Category: Poetry

Theopoetics Conference Recap – Guest Blogger, Evan Underbrink

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A man, masked in the guise of some immortal earth spirit, rumbles in his deep baritone a song as he comes onto the improvised stage, to an audience of some fifty theopoets and scholars. His hair is moss; his eyes shine through the hip-bone holes of some vernal skeleton, the mind’s eye being born from mother earth. His hands hold a basket, or womb, or crib, redolent with the leaves and needles of trees. He sings:

            I am stretched out, on your grave
            and I’ll stay there forever.

This begins the “acceptance speech” turned performance from the Rubem Alves Award for Theopoetic excellence. This award, in honor to a giant within our field, was given to Tevyn East, director of Holy Fool Arts, who would shortly join her husband Jay on the stage, in the dress of Mother Nature, which had been formed from dumpster finds. She and her husband Jay were performing a small portion of their “Carnival de Resistance.” In their act, they deftly stitch together dance, song, stagecraft, Bible verses and allusion, poetry, and social activism:

            Did not your prophets tell of the burning of the cedars of Lebanon?

The award winners were well-chosen, as the themes of art and activism would be a unifying strand throughout all the papers, workshops, and panels which studded the conference.

It all began, however, with Jillian Weise, and her poetry reading. Having time for a brief refreshment and some introductory remarks, the poet and scholar was introduced to a room she was very shortly to own. Her pieces touched the intersection of art and the embodied life of the person with a disability, a term which she presented with no small ambivalence, preferring instead to call herself a “cyborg.” She first read “The Amputee’s Guide to Sex,” which proffered this advice:

            to create an uninhibited environment for your partner,
            track their hands like game pieces on a board.

Continue reading below after enjoying this song. Reflect on the lyrics and meditate on the music’s movements.

In the Q&A that followed, Jillian talked provocatively about her activism, her body as a place where the battle for the rights of the disabled – a term she adopts with great ambivalence, preferring to call herself a “cyborg” – was waged. The community applauds, celebrates, and breaks up into talk and refreshments. Outside, a simple blackboard sign, facing the street, reads, “Poetry & Party Tonight. All Welcome.”

The first-morning panel held Scott Holland, a theopoetic scholar and regular in the field, the Transgender Social Justice Educator and writer J’Lissabeth Faughn, Lisa Hess, a scholar of interreligious learning, conscious feminine leadership and Christian spirituality, and the black theologian and scholar Adam Clark. They danced with questions of aesthetics and activism, with what is this thing theopoetics, and offered the reflections of their own fields and selves they each saw therein. An argument slowly unfurled itself over conceptions of gender, the purposes of art, the failures and benefits of preaching. As one witness later put it, “by the end, I thought it was about to go down!” And yet, we seemed to have found some peculiar gift which allowed for deep disagreement to coexist with deep connection. No small feat, given the seemingly inevitable sacrifice of one or the other in most communities.

The panels kept the discussion going, each session stretched with wide spaces for conversation, connection, and honoring of disagreement and divergence. These stretched the gamut of topics, from the esoteric nature of resistance to be found in the figure of Herman Melville’s Bartleby and expressed by Daniel Boscaljon, to the quiet and profound poetry of Jeff Gundy, under the title “Beauty is Something to Love”, to the joy and laughter of Jan Voigts “The Bible through a Comic Lens.” Beauty, activism, connection, and hidden in the corners of our conversations was some love of that surplus necessity; the idea that the best of what we were doing were the things which could not be captured in our speech, theories, and arguments.

Before our final meal together, and the Holy Fool’s performance, Troy Bronsink, the founder/director/spiritual director of The Hive led us in an embodied, contemplative grace:

            Allow yourself to feel gratitude,
            starting from the top of your head, and moving down…

Some would have called it worship. Others meditation. Some would refrain from putting that time in strict categories. Regardless of our words, we were together, in an expression of gratitude for our bodies, ourselves, our community, our weekend together, and that time we had to cherish that time.

