish it would be. That may mean a poem that shakes its fist at God, like I did once in a very dark time. Or it may mean airing doubts and questions and finding some hope for the next day.
You’ll see very little religious jargon in these pages. I have no patience for its obscurity and theological mask making. But I crave the reality of grace, mercy, forgiveness, breaking of bread, and truth. Art—of course, poetry—challenges us to leave the empty jargon and discover the truth of that spiritual language for ourselves.
I offer a prayer from St. Ignatius that speaks truth in a world that often isn’t what we want it to be. How do we respond? Make this your prayer today and I will too.
Teach us, good Lord,
To serve you as you deserve;
To give and not count the cost;
To fight and not heed the wounds;
To toil and not seek for rest;
To labor and not ask for any reward.
Save that of knowing that we do your will. Amen.
Lora Homan Zill, Editor
I thought I'd use this space to share with you some thoughts that God has planted in my mind and heart.:
- Simplicity: Getting rid of the clutter in my life: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Many Amish live in my area and I buy goods and services from them. They are hard working, decent people and we often admire their simple lifestyle. But they’ve given up a lot to live so simply. Start with their patriarchal society. Using no electricity and traveling in a horse drawn buggy all year long. Formal education stops at the eighth grade.
What do I “give up” to live simply? What do I want my life to look like? How does God wants me to live? Maybe I’ll find those choices weren’t so tough and I miss stuff a lot less than I thought.
- White Space: Charles Waugaman taught me an important truth in producing TOS: the need for white space.
I try for an uncluttered layout. I balance my desire to include as many poems as possible (along with graphics) with the need of readers to rest.
I also try to connect each poem’s concept and theme to the next. You may notice an ebb and flow. I try different looks and “feels” until I find what intuitively seems “right” or at least as “right” as I can get it. I experiment, explore, and discover and keep learning my craft.
- TOS Numbers: Right now I have 130 subscriptions (including gifts purchased by subscribers) but what I actually mail is much higher.
Each poet gets a copy and many order extras for family and friends. Some contest entrants receive a copy. Sponsors receive an extra issue.
Total: about 225 issues mailed each printing. I deeply appreciate your encouraging notes and financial support. Please keep spreading the word. TOS holds an important place in the heart and will of God and the hearts and minds of poetry lovers worldwide. I’m here to serve God and you in 2016 and beyond.
Lora Homan Zill, Editor
One of my goals this past summer was to kayak one of the longest rivers in Pennsylvania, the Allegheny, and I achieved that goal, paddling 25 miles over three trips. An 86 mile stretch of the Allegheny has been designated a “National Wild and Scenic River” because of its significant scenic, recreational and ecological features. It’s known as an excellent Class I canoeing and kayaking river because it is broad and straight in most sections and fun for families and novices.
Last Saturday (October 10) I took a nine mile kayaking trip down the Shenango River, near my home. You’d probably call the Shenango Class I as well, but it can be very tricky. I would not take a beginning paddler on it. I think I’ve written before in these pages about capsizing twice on that river. The turns can be tight and when it’s high you can’t let your mind wander because you have to watch for and maneuver around “strainers” (downed trees), rocks, and branches poking up from the water. Each time I capsized I had gotten trapped against a large branch and the current flipped me over. No harm done, except my pride took a hit. (Always wear a pfd!)
This time my friends and I stayed dry and enjoyed a gorgeous fall day. We kayaked as part of “Paddlefest” a biannual event sponsored by a local group, the Shenango River Watchers. One hundred and seventy boats made the trip and at the end we enjoyed lunch and bluegrass music.
I haven’t written any poems about my paddling adventures. (I’ve had an essay published.) But I think my love for the outdoors and its colors, textures, light, darkness, shapes, sounds, and smells feeds me in other creative, artistic ways.
I look forward to reading your work to see how nature feeds your creativity.
Lora Homan Zill, Editor
I was chatting over lunch recently with a novelist who also serves as a missionary overseas. She has recently moved to my home state of Pennsylvania and made an observation I thought I’d share with you. My rough memory:
“When I first moved here (Lancaster County) I saw colors for the first time that I had thought only existed in a crayon box. I saw pastels, yellows, pinks. In the jungle (Columbia) the colors are more muted. Pennsylvania is so lush, such deep green.”
This is not to tout the glories of my state, but just to reflect on the power of our assumptions. This lady had no idea other colors existed in nature. In turn, I’m sure I’d be surprised and dazzled by the colors in the jungle.
