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Susan Cowger-Slender Warble, Poetry

_The major problem with letting others define you is that it borders on idolatry. Your concern to please others dampens your desire to please Me, your Creator._ -Jesus Calling Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Cowger confesses she was the ‘black sheep’ in the family, not quite fitting into the mold of family vocations–nurses, pharmacists, sensible people. Instead, her first language was art, a calling that led to a BA in Fine Art (1977) from Montana State University and subsequent MFA in Poetry with a secondary emphasis in Art from Eastern Washington University in 1997.

Susan is a sculptor, visual artist (oils and watercolor) and a writer. What made her take the leap from two dimensional and three-dimensional work to words?

“Art is often abstract. I wanted to help people enter into the art, so I started writing little poems. It seemed to help,” she said.

Susan later founded Rock and Sling Press and Journal in 2004, a well-received publication in the world of faith writing. Editor and fellow poet Laurie Klein joined the masthead for many years and partnered with Susan in its mission. Rock and Sling’s operations were passed to Whitworth University in Spokane WA in 2010.

Susan has continued her creative expressions in the paths of writing, sculpting and painting and recently published Slender Warble, a collection of poems from Wipf & Stock’s Poeima Series.

The book’s back cover blurb explains the title.

“Within the bewildering paradox of suffering and beauty, we often miss the Invisible One. Never quite what you’d imagine, the nudge of his Presence can be mind-bending. More often, the Almighty gives no more than a slender warble. This collection is about finding the presence of God in spite of and because of the trappings that make us most human.”

The trajectory of the work covers four parts of Cowger’s own faith journey, beautifully summed up in the opening poem here. The arc of her writing includes sections in the book: In the Tunnel has poems that show how one begins to listen for God. Sections Between Two Hands, Is That You? and A Voice Clears, record the way one comes to faith, not in an instant but in a lifetime of awakenings.

Each section of the book begins with a “Weather Report” as she calls it, including the date and time of day, whether it’s early morning or dusk. They also set the tone for each section and frame the poems.

The theme of water weaves through the poems, looming as a powerful, pummeling force in a piece about nearly drowning.  Drink and thirst, floating and sinking, as well as the ocean feature frequently; water appears also as “silent drops of dew.”

Cowger’s signature style is punctuation-less, a remarkable feat for an editor and writer. When I asked her about the odd line breaks and spaces instead of periods or commas, she remarked, “It was intentional. I hope to redeem the current ways of communicating. We speak too fast, write in abbreviations, listen only half-heartedly.”

“My poems force the reader to slow down, read with care, pause at the end of each line and breathe. One must pay attention.”

“Light in the Woods” Susan Cowger

Cowger continues to pay attention in her studio in Eastern Washington and shares her art work and poetry online via her beautiful, new website. The tagline? “Art and Poetry are mirrors to see what you love.”

I hope you’ll take a moment to visit, view her work and more importantly, open the door to the possibility of poetry and listen for God’s “slender warble” in your life.

You can find Susan’s book HERE.

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To read more of my poetry book reviews and interviews, click HERE

For the First Time in Forever {{#lifeinthetimeofcorona}}

Image may contain: 11 people, including Leah Johnson and Courtney Collins, people sitting, child, outdoor and nature

L to R, standing: Me, grandson Peter (14), Birthday Boy Bill (75), DIL Courtney Collins, Oldest (and tallest!!) grandson Hanan, 17, our son Aaron Collins, seated in front, L to R, Paul Silas (10. I think), Abigail (almost 13), our daughter Leah Johnson holding newest (very overwhelmed) grandgirl Mary Becca, almost 1 and lastly, Mr. Luke Ezra the Minion, age 8— at Point Defiance Park Tacoma WA

I wrote last week in this space about our first time back at church in like forever. Actually, it had only been three months since our last in-person gathering, but it seemed much longer.

It was wonderful. And weird.