The next day, a smaller group of us would gather at the local Bed and Breakfast to try and name those things, to keep some expression of them in the next conference. Words and concepts were offered, considered, and appreciated from all around the table:

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Callid Keefe-Perry, as Evan puts it, is one of the Saints of Theopoetics.

            “Connection.”
            “Not like other academic conferences.”
            “A place where artists and scholars meet.”
            “I saw respectful disagreement.”

In the end, it was Callid himself, the founder and head of our theopoetic group, who named the darker elephants in the room. With impassioned, reddened eyes, he said: “At this time, when there is so much fear, and some many things falling apart, we need this. Everything is falling, and we need to be here, building something up.” Looking around, at the faces of hopeful artists, thoughtful scholars, and perhaps one silly lover of Dante, I have to agree.

 

img_04772Evan is a published short story author and student of Theopoetics at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana. Evan‘s editor has told him that he has to write a more human bio than he first submitted. This has turned out to be a daunting prospect, as writing about himself in the third person seems a rather artificial act, leading to inevitable self-calumny. Evan feels in this moment as if he is doing the equivalent of standing in front of a mirror, that most sacred of contemporary artifices, and attempting to describe himself in writing to someone with very little point of reference. Dürer’s “Rhinoceros” comes to this mind. Therefore, Evan would like it known that he is most certainly not a rhinoceros.

 

Photo Credit: Evan Underbrink

“Gungor – “Late Have I Loved You”,” YouTube, April 04, 2010, , accessed March 16, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WoCwuPXhvM.
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Road to Selma – Guest Blogger, Sarah Bond-Yancey

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The following poem was written as the author reflected on receiving her level 1 trainer certification in Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation at the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth & Reconciliation. A Pagan, she nonetheless weeps for those whom Jesus weeps and actively seeks a day when justice will roll like a river (Amos 5:24). How do her compassion and action challenge our often safe and lazy faith? – C

Road to Selma

First thing I notice is16999128_10102948986529423_7131485732795198647_n
Greyhound –
Those famous Freedom Rider lines? –
Don’t run here anymore

Only way to get here
Now?
Seventy-five bucks to Uber
After five hundred bucks to fly

An economic ebb and flow
Drains the rolling Alabama River
Robbing the nameless
To feed the faceless

Another rusting facet on the
Pipeline
of Economic Genocide

Priced out of
Existence
Mapped out of
Deliverance

A white moderate nation says
Not my fault
Not my problem

But

Blacks killing blacks
Is still lynching
If the city’s soul is strung up
In the freshly bleached cords of
White
Supremacy

Doc sits quietly to the side,
Eyes glimmering in the amber sun rays,
Tells us of a time:

These empty streets
Once were filled
These tender prayers
Once were willed

But

The searing summer of Whiteness ended,
Biracial autumn waxing,
White flight
To some other unsuspecting summer
Left these faithful streets
To wander themselves
In search of feet
To warm them

Left these faithful lights
To shine themselves out of oblivion
In search of another sun
To call their own

May I remind you –

It is still called segregation
When white and black
Are seasons
Are timelines
Are zip codes

It is still called segregation
If the buses stop running
When the whites stop riding
And the Freedom lines no longer stop in
Selma.

10547461_10101430233053563_8814039422811650982_nSarah Bond-Yancey is Volunteer Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity and Impact Planning & Analysis Coordinator for On Earth Peace.  She lives in Bellingham, Washington with her partner Brian. When not working toward justice, she has been known to make alpaca crafts.

Photo Credits: Sarah Bond-Yancey

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A Beacon in the Night – Guest Blogger, Sue Mock

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My journey with the Death Row pen pal project began with a seminar led by Rachel Gross at our church about four years ago.  Prison ministry was something that was drawing my heart, but I wasn’t sure how to get involved until Rachel opened the door.  There were so many disturbing facts that she shared that I knew this would be a part of my life in a very meaningful way.  I first shared with her that I would be interested in having a pen pal that might have difficulty with writing, as I was a learning disability teacher and understood students who have some challenges communicating.  Alden Harden was who I was matched with, and he has been an extremely articulate man with a beautiful way of expressing himself especially through poetry.