Last spring I visited a friend in western Montana, my first trip to that glorious state. I was stunned by the mountains. I couldn’t take my eyes away. (It’s hard for me to call the Appalachians “mountains” now, though that’s their official name.) At the same time, we have trees Montana can only dream of. Millions of acres, a sea of green. I kidded my friend, “You don’t have any trees! She said, “Sure we do, Lora!” Her area has mostly cottonwoods and birch because of the altitude. Of course, my idea of trees are hardwoods: oak, maple, cherry, and hickory.
So, how lush is “lush?” A color in the U.S. isn’t the same color in South America. A tree or mountain in the west isn’t the same as a tree or mountain in the east. I share these stories because as poets we try to craft a new view of the ordinary and the glorious. We have to first challenge ourselves and what we assume to be true, then invite our readers to discover their own new world.
I look forward to reading your poetry. It broadens my world.
Lora Homan Zill, Editor
I have written before about how the arts, specifically poetry, create spiritual places where the writer and reader can wrestle with existential questions about life.
The poet becomes Jacob from the book of Genesis, facing a life and death situation (partially of his own making). He finds himself wrestling with an Angel who speaks for the Almighty. Jacob receives a new name, a new vulnerability, and a new hope that compels him to face the situation squarely.
The witness of the 21 Martyrs, the Coptic Christians murdered in Libya, has compelled me to wrestle again with God. Kathryn Jean Lopez (“Heaven In The Face Of Hell” National Review Online) writes of the hope of the martyr’s families. A brother of two of the murdered Christians expressed his village’s pride in having so many martyrs. Lopez asks: “Who would have an ounce of gratitude at such a moment? The answer: one who has hope — hope of something real and eternal.”
Is my hope that real?
Lopez again: “It sounds crazy to a modern secular society, one that tends to view religious faith as sentiment, comfort, and milestone ritual.” Faith does provide much comfort, but is that all I want it to do? Do I limit its expression to rituals?
I hunger for a robust faith that speaks as the brother of two martyrs. That’s why I’m passionate about the arts and creativity in the Christian faith. The arts give us a way to wrestle with these profound questions of hope and a faith even unto death. A robust art will help me focus on what’s eternal. It will help me develop a robust faith that can speak with confidence in a God of hope.
Now that’s a message worthy of the Easter season.
Lora Homan Zill, Editor
I am returning to the monastery over the New Year holiday. You may remember I made my trip last year in the middle of some personal and professional angst. This year no angst. But I ‘ve decided to make this “away time” a priority.
One vow I’ve made to myself is to be honest about time. I’ve stopped saying “I don’t have time” or “I’m so busy I can’t _______.” Honesty says, “I’ve chosen priorities and doing ______ isn’t one of them.” That makes me less of a victim to the Almighty god Time who rules over my life. I make choices, and one is how to use my time. (At first I had the word “spend” in that line but changed it. Hmmm... “spending” or “using?”) Telling myself (and others) I Don’t Have Time makes me anxious, but also a Very Important Person in my own eyes.
I don’t see Jesus ever saying He didn’t have Time, even when He truly didn’t, when His physical days on earth were ending.
So I am choosing to live a couple of days in a monastery and seek God in a way I can’t in my normal life.
I also want to let you know that I’m making a change in TOS’s “image.” Beginning in Spring 2015 I’m naming this special journal, a “journal” instead of a “magazine.” I’ve been kicking this idea around for a while, especially when I was searching website themes and specific “magazine” themes incorporated much room for imagery, many layouts, and a different kind of “look” than TOS has. We know our usual print (and online) magazines are very visual: lots of ads, large headlines, chunks of text, etc. (Even text heavy reads have some of these characteristics.)
So when people read the subtitle “magazine” they get a visual image, but TOS doesn’t match it. So I want to end even the momentary confusion and make the name reflect what TOS actually is:
Time Of Singing
A Journal Of Christian Poetry
I don’t think Charles Waugaman, my mentor and former TOS editor (who is now with the Lord), would mind (too much!). TOS will stay the same, a special community of poets who explore the great themes of our faith and life. We can take all of our earthly lives to know the riches and depth of God and never even begin to approach Him in all of his beauty. TOS is a place where that process of discovery can happen.
Let us reach for those new insights through our creative gifts in the coming year. I will look forward to reading your work. Let us, as a community of writers and poets, seek to know Him more every day.
Lora Homan Zill, Editor
I am working through a book of contemplative prayers my pastor gave me months ago. Of course, “working my way through” implies I’ll finish someday, and I won’t. Ever. Finish the book.
A reader wrote to share how she’s been praying for me: “Know that I frequently hold you in the light of blessing during my daily devotional times. That is a much more generous thing, I do believe, than anything else I have to offer.”
