Hearts on Pilgrimage-Poems & Prayers-My Upcoming Book

Dearest Readers, thank you so very much for your blessed response to  launching my new book into the world. January will be here before we know it; until then, we will walk out all the days God gives us one at a time. They are truly in His hands. Below you will find the Preface to give you an idea what’s in store in the pages of Hearts on Pilgrimage. If you’d like to join the Launch Team, the application is HERE.** 

The Path

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.

The Process

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.

I’m Writing Another Book! Help Me Tell the World?

First of all, hello to new subscribers and welcome! I’m glad you’re here.

By now you all know I write a bit of poetry…. much of it has been published here on my website but I have had the honor of seeing my work in print and in other places here on the web over the years I’ve been writing.

Have you ever noticed when you have a conversation about poetry, the usual response is, “I just don’t get poetry,” as if there was some secret, codified way that words arranged themselves and only an initiated, select group of people can really understand it. Hence, not many folks read poetry.

I’m here to change that with my new book, “Hearts on Pilgrimage.”

In the beginning of this year I started gathering poems into a manuscript with the goal of self-publishing them. After I had my first draft ready, I sent the collection off to an Editor. Many, many months later….thanks to covid-19 delays and whatnot, I am now on to second edits and will be sending her back my revisions soon. The Preface is practically perfect, I’ve chosen a cover from a lovely watercolor by Laura Winslow(above) and the next step is to reach out to a book designer and write The Acknowledgments.

A Little About the Poems (from The Preface)

The title “Hearts on Pilgrimage” came from a poem by George Herbert  and this passage, which had been rolling around in my head for many years. The poems sort of organized themselves around the theme of a journey through the seasons of the year, much like our lives. I was thrilled to see there was a guiding framework that echoed throughout the work. Beginning with Winter and moving through Spring into Summer and Fall, the book reflects the circle of seasons in the church calendar as well.

The poems are mostly pastoral in nature and I write a good deal about nature, birds, my garden, the way light lands on my kitchen counter or the quiet mornings of coffee in the kitchen. I also deal with the difficulties of death and loss through the lens of God’s faithfulness and presence. It’s important to pay attention to beauty, notice the sky and birds and the trees, the reflection in a puddle, the sound of water–all the ways that God speaks to us without words.

As to form, most of the poems in “Hearts on Pilgrimage” are free verse, but I also play with rhyme and meter a bit, which was a delight to try. George MacDonald’s offerings in Diary of an Old Soul provide inspiration for the cycle of five seven-line poems included. There are also a few sonnets, written in a very loose form, patterning my attempts after others whose work I admire. Initially intimidated by the constraints of the pattern, I was surprised at the freedom provided in writing within prescribed boundaries.

Readers can peruse the work through the year as it is written, or match it to the season they find themselves in currently (literal or figurative.) My prayer for the book is not only that people learn to fall in love with poetry for the first time, but also that they would find an echo of our Creator’s voice as they journey on their own path.

Publishing a book of poetry in this current decade, noticing life around us and pointing out 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; the invisible Kingdom of God is there for the seeing. All we need be aware of is His presence and the beauty around us in every season.

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

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.
***
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.

Seven Books for the Seasons

Did you know that woodchucks (aka the groundhog) and Jesus’ birthday have something in common? On the church calendar, February 2nd is Candlemas, the last Feast Day in the Christian year dated in reference to Christmas.

presbyterian calendar

This celebration of Candlemas marks the presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth (as Jewish custom required), and the purification ceremony of the Virgin Mary at the same time. (Luke 2:29-32). The word ‘Candlemas’ (or Candlemass) refers to the custom of blessing and distributing candles and carrying them in procession before the Mass celebrated in churches in many parts of the globe. The lighting of the candles is symbolic of Christ, the light of the world, as Simeon declared in the Luke passage above.

What does that have to do with a groundhog? An old, old rhyme translated from the Scottish tells us:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again.

So, if the weather is ‘fair and bright’ on Candlemas day, you can expect more winter weather. If the day brings ‘cloud and rain’, then the weather in the weeks ahead should improve.  And there you have it: another only-in-America observance involving a groundhog predicting the weather with roots in the Christian calendar, anchored in the life of Christ.

But this post isn’t about Christmas or candles or woodchucks–it’s about reading around the Church Year, anchored not only in the life of Christ but our own lives throughout the seasons, months and days in God’s creation.

Here are seven books currently gracing my bookshelves which have accompanied me in my own cycles through the seasons according to Creation and the birth of Christ. These include poetry and essays by writers from the 1800’s–George MacDonald–through the 1950’s and into the present day, all as rich and varied as their authors.

THE CHURCH YEAR

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Candlemas  Malcolm Guite

They came, as called, according to the Law.

Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,

They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,

For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle

They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,

Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,

Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas

And keep the day the prophecies came true

We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,

The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.

For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,

Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.

Malcolm Guite is a poet and priest at Girton College, Cambridge in the U.K. These two vocations dovetail in Sounding the Seasons, making church feasts liturgy accessible to readers who may be less familiar with the church calendar. Guite’s sonnets begin with the season of Advent and read through to the Feast of Christ the King on November 11th. As an Evangelical still learning about the Christian way of marking time, I especially like the Index with Scripture references Guite uses, as well as the correlation to the liturgical calendar.