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