I would dispute that in a loving way, as the reader offers much. But think about what a loving act prayer is. It is perhaps the most selfless act for Christ followers, outside of laying down your physical life for a friend. Nobody sees you do it unless you pray as part of a communal worship service, and unless you share privately or publicize it, nobody knows you’re praying for them. You can’t expect to receive anything back directly. True prayer demands of us spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
I am writing this, not as one who can lecture anyone else in the Art and Craft of prayer, but as one who, after years of knowing God, is only just realizing its depths. I’ve grown increasingly dissatisfied with presenting my list to God of how I think He should run His world (always to my benefit, of course). I am spending more time waiting in His presence and listening. It’s less what I want for So-And-So or This-Or-That Situation, but finding out what He wants. Maybe I’m finally experiencing my favorite Scripture, Psalm 27:13-14.
I also expect this new revelation to bear some fruit in my writing and editing life too. How could it not affect all aspects of my life, including my artistic calling?
Yours as a fellow seeker,
Lora Homan Zill, Editor
When it comes to the written word, after Scripture, poetry speaks to me the most deeply in good times and bad. Now that my daughter Holly is home from grad school for the summer, we trade roles from when she and my son were young. After I go to bed she reads to me. Poetry, of course.
I can think of great lines and paragraphs from favorite novels, but when I need to be captured by an art, I head for my poetry shelves.
Recently I was much distressed over a difficult situation and Holly knew what I needed—my favorite—Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Earlier that day, searching for “peace...dropping slow,” I had thrown my kayak in my car and gone to the lake. The rhythms of “lake water lapping” and paddling worked out some of my sorrow.
I think God uses natural things to help us find the spiritual. Concrete imagery, sound, and rhythm create space for readers to make those connections, so they can hear God in their “deep heart’s core.“
I’m blessed that I live a fifteen minute drive from Pymatuning, the biggest lake in Pennsylvania, and a three minute walk from Conneaut Lake, the biggest spring fed lake in the state. Whether you live near water or not, I hope you know where you can find Him when you need peace that comes “Dropping from the veils of the morning….” I need to hear from God, and wherever I find myself, on a lake or in the lines of a poem, I’m in a spiritual place.
What poem speaks to your deepest need? Why? I may include your reflections in the Fall issue, with your permission, of course.
I received several thoughtful responses to my spring editor’s aria on the state of poetry readings. I’ll be publishing selections in the fall issue. Thanks to those who took the time.
My best to you as you find peace wherever you are.
True Confessions: I generally do not like poetry readings, except for “big name” poets who know how to read and entertain an audience. I’ve heard excellent ones: Ted Kooser, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Miller Williams, Barbara Crooker, and Maya Angelou.
But too often local voices write well but their poor stagecraft distracts me from their work. Or they read well but their poems lose me. Truth be told, when I read I don’t know if I, or my poems, are that much better. Easy to criticize, I know, harder to actually perform to such standards. But I think this is a conversation we poets need to have.
I wonder if emphasizing the intellectual side of imagery at the expense of sound and rhythm produces a yawning audience who check their cell phones. Performance poetry, written for immediate feedback with little or no reflection expected, is another animal. I’ve attended poetry slams, including the (original) Uptown Poetry Slam in the Green Mill Lounge in Chicago. Performance poetry is emotive and accessible, but not what I would purchase in book form.
I’ve also listened to fiction and nonfiction read to an audience and the results are mixed for those genres, too. But with poetry’s origins and emphasis as an oral form, poets in particular need to be aware of these expectations for their work if they hope to succeed in the marketplace, whether it’s a local coffee shop or the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater.
I recently heard Naomi Shihab Nye read and she ranks on my list as one of the best. I blogged about my listening experience and how she extended her personality through her poetry if you’d like to check it out
I’d be interested in your take on this issue. What do you look for in a good poetry reader? Who are your favorites and why?
I don't know if I have a coherent aria to offer during this Christmas and New Year season. So, indulge me while I try to collect some detritus from hopefully reasoned and passionate mental and emotional whirlpools.
In this season of “peace” we still find new outrage to vent over the web. We don’t weigh what has the right to demand our attention and are perhaps blinded to more pressing issues. By all means, choose your battles, but consider what God has called you to do, and is worth spending yourself for.
That being said, I look to the arts, specifically poetry, to create a space for me to reflect on what is worth my time and effort. That space allows for engagement: emotional, mental, and spiritual. I hear from God through His creative gifts and see the world from His perspective.
I’ve been challenged to add more spiritual reading to my “must read” pile. I loved Eric Metaxas’s biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Now I am captured by Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. It is an aged, spotted, stained, and yellowed paperback that I began in college but never finished. But now it is time, at this time in my life, to read it. The binding is inflexible and it’s hard to hold open. But how it is opening my heart! I am undone.
