Tell someone you’ve written a book and they’ll ask, “What’s it about?”
Well, here’s my non-elevator pitch, from the Preface of Hearts on Pilgrimage-Poems & Prayers, January 2021.
When I said my initial yes to Jesus over 40 years ago, I found poet Luci Shaw’s first book, Listen to the Green and was overcome with the perhapses and possibilities of being a poet. I am adept at saying way more than is needed to communicate a point. What would happen, I wondered, if I intentionally pared down my words to say more with less? Listen to the Green was the inspiration and beginning of my journey into poetry.
I managed to scribble random lines, gathering thoughts in the margins of my days between chasing children and teaching school. Most of it was very bad “poetry,” but it was a start. As I chose to grow and learn, I invested in an informal education, “the school of 3,000 books,” as poet Barbara Crooker would say. The volume you now hold in your hands is the fruit of that learning, a culmination of inspiration and encouragement from poets I’ve had the pleasure of reading and learning from along the way– Laurie Klein, Scott Cairns, Malcolm Guite, Luci Shaw and many others.
When I began the draft of Hearts on Pilgrimage it was early Spring 2020. I had been approached by a friend about placing my poems in her care for their possible publication. After a time of waiting and listening, the work landed back in my lap while our collective lives were put on permanent pause by the entry of a disruptive and devastating virus. Life in the time of corona has wreaked havoc on life as we know it. Knew it. But if we are listening, there are lessons still to learn about what we have lost.
I will never look at Spring the same way again, but I am hopeful. And that is the purpose of Spring–God’s eternal message that new life will come from what seems lifeless and gone. Winter’s barrenness provides a Creation backdrop that speaks to God’s presence in the middle of life when everything has been stripped away, and no year illustrates that more than this one.
Annual cycles in our physical world also mirror our interior lives, whether we are conscious of it or not. When I sat with these poems, they organized themselves in a way that began with Winter and its time of dormancy and rest, moving through Spring bringing new life, to Summer with its burgeoning growth and flourishing, and into Autumn with an eye towards harvest and a future. The church year, beginning as it does in the very last days of November, also takes us through this cycle of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. “Hearts on Pilgrimage” follows this path. The title came from a phrase in George Herbert’s poem, Prayer, and a line in Psalm 84:5. I made the note about Psalm 84 in 2007 and wrote, “Book title?” next to the verse. George Herbert’s poem came into my life many, many years later and the Spirit’s echo sounded again. The phrase seemed to fit this work perfectly.
The poems are anchored in Creation–my garden, the trees in our yard, the birds that visit our feeders, the night sky. Someone once said, Nature is God’s noisiest orator, and I have found that to be true, writing most often about what I see and hear. I’ve also woven in simple sights and sounds ranging from coffee in the kitchen or doing dishes in the dark. The poems begin with an “Opening Act”, which sets the stage with reflections on writing and prayer. The four sections that follow are “Scene I-Winter: Waiting & Still”, “Scene 2- Spring: Sowing & Hope”, “Scene 3-Summer: Move & Grow” and “Scene 4-Autumn: Harvest & Future.” The book ends with a “Curtain Call-From Where I Stand.” Many of these poems first appeared on my website or in other publications, both online and in print. Some of them are featured here for the first time.
I write primarily in free verse, but also play with rhyme and meter a bit, which was a delight to try. George MacDonald’s classic Diary of an Old Soul (1880) provides inspiration for the cycle of five seven-line poems included here and I’ve also written two sonnets in loosely rendered form. Initially intimidated by the constraints of the pattern, I was surprised at the freedom provided in writing within prescribed boundaries; it was fun to play around with the words.
Publishing a book of poetry, noticing the good, true and beautiful, seems a fruitless endeavor in the midst of challenges and heartache. But we will always have trouble and sorrow with us. While we live in a fallen world, we live with a risen Savior, and God’s invisible Kingdom is there for us to see if we are looking. In every season we journey through, what draws us on is an awareness of God’s beauty and His presence.
As you read this work through the year or match it to your current season, I pray you will find an echo of our Creator’s voice while walking your own path. There is much to behold and I look forward to pointing the way, showing you what I see and hear. Then I hope you’ll find time to jot your own poetic thoughts in the margins.
We are on a Pilgrimage. Come walk with me?