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

Book Review: In a Strange Land-Ten Kingdom Poets

 

The kingdom of God has been compared throughout the Gospels as everything from a pearl of great price, to a vineyard, a man going on a journey, a mustard seed, a field of wheat and many more.

And if the Kingdom of God had poets, which I’m sure it does, then you’d find their work in the slim volume “In a Strange Land-Introducing Ten Kingdom Poets” from Poiema Poetry Series (ed. DS Martin). Editor Martin explains the occasion of this printing, “This poetry collection gathers into one volume works by ten talented poets who…each (are) well deserving of having their own full-length poetry books, but as of April, 2019 have not quite reached that milestone.”

The Poiema (Greek for ‘a made thing’, or ‘workmanship’) Series is all about “providing a home for the finest poetry by people of Christian faith.”

Contributing poets include: Ryan Apple, Susan Cowger, Jen Stewart Fueston, Laura Reece Hogan, Burl Horniachek, Miho Nonaka, Debbie Sawczak, Bill Stadick, James Tughan, Mary Willis

Until these writers each have their own books, you can find this poetic gathering  and enjoy all ten. The selections are rich and varied, as each writer renders from their own perspective a fuller vision of what God’s kingdom looks like. By turns amusing, descriptive, thoughtful and downright take-your-breath-away, we are handed a lens to view a particular version of faith experience as they see it.

Five Female Poets of Faith

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One thing the world needs is for more people to read poetry. Especially from female writers of a certain age who identify as people of faith. I hope you enjoy this small round up and hope you’ll take the time to read more of their work via the links provided. You will be richer for it.

–Abigail Carroll

Photo:  Julian Russell

That I Might Dwell

That I might dwell in warbler
song, in fields of sorrel, fields
of stars, that dwelling in your
house I’d know, I’d rest, I’d play
at wonder. Oh that I might dwell

in pine-branched shade, among
the sway, among the praise of oak-fern,                                                                                        granite, jay nest, spruce—
among the shadow-dance of leaves,
the breeze unpinning doubt, all

apathy, all hollow hours, all fears.
Oh may I dwell in reverence here,
and dwelling in your house, I’ll
wait, I’ll pray, I’ll lay this body
down on what you’ve dreamed,

on what you’ve sung, spliced, spun,
twined, embroidered, breathed.
And dwelling in your house I’ll
know the peace of moss, the moth-                                                                                                  winged hush of unhinged awe,

musk of sage, gaze of deer. Oh let
me lose myself in rooms of fox-                                                                                                      glove, cowslip, wild plum, wren—
that I might taste the sleep of loam,
that I might tenant beauty here.

from Habitation of Wonder by Abigail Carroll (Wipf & Stock 2018)

Abigail Carroll is a poet and author whose most recent book, Habitation of Wonder (Wipf & Stock, 2018), is an offering of poems that travels the intersection of the natural landscape and the landscape of spirit. A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim (Eerdmans, 2017), has been called “sparked with joy and stitched with whimsy” by the Chicago Tribune, and Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal (Basic Books, 2013), was a finalist for the Zocalo Public Square Book Prize.

Click here for Abigail’s website.