I will be “retreating” from December 31 to January 2 at an Erie (PA) Benedictine Monastery hermitage. I blogged about my anticipation and purpose on my website The Blue Collar Artist, (“The Benedictines And Me”) if you’d like to check it out. I would be pleased if you’d consider subscribing. My goal is to create a space for reflection on the meaning of creativity, arts, and faith. I hope you’ll read and consider contributing to the discussion.
My best to you and yours.
Lora H. Zill, Editor
Guest aria. See magazine.
Guest aria. See magazine.
With the passing of Roger Ebert our culture has lost another leader in what I call the “Everyman Movement.”
Along with his friend and fellow professional, Gene Siskel, Ebert brought “highbrow” film criticism to Everyman through televised and print media. Ebert, by design, wasn’t an erudite writer. But he was a serious one with specific goals. He showed film buffs how to arrive at criteria when evaluating film, and that it was alright to judge for themselves. Ebert broadened the audience for film art by giving us “permission” to think critically about it.
Siskel and Ebert did artists and audiences a great service by showing that film, and by extension, art, can be discussed and debated, that through using its products and processes art can be a venue of critical thinking. What exactly does beauty or greatness look like? How is it defined? How do we recognize it?
I hope when you read the poetry in this issue, that you’ll enjoy some “great” poetry, and you’ll know why you think so.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this issue marks TOS’s 40th anniversary year. I think Charles Waugaman would be proud and pleased to know the magazine is still going strong. Challenges always sit on my lap, or lurk around the corner, but I’m confident in the future. I’m confident, as my favorite Scripture says, that I will (continue to) see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13) as expressed through loyal poets and supporters like you.
I have a framed pen and ink drawing by Charles on my office wall, a gift from a friend. I look at “Field On West Jamaica Road” every day and think of gifts and shared moments. I pray you have many this year.
Lora H. Zill, Editor
I am writing this a few days before Christmas, but due to my publishing schedule you’ll be receiving this issue after the new year. The major winter storm that pummeled the Midwest is now visiting northwest Pennsylvania and has altered the travel plans of many for the holidays, including my family’s. But that seems such small potatoes in this season, of day and night, of goodness and evil, of laughter and sorrow.
That is the Mystery, isn’t it? Why the Child who came to bring us “goodness and light” didn’t completely cleanse the earth from trouble and evil. Innocent loved ones are taken from us. Financial calamities overtake the unsuspecting. Fierce storms alter lives forever. Theologians from Augustine and Aquinas to today have tried to answer that question.
But at Christmas, we have a baby in a manger, full of promise and hope, and we carry that hope into each new year. As the Son of Man he showed us what it meant to live that out in a fallen world. So in the words of Francis Schaeffer, “How Shall We Then Live?” How do we hold that promise in our hearts and live bravely, believing in the goodness of God when circumstances clamor that evil has won?
That’s one reason the art of poetry exists. In the writing and the reading, it gives us the space to wrestle with existential questions, and then settle ourselves in the depths of the Mystery when they remain unanswered. I hope TOS accomplishes that for you. Poets don’t offer solutions. We offer a community where we aren’t alone as we ask the important questions, and where we can be at peace while we find our way.
I pray that you and your loved ones have peace in your journeys of faith this year.
Lora H. Zill, Editor
After a few years of what I would consider “flat” autumns, Fall 2012 in northwest Pennsylvania has been truly spectacular. The hills leap, aflame, crackling with color. I have favorite spots that I check driving to work, and it seems that God has brought a “new” heaven down to earth. I wonder why most representations of heaven usually focus on soft pastels with, of course, gold, when God has so many other colors in His palette. Heaven’s colors have to include firey brilliants that show a side of God’s personality that we don’t often consider: bold, assertive, with some spunk and flair.
In writing this I was compelled to look up the line “O World, I cannot hold thee close enough!” I knew it was either Wordsworth or Millay, and of course it’s from Edna St. Vincent Millay (who in this poem and so many others sounds like Wordsworth). Google “God’s World”, or browse your poetry library and read it again. "Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag/and all but cry with color!"
That’s why we love poetry so much, isn’t it? We return to our favorite poets and lines and remember a turn of phrase or image that fills our mind again with emotional colors.
Today I’m driving to work again, and will check my favorite spots. I will try to hold the world close enough, and when I can’t, I’ll feel like Edna St. Vincent Millay and so many other poets and writers who are dwarfed by the magnitude of God’s creation. We try to capture just a piece in our words and consider ourselves blessed if we can for just a while.