Superlatives have lost their punch lately, if you know what I mean. #lifeinthetimeofcorona has added a shade or hue of excess, infiltrating daily vocabulary and leaving me somewhat immune to the power of words, especially Unprecedented and Never-Before-Seen. 

But sometimes the words fit.

There  is one First Time in Forever that is actually, factually true. My daughter Leah’s first child–Mary Rebecca Elizabeth–will be a year old next month. After pregnancy challenges over a five year period, Mary Becca’s birth still seems like a miracle, especially since my daughter was 40 years old when she was born.

Birthdays–whether you’re 75 like my husband or a year old like Mary Becca–are cause for rejoicing. But like all celebrations in this season of social distancing and quarantine, birthdays and family gatherings have had to morph into something new.

After quarantining and social distancing from March until May, our family was finally able to all get together in one place for a picnic and party to celebrate my husband’s birthday. But the celebration marked something more auspicious, in my humble opinion.

My son and his family of seven (yes, I already have 5 grands….), my daughter and her husband and newest grandgirl Mary, AND my husband and I were all able to get together last week FOR THE FIRST TIME. Our visits in the past have been with my son and his family, or with my daughter and her family, like a Venn diagram with my husband and I in the middle.

But this time we were all in the middle. ((Well, except for my son in law William who TOOK the photo. He was busy setting up the shot.))Image may contain: William E. G. Johnson, plant, outdoor and nature

Maybe because life is draining and difficult in so many ways lately, the simplest joys mean the most. I pray that will be lesson I take away from this time, no matter how long it lasts.

How about you? What lessons have you learned? (Or maybe you’re still in the process….). Let me know in the comments.

No Anchor But Jesus {{#backtochurch}}

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Crocosmia in my front garden

“Where do people put such things when they live by Plan? Our entire plan is simply Miscellaneous.” -Gladys Taber, Stillmeadow Seasons, 1950

Last Sunday was our first time back in a building to gather and worship for church since March of this year. I refer to that time as “2020 B.C.” as in Before Coronavirus.

Guided by our pastor and staff, we were properly spaced in family or couple groups, masked up and elbow-bumping our hellos to one another. It was….. weird. And it was somehow wonderful at the same time. Why? Because we were together again with our brothers and sisters, standing in the same room with live music. No more screens with live streaming church services…the body of Christ was re-membered–put back together again.

But yes, it was weird. Not the church part, but the whole year part.

For instance, how is it almost July?

It seems like 2020 should only have two months–January and June. Or better, just two parts–Then and Now. The plans in my Daytimer were thankfully in pencil (I’m old school like that) and erased easily enough. But instead of checking off or crossing out events and tasks, January through June just became one gaping hole.

Weeks have turned into months, days are jumbled together in no particular order. I wake up nearly every morning and wonder, “Now is it Tuesday or Friday?” Without Sundays set aside to be in fellowship and worship, weekly anchors that held my life in place disappeared almost overnight.

Yes, there has been little to plan on in these days of #coronavirus. Facts change overnight, what was for sure and for certain and familiar has vanished. I have been forced…. goaded? nudged? into facing the one fact that remains–God’s word is the only anchor I can count on. His truth centers me, His spirit fills me and His daily faithfulness in the world around me has continued to save me.

I am forever grateful that this pandemic and isolation came when Spring in our corner of the world was just waking up. Now here we are in the thick of Summer and flowers and trees are lush and vibrant, my potato vines are flourishing, the bees are busy in the lavender. Life continues in God’s creation whether there’s lockdown or not. You can’t quarantine nature, that is for sure.00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200629121951486_COVER

The nudges I feel in this season were summed up beautifully the other morning when I read in Psalm 143 during my quiet time.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.

Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Psalm 143:8

I so wish I could actually make plans in my Planner. That I knew what was going to take place in the next month or two. But the Holy Spirit is continuing to remind me that we are only given one day at a time and our days, whether we acknowledge it or not, belong to God.