The Joy of Poetry-Megan Willome

“What if there were no poetry?  What if all life were prose?
 Some people wouldn’t mind. One friend told me her son didn’t know how to do imaginative play. He lined up his action figures and then shrugged and walked away.  He didn’t know what else to do.  Poetry gives you an idea of what to do, or at least the idea that something more can be done.” 
Megan Willome, “The Joy of Poetry” p. 138
When I mention to people that I’m reading a book of poetry the response is often, “I’m not into poetry. I just don’t get it.”
If I tell them I WRITE poetry, they look at me as if I said I ate blue crayons for breakfast and quickly change the subject.
I just finished reading Megan Willome’s user-friendly volume “The Joy of Poetry” (TSPoetry Press) and I can say with confidence—this book introduces poetry in a way that will make you swear off eating crayons forever—and might entice you towards a richer life of reading what you’ve been missing all this time.
The next to last chapter is my favorite, aptly titled, “Why Poetry?” Willome (pronounced, ‘willow-me’) illuminates the answers to this question beautifully. Here are the reasons that spoke to me (in no particular order):
     1)    Why poetry? For Kinship—when a writer shines a light on something that speaks to you, there is a connection, an ‘aha! I get that’ feeling.  Poets, in their succinct style, pack a lot of meaning into fewer words; many of those words go straight to our heart.
Illustration: Willome weaves the story of her mother’s very long bout with cancer and the last years of her life struggling with the disease. Megan and Merry Nell’s relationship was not all sweetness and light during this time; I can relate. My own mother died of cancer very young (55, I was only 33) and we also had some rough edges in the way we related to each other in her last few years.
Two lines in Megan’s poem ‘Blue Moon’ are underlined and circled in my book:
“we talk as only mothers and daughters can—
Speech as rocky as the lunar surface.”
There’s a kinship woven into those words.
      2)    Why poetry? For Delight—Certainly you’ve read Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” or something by Shel Silverstein? These delight in their nonsensicality (yes, I made that up).  Willome mentions a yoga class and a discovery of the delight of  ‘poetry’ in her instructor’s directions as she uses metaphors to illustrate different poses. There are so many poems I’ve read that just plain leave me smiling—they’re accessible, readable, relatable, beautiful. Poems can delight us in simple ways.

The Traveling Mischief Cafe–Tweetspeak Poetry

In late fall a few years ago I had the pleasure of hosting the diminuitive L.L. Barkat, a woman with a contagious laugh, a love of poetry and instigator of the Mischief Cafe (among other things.) The Mischief Cafe is sort of a traveling road show with tea, toast and poetry. Laura and I had connected online and had never met before this occasion, but when I read she’d be taking the cafe idea on the road I contacted her and extended an invitation. The Mischief Cafe idea originated with the Tweetspeak Poetry community, which L.L. founded, and came about from a Facebook conversation which morphed (156 comments later) into a book, complete with found poems, blank pages and poetry prompts as well. The blank pages are my favorite. You can read more about Mischief Cafe’s origins here.

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With a word like ‘mischief’ in its declaration, having a Mischief Café in your own home (well, we started in the kitchen) one would expect at least some laughter.  Even if the guests included almost complete strangers whom you’d actually never met in real life.

So, with a feather boa in my hand, I was looking forward to some fun. We were duly rewarded. There were uproarious guffaws from a couple of guests (I’m not naming names) as stories were shared and hearts were bared.

While I expected a congenial time–I enjoy having guests in my home—even if they’re—ahem, an hour and a half early–but the ease with which said total strangers made themselves at home was a gift and a surprise.

Laura (L.L.) and I had time to cover ground in person that we’d only typed out between us. Our conversation was like that between old friends, friends I knew well but hadn’t seen in a long while. Friends who shared a love of poetry and writing and mischief (oh, and tea).

photo by LL Barkat,
(l to r) Laura Smedley, Kimberlee Conway Ireton, moi, Jennifer Wagner(Poet Laundry)

 

And we had tea….with cinnamon toast, buttered very liberally by L.L. She made herself completely at home in my kitchen and chatted as if we’d been doing it all our lives.
That was a blessed surprise.Kimberlee stole my feather boa…Jennifer and Laura smiling, LL being elusive

I was also surprised to be intrigued rather than repelled (as I was on my first read) by the form and sound of a sestina.  As L.L. read aloud one of her poems, I found myself listening to the words as they looped through the air, trailing each other in conjoined phrases, like links in a chain holding a golden key at the end.  I felt like the puzzle of the form had been unlocked as I listened and thought I might actually try to write one.

This graphic below was a huge help, and also inadvertently illustrates the sound of Laura’s voice reading a selection from her book ‘Love, Etc.’ the poem, ‘Petit a Petit L’oiseau fait son nid’ (Little by little, the bird makes his nest).

If you’d like to know more about Tweetspeak Poetry or how to order your copy of ‘Mischief Cafe’, click here.