--Lora H. Zill, Editor
"Mostly we cannot know how the influence of our lives and work will echo out from us," writes a subscriber who was delighted to rediscover TOS many years after she had last graced its pages. She had read my editor’s aria on the website about Charles Waugaman’s passing and remembered his kindness and how he encouraged her poetry.
A few weeks later, a poet approached me at a writer’s conference. "I’m told you knew Charles Waugaman." This poet had been involved in Charles’ writing group in Vermont. We reminisced and I grew misty eyed. No, we really don’t know how much we influence and affect those who love us.
"Dear Friends, For you have become so through the years . . ." are the lovely words in a note from another subscriber. This dear one keeps copies of TOS at her bedside for "restful, thoughtful closing of the day."
A poet friend will often send poems she finds appealing and they open a sensory window in my day. I also receive a poem a day via e-mail from the Academy of American Poets (poets.org). I like the variety of poetry, representing dead white guys and ethnic/multicultural poets, the "old" masters and contemporary efforts. Not every day do I read a poem that I remember. But I enjoy the daily reminders of the beauty and power of language in the poetic form.
Then one day I received a poem that rocked my world. I had been wrestling with a personal issue where I was unsettled and confused and looking for resolution. "Gather" by Rose McLarney blasted a light through my fog. I shared it with friends. The last line became a reference point: "Some years there are apples." "That apple poem" showed me the decision I had to make, the attitude I had to adopt.
Rose McLarney doesn’t know how much her poem helped me. We hope our poetry touches others and we put it out there believing that it does. We may get a letter or an e- mail from someone confirming it or we may not. Writing really is an act of faith. I hope TOS honors that faith and helps fulfill it.
--Lora H. Zill, Editor
In selecting a last poem from Charles’ writings to close out this issue, I happened upon an old collection, First Quartet, that I haven’t read for a long time. I thought he would love having that volume recognized once again.
The poem I chose—“The Injured Pheasant”—speaks to me on many levels. It reminds me how important sensory imagery is in a skillful poet’s hand. That image, in turn, connects me to an abstraction that challenges me to think more broadly. Then from that abstraction I create my own concrete connections in another direction. My students might identify that critical thinking process as inductive and deductive reasoning (admittedly, rather oversimplified!)
In making my own connections, I expand that poem’s last stanza to refer to not just death, but any adversity we might face. Life is never so magnificent as when we are challenged by adversity and struggle. I wouldn’t want to face my past troubles again. But when I can step back and take a “fly on the wall” view, those moments are often transcendent. God has been with me. Emmanuel, God With Us.
I have a quote framed and sitting on my office windowsill that fits here very well:
That is my hope and prayer for all of us for 2012. That we, like Jesus, be quick to extend ourselves to those who are struggling.
--Lora H. Zill, Editor
This past summer I spent a leisurely afternoon touring the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C. Since I have family in Montgomery County, Maryland, I've made many trips to the various museums in the Smithsonian. I've also corralled my kids into going, and though they rolled their eyes, I think someday they'll be glad their mom made them get some culture.
Laying aside my internal debate over much contemporary art ("Now, what exactly makes that painting/sculpture/ photograph, art?) art museums serve an important purpose in my life.
I visit them to see big ideas communicated through symbols. I need to experience art to identify with artists who try to render abstractions, virtuous and ungodly, through the concrete imagery of art.
A few years ago a friend and I were in New York City to present at a conference. We hiked the almost two miles from the Central Park South area to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I had to take a moment to grab my breath before ascending the majestic marble steps to the entrance. But soon I stood in a large crowd contemplating Rembrandt's Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, one of the monumental works of Western art. I will spare you my interpretation, but you can infer that the painting was "bigger" than I was, than any of us standing there. Bigger because of the ideas it portrayed through concrete imagery.
When I walked out, I felt enlarged because I had encountered Biblical truth through that work of art. I hope that in our art, our poetry, we find ways to communicate truth to our readers and invite them to see the world in new ways. Why else do we write?
--Lora H. Zill, Editor
While I prepared the spring issue of TOS honoring Charles Waugaman, I searched the TOS archives for a copy of “Revelation,” my personal favorite of all of his poetry. I wanted to include it as part of my tribute, but I hunted in vain.
So imagine the chill that ran down my spine a month later when I opened a letter from a TOS supporter with a copy of “Revelation” enclosed. She said, “I would like to nominate Charles’s poem “Revelation”...for use in TOS this year...I once told Charles that if he had only been allowed to write one poem, it should have been this one.”
I think about that last line in considering the quality of my own writing. Broader still, how often has my life been defined by “a moment?” Did I seize that moment to extend grace to someone in need, create a work of art, or make space for someone to use their gifts, or did I let it slide out of reach because of my own fear? Did I rise to the occasion? Or look back now with the sting of regret? Do we have confidence in our ability and in the Lord who grants us such marvelous gifts?