I can’t think of anyplace safer to be right now than listening and looking into the coming year one day at a time. That is God’s saving grace.

Tell me, what’s saving your life right now? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Contemplate {a #poem}

I’ve no chisel but this pen
chipping at paper like stone,
carving words, not to build but bend
graphite like steel, curve the bones

(Dear God, not break) but lay in place and then
form a space to hold a new edifice,
sculpt and rest and tap some more
while You hand me bricks to begin, restore.
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The word contemplate is from the Latin, and literally means to carve out a temple, from the two parts-‘com’ and ‘templum,’ i.e. an “intensive space.”

Words are swirling everywhere lately and the voices are l o u d. Seems no matter where I turn there is something to fear whether it’s danger, discord or disease. I feel helpless and wonder if my words will matter, whether what I have to say makes a difference when people are actually dying. 

Then I pick up my pen to pour my heart out on the page. God’s quiet whispers remind me to use what’s in my hand. So I “chisel” away the best I can, carving out time and space to hear Him in His temple, this world right where He is.

#blacklivesmatter {Let’s Talk Forgiveness}

forgiveness Aaron drawingHear me out, dear Reader. 

Something has taken a back seat to the horrendous unfolding following the murder of George Floyd on May 25th. It has been reported that Floyd had a criminal history; perhaps police were right to detain him when he proffered his counterfeit $20 bill. But officers’ actions on the scene have given us pause–the punishment was astronomically outsized compared to the crime.

Calls for justice to be served are valid points. Peaceful marches and demonstrations are also valid, as uncomfortable as they make us feel. And talking about racism in this country, facing my own fears and silence as a Christ-follower has given me pause, too.

But there is another story unfolding if we go looking. George Floyd had turned his life around before he came to Minneapolis for a new start. That message has unfortunately been pushed off the front pages and replaced by incendiary headlines about rioting, chaos and anarchy. I don’t mean to dismiss those events; they are rocking our country, I get that.

But if we aren’t careful, we will let the darkness drown out the light. The enemy of our souls wants to keep our focus on destruction when God is all about creation and new beginnings. Forgiveness and second chances. Light in the middle of the darkness.

George Floyd served time in prison in Texas and after his release turned his life around. The Minneapolis Salvation Army welcomed him; he had high hopes for a new start. Girlfriend Courteney Ross, a white woman, recently spoke out and said he dreamt of starting a restaurant where he would employ ex-cons. He’d call it Convict Kitchen.

“You know, if he was here, he would say that he’s a man of God. He would stand on that firmly,” Ross told a reporter with local Minneapolis CBS news affiliate WCCO. “He stood up for people, he was there for people when they were down, he loved people that were thrown away.” (from the Epoch Times, online, accessed 6.9.20)

“He would have objected to the violence, he would give grace.”

Five Haikus for Spring

Blue Door

Sapphire welcome says hello
at the start of day
I walk and wonder.

Wisteria

Dropping amethyst

Translucent emerald trailing

Reflected treasures

Haiku for Spring

Drops of see through gems

moisture gift drips slowly down

Silvered honesty.

Accompaniment

Devoted songbirds

Daily raise their melody

No maestro but Spring.

Aerial

Hummingbird sips blooms

From windows I spy each zoom

Birds in lilacs appear

I’ve been writing poems throughout this season of #lifeinthetimeofcorona and very grateful for the sure thing provided by Spring, which listens to its own Maestro, Creator God. Regardless of ‘lockdown’ everywhere else, His presence is not isolated inside.

The familiar form of haikus–3 lines with syllable counts of 5, 7 and 5–is a way to distill all the noise when I’m drowning in words. I tend to ramble; writing without borders allows for that. When you have to be succinct and word choice is intentional it seems to strip things down to what’s really important.

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If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can click HERE. And if you’d like to receive my bi-monthly-ish newsletter, Random Acts of Writing, you can sign up HERE.