Saturday, March 16, 2013

When joy and sorrow inspire

On Friday, we had the last of our Lenten luncheons for the season at St. Paul's. We were treated to a talk and poetry reading by Lisa Russ Spaar, a noted poet and professor at the University of Virginia and long-time member of St. Paul's.

She read not just her own poems, but poems that speak to her heart and soul written by others, and ranging through the centuries.

She noted that church is one place where the language of poetry -- the language of the spirit -- never seems out of place. Indeed, she told us the version of the Bible she prefers reading is the King James -- for the poetry, of course.

I have enjoyed her poetry for several years. Her poems are intimate -- she describes herself as a "love poet" though others have noted that she could be thought of as a religious poet. That I think those lables sell her short.

She uses words common to religion, like "Collect" and "devout," and she mines the images of the altar like grapes, and the themes of Advent and Lent, and even has a poem devoted to John Donne's mistress. One of her poems mentions "surplices," a traditional priestly garb. Yet she opens new windows into the meaning old themes, finding both joy and sorrow, love and endings, underneath the words. When I read her poems, I pause at the words and reflect on where she is taking me with them. Like all great poetry, her words need to be taken slowly, and often more than once.

It has been sometime since I've posted a poem here. I used to do that regularly. It is time to get back into that practice. Here is a poem by Lisa from her book, Satin Cash. I used a few stanzas from this poem in our prayer before lunch.

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Between silence and yes,
such distal blues. 
I know love is pure
when joy and sorrow inspire 
equal gratitude, and yet
these wind-sussed elms require 
a certain nineteenth-century attention
today - an eavesdropping. 
Even the cool, testicular grapes,
green and cupped in the pergola 
beneath wilted purple shade
and a dizzying crewelwork of vines, 
waver, heatstruck and speechless
in the solitary séance of my heart.

Photos by Lori Korleski Richardson

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