I remember when Charles gave me “Revelation” to critique. I don’t remember if he recognized it at that time as the achievement it was and is. I appreciated it then, and my gratitude for his skill in rendering such a tender, passionate piece about Jesus and his relationship with Him only grows with each reading.
You may or may not be moved by “Revelation” as I and other TOS poets are. But I offer it to you to close out this issue. You read and decide whether or not the poet rose to the occasion. In a way, that’s the way we can evaluate any poem. That will be the subject, I’m sure, of future arias.
--Lora H. Zill, Editor
REVELATION (Revelation 5:5, 6, 12, etc.)
By Charles Waugaman
Lamb at my door,
patient, persistent, knocking so gently
to enter and dine,
are you threatened by darkness?
Have the thorns torn your clothing?
Are you lost from your sheepfold
that you’d settle for mine?
To open my door demands I dismantle
the bricks and the barricade
built of my fear.
Oh, Lamb, so unfriended
when I am defenseless, who can protect us
if danger is near?
Then come to my arms, Lamb.
At least we’ve each other
though storm overarches and wind snuffs my fire.
How can it be that you glow with such beauty,
illumine my terrors,
embrace and inspire?
Oh, Lamb of my life,
so warm, so unscratchingly wooly,
what is this wound that my fingers caress?
How is it I feel the roar of the lion,
the staff of the Shepherd,
and wish for white linen
in which I might dress?
Lamb in my arms,
though I hold, you embrace me.
Though fatally wounded, you stand and give life.
Enthroned in my praise, you put crowns
on my forehead.
Worshipped, you offer me honor;
and though I give welcome,
I am the cherished,
Charles Waugaman and I spent hours reading, discussing and editing poetry for Time Of Singing while I was still a “newbie” poet and TOS’s assistant editor. He would come up my steps with a plastic bag full of envelopes (before the days of email submissions) and I would make a pot of tea. Those hours haggling and analyzing nurtured my love of language and poetry and writing. I learned how to judge a poem, what to look for, and how writing poetry is often a bear to wrestle, not a sprite to catch. He told me that writing good poetry would take as much time as writing prose. I didn’t believe him. But as I wrote, I understood.
Somewhere someone has described the process of writing poetry as spending a morning deciding where to put a comma, and then spending the afternoon taking it out. I’m not quite that obsessive, but I think that description illustrates Charles’s insistence that poetry is a worthy and demanding occupation. To this day I speak at conferences for artists and teachers and insist that the arts, specifically poetry, are not just a means of self expression, but a discipline worthy of our time and attention.
Those early days were also full of hours spent typing the poems on a word processor. I would perch on a stool at a light table in a small second floor room in his old home with a T square and sharp scissors. As I cut and rubber cemented the poems into place he taught me how to “see” the layout and how white space around a poem enhances its form and meaning. When I read other magazines, I look at the layout (among other things), and note the use of white space, and also whether long poems are placed on facing pages or if the editor makes the reader turn the page in the middle. That was a “no no” to Charles.
His attention to detail was of great value in editing a magazine, today I still aim for perfection in each issue. But he could also be exasperating! He had a set way of doing things and wasn’t always open to more efficient methods. But his “set ways” also included prodigious artistic talent, which he used to illustrate his many chapbooks and of course, TOS. In 1998 he was a featured poet in Poet’s Market, earning a photograph, and a three page spread outlining his writing philosophy and featuring some of his poetry. It was a very proud moment for him to be included.
The poetry world, and the Christian poetry world in particular, owes Charles a great debt. He and Dr. Benjamin P. Browne of the American Baptists had the vision to create a market that was exclusively devoted to poets and poetry. Charles told me that Dr. Browne wanted to promote poetry beyond its usual (at that time) function as “filler” in magazines so they created TOS to fill that need. (But as any poet would admit, we’re happy to see our work in print anywhere!) TOS published many volumes then took a brief hiatus, to be revived by Charles and his new pastorate, High Street Community Church in Conneaut Lake. Then my church, the Church of the Firstborn, took over sponsorship. After he moved to Vermont, he remained interested in TOS’s success, sharing it with his writer friends and placing it in several libraries near his new home.
Charles loved this magazine and devoted countless hours to it. I plan to honor him by continuing its tradition of excellence. The great Romantic philosopher and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge considered poetry the highest form of art, and I’m proud to be associated with a market recognizing the high place poetry deserves to fill in our cultural life. In its early years Charles published such notable poets as Luci Shaw, Thomas John Carlisle, and Glenn Asquith. Now TOS’s reach extends all over the world, including poets from Slovakia, Russia, Ireland, England, South Africa, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and of course, our many faithful Canadian friends.
