THIS SUMMER I became reacquainted with an old friend. I spent time with words. As a teacher, I have two free months every year. When June came this year, I was spent as usual and wanted to go on some kind of retreat to renew my energy. Maybe even a ten-day cleansing diet. "Why not try writing?" a friend of mine suggested. I had written poems as long as I could remember, but the cares of job and family had led me away from this vocation in recent years. When I lamented that I wanted a retreat proper, he suggested again, "Why not see writing as the retreat?" And so, with my son away at camp, I began my daily writing time. Pen in hand, I sat on our front porch and spent time musing on different images. It didn't take me long to feel as though I'd found a precious pearl.
What I did was simple - at first I followed exercises in a writing book begun years earlier (Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico) and once the book was done, I followed images that came to me. I played with words, letting word rhythms and images carry me through the crafting of a poem. It was as though I began to speak a new language, or rather, that a new language began to speak itself through me. It began to dawn on me that this was the language of faith, speaking more eloquently than my usual ego-driven thoughts.
I can take no credit for this - it truly felt like someone was handing me a gift. Inevitably, as I read the words back, my heart felt full, as though like a lump of clay I was being reformed into something deeper. Or, to use another analogy, I was like the lost sheep being found on a hillside. “Oh, this is who I am,” I would often think. My community at Watershed encouraged me with every pen stroke, and read what I wrote daily. "No expectations," they said generously. "Just keep writing." It reminded me of the ancient saying that when one step is taken towards God and truth, the "whole of totality" takes ten steps to meet you.
I am far from seeing myself as an accomplished poet. More often than not, what I scribble on paper is only a murky match to the image that I start with in my heart. I often think of the famous verse from the Bible, that now we see through a mirror dimly, but then we'll see face-to-face. The writing is always somewhere on this continuum, between murky and face-to-face. But it's no matter, for it is always renewing. The words are like rumours of glory that give me hope and sustenance. Who would have thought this old friend would have so much to give me?
So here are some of my favourite recent poems. I'll be adding to these as I go, so check back every now and then.