I owe Charles a great personal debt. He mentored, encouraged, and challenged me every time he read one of my poems and said, “Lora, this isn’t your best work.” It was a sad day for me when he retired and moved to Vermont. I wanted him to stay, but he had to go, and go he did, to get involved in a new place in the spiritual and poetic life he enjoyed so much.
Several years ago on a return visit to Pennsylvania he appeared at my doorstep with a matted print of Charles Dickens. He knew how much I liked Dickens, and had bought the print in a small shop. I have it in an honored place on my mantel. In these days of social networking, texting, and e-mail, I’m glad we talked on the phone because I hear his voice in my ear. I was told he was ready to go home to be with his Savior. I’m not sure that I was ready to let him go. But go he did.
So here’s to you, Charles. I celebrate your life, our friendship, and what you’ve given the poetry world. I lift a cup of tea, water boiled in a kettle on the stove, just the way you liked it.
--Lora H. Zill, Editor
Poets and Revisions
We haven't even arrived at the dog days of summer and here in the east we’ve already sweltered through days of 90 degree plus heat and high humidity. Maybe I shouldn’t edit TOS when I’m sitting in front of a fan wishing I were somewhere else, but my calendar constrains me.
E-mail conversations I’ve had with some poets for this issue prompts me today. I had forwarded suggestions made by the contributing editors. They had asked for some major changes, oh, like, lopping off whole phrases or stanzas. Or reworking the entire introduction. I agreed with the editors, but I told the poets that I realized I was asking for major revisions and would go with their decision.
Sometimes I hold my breath when I send requests for changes. Some poets absolutely refuse to consider any other way to write their piece. Their replies make it clear that they don’t appreciate anyone tampering with their work. I’ve discovered the best poets always consider the suggestions seriously and graciously before getting back to me with a “yes,” “no,” or “how about this instead?”
These poets proved a joy to work with. One tried to rework the piece, but couldn’t make the suggestions fit his intention. “Fair enough,” I said. “We’ll go with the original.” Another poet disagreed with the suggestion made to her piece, not liking how it changed the line. Again, fair enough. I published the original. A third poet OK’d the changes and I’m sure all agreed with her appreciation of a thoughtful reading. I have worked with these poets before and felt free to forward comments, knowing they would welcome the input whether or not they agreed. They did.
I love the give and take in discussions of language and how to use it to achieve the writer’s and editor’s rhetorical goals. That’s one of my chief joys in editing.
I’m hoping the fine poetry in this issue will give you joy during these hot summer days. I’m pleased to include new voices from Slovakia, Ireland, and Australia. Do keep me in mind when submitting, and recommend TOS to your family and friends.
--Lora H. Zill, Editor
Eagles and Opportunity
Once again I attended an eagle watching weekend guided by staff from Pymatuning State Park here in northwestern Pennsylvania close to my home. We stopped at a swamp near Pymatuning Lake and saw eight immature eagles in a clump of trees, and another three eagles, including one mature, sitting on stumps in the swamp, cleaning themselves, eating, and occasionally bickering.
My drive to church takes me by the swamp, and last week on the way home I looked for eagles and saw two soaring in the sky. I pulled over right in front of a popular bar, grabbed my binoculars, and stood next to the highway in my heels and wind-whipped dress, watching. I hope passing drivers didn’t try to look behind them, but maybe their passengers did.
Our vision of eagles is usually one of majestic flight, as I enjoyed in front of that bar. But our national symbol is also a notorious, opportunistic, scavenger. The eagles gorge on shad carcasses that float along the lakeshore in spring. Pymatuning is located close to the northernmost range for that fish, and sometimes many die because of cold, unpredictable weather. To an eagle, dead fish are a buffet and the invitation is open.
Once while sailing on Pymatuning, the wind died and I slowly edged my way to shore. I was fretting over a wasted day, when suddenly, close by, an eagle swooped low, snatched a fish near the surface, and barely breaking momentum, swept away. My perception of the day’s worth changed in an instant.
Here’s to scavenging, buffets, discovery, and surprises. May we all seize every opportunity we meet.
-- Lora H. Zill, Editor
Poetry and Process
There's a satisfying "ending" to the sailing story I’ve written about, where I restored a friend’s old sailboat and gave it to Girl Scouts (one of her passions) after she passed away.
I pitched the local county newspaper about the story and they were interested. So I wrote about the process of restoring the boat and included comments by her widower and daughter. The newspaper ran it on the front page, “above the fold” (as a good friend said) along with some pictures. If you’d like to check it out, go to the website www.meadvilletribune.com, type Penney Fujii sailboat in the search, then follow the link that reads “Spruced up sailboat…” As of this writing it is still archived on the site.
I was quite pleased with it, and have gotten a lot of comments from friends and acquaintances when I’ve run into them around town, in the grocery store, post office, and church. I think the newspaper readership is about 10,000 or more, so the article touched a lot of people.
I know many of you write in other genres besides poetry. Perhaps you have more readers in those genres than you do in your poetry publications. I am convinced that writing poetry makes me a better nonfiction writer. Once in graduate school I wrestled with a memoir that wasn’t coming together. My professor suggested I write a poem instead. It also chewed me up and spit me out. But by engaging in that process, I disciplined my thinking, narrowed my focus, and returned to the memoir to finish it.
But I have to confess that the process doesn’t work in reverse for me. I can’t say writing nonfiction makes me a better poet. I don’t know why one artistic form feeds into another but not vice versa, at least for me. Sounds like that might be an idea worth exploring. How do our processes in each writing genre support the other, or not?
Well, this aria took a turn, didn’t it, from readership numbers to process? That’s probably as good as it will get today, and I didn’t even mention the Christmas season. You’ll get this in time to celebrate the new year, and I hope it is a time filled with God‘s blessings for you and your family.
--Lora H. Zill, Editor
Seeing Eagles…and Vultures
A few weeks ago I participated in an Eagle Weekend at Pymatuning State Park here in NW Pennsylvania. As you know, I enjoy sailing on the Pymatuning Lake reservoir and thought this would be a great chance to learn more about the lake and its bird population.
I got more than I bargained for. Bald eagles have made a comeback in this country and some of their favorite nesting places are in the region where I live, which also has the biggest swamp/marsh area in the state. Once when I was watching my son at baseball practice near the swamp I saw three mature eagles in a tree behind me. I could only gasp before they flew away.
During Eagle Weekend we traveled to several areas around the lake and spotted nesting eagles along with those in flight, counting 25-30 eagles . I also discovered from hanging around experienced birders that I need to buy stronger binoculars!
But I have to make a confession. We visited a nesting area a five minute walk from my house and viewed six eagles. I had walked and driven by that area countless times, and always thought what I saw were turkey vultures. I quickly learned that turkey vultures fly with their heads down and wings in a “V” formation, whereas eagles fly with heads and wings straight. I didn’t know what I was seeing. My ignorance had prevented me from enjoying one of the most majestic creatures in nature.
You know I’m heading toward a lesson learned. How many times have I missed opportunities because of my assumptions? That’s why poets and poetry are so valuable. Poets challenge us to rethink our world and see in ways we’ve never considered. I think of “Forgetfulness” by Billy Collins when I can’t find my favorite pen or Robert Frost on a fall day. “In Flanders Fields” speaks to me when flag covered caskets return from war. I’m sure you all have your favorites that have awakened a new vision, a re-interpretation, a creative way of “seeing.”
May we all learn to “see” turkey vultures and eagles and treasure both in God’s design.
--Lora H. Zill, Editor
To Hear Poetry Read
Recently I've had the chance to hear two of the premier poets in the country, Ted Kooser and Billy Collins. Ted was a guest speaker at the university where I teach, and Billy spoke at Chautauqua Institution in SW New York State. Thousands packed the amphitheater to hear Billy. I marveled at the size of the crowd. Who says there isn’t an interest in poetry? During the question and answer period the audience asked him to read “Forgetfulness,” one of his most famous pieces.
Ted Kooser is a very unprepossessing fellow, soft spoken and self deprecating. Both men have a deep and abiding sense of humor. Ted has an almost matter-of-fact manner which I like, because he takes poetry writing from the abstract world to a concrete place that we mere mortals can attain. His book The Poetry Home Repair Manual is my favorite book on writing poetry.
In listening to both men I was reminded again how important it is to hear poetry read orally. I’ve also heard Rita Dove, Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, Nancy Willard, Adam Zagajewski, Miller Williams, and many others, including local and regional poets. (I actually sat next to Williams at a dinner. Others came ready to discuss his poetry, but I wanted to know about him and his family: what were his hobbies, how is Lucinda doing with her music, and how‘s the wife? I discovered his wife and I both like to quilt.) Now when I read their poetry, I hear their voice in my ear.
Do you have a favorite book on writing poetry? Why does it appeal to you? Send along the title, author, and some thoughts and I’ll publish your comments in the fall issue. Books encourage and provide a tip or two (or more) that help me along the creative path. But I’m sure you’ll agree that the best way to learn to write poetry is to sit down and write it. Speaking of writing, it’s time for me to put my behind in a chair.
--Lora H. Zill, Editor