Our letters went back and forth from North Carolina to Indiana at least once a month.  We began with getting to know each other through our daily routines, likes, and dislikes.  It is surprising how many common things can be found even with such different surroundings.  The common threads throughout our written conversations were respect, genuine interest in each other’s lives, mutual concern, and a deep belief in God.  We have shared about our childhood, siblings, parents, youth groups, joys, daily routines, jokes, sermons, disappointments, frustrations, and more.

My husband enjoys photography as a hobby.  This has opened up a window for Al that has turned into a blessing for both men.  Max searches his pictures, finds several that go together, and writes a little about them with each letter I send.  Al has a chance to see, through Max’s camera lens, a whole different world than the confines of the North Carolina prison walls that surround him.

About a year ago Al started sending poems that he had written.  I love poetry, and his poems were beautifully written from his heart.  I thought he might enjoy seeing them in print, so I typed them and sent them back in my letters.  More and more came.  Some were very soulful and filled with life-lessons learned, and others were light and whimsical.  But all were a beautiful expression of a delightful, loving, caring, dear man sharing himself though poetry.  An idea sprang up that we could put these together in a book.  Al  was so excited about that idea that I began the work of creating a poetry book, using my husband’s photographs of our church worship centers as the illustrations for each piece.  Another friend, who had created many books of vacation destinations, shared her work with me,  which greatly increased my enthusiasm.???????????????????????????????

Several hours of editing and rearranging produced a lovely book of Al’s poems with Max’s photos illustrating each one.  I purchased two copies.  One was sent to Alden Harding at Central Prison in North Carolina, and one went to me in Indiana.  Both of us were thrilled with the results.  As soon as Al received his book, he asked how he could get more copies, as several folks were interested.  For his Christmas gift this year, I sent six copies to his loved ones.  It was such a rewarding way to honor this man who had written such amazing work and to provide a way for him to share himself with his family.

A couple months have passed, and more copies are wanted for more folks.  I am not sure what shape this project will take, but I do know that I am so grateful to be part of this journey with Al.  God can join together two unlikely people with such different backgrounds and create a beautiful friendship and an amazing book of poems.

Where is God in all of this?  God is in the stirrings of a heart wanting to serve and connect in an upside-down way.  God is giving courage and opening spaces for individuals to share faith stories and personal insights.  God is providing respect and honor to the worthiness of each of us and giving opportunities to share with others.  This project is connecting the dots of God’s love in action.  It is a story about changing lives, attitudes, and hearts into the essence of New Beginnings and touching the fabric of the Easter message.

I would like to close with one of Al’s poems.

Dear……..Penpal,

Thanks for making my heart smile.

It’s a real pleasure

It’s no way to really measure.

Things you put in print makes me grin.

You’ve become quite the friend.

No, I don’t have many,

Yet your rigorousness has proven plenty.

I love our in-depth talks.

They’re cozy like moonlit walks.

The way we share so many things,

Hurts, pains, future dreams,

Thoughts of you can engulf me for hours.

Capture my mind in translucent powers.

The way you virtually hold my hand.

In this crazy and barren land.

When I lay awake in the bleak of night.

Alone with my thoughts and all wound up tight.

It’s rereading your thoughts

That seems to make all things right.

Thanks,

Dear Pen………….Friend.

by Alden Harden

Sue Mock is a member of North Manchester Church of the Brethren (South/Central Indiana District) and an elementary special education teacher in Warsaw, Indiana.

Learn more about the Death Row Support Project at their website, and sign up to get involved here.

After Sue wrote this article, she received the following words in a letter from Al: “Yes, [the copy of the poetry book Sue sent him for his birthday] actually got here on the 19th, so it made for a lovely gift.  Funny, most times, the legal mail person comes around to the pod cell for or rather with our packages such as this.  They actually called me to the sergeant’s office to sign for it.  Then the sergeant asked to check it out.  The lieutenant then got whiff of it and asked to check it out.  Said that he thought it was really good and asked if I had another one in the makings.  Another sergeant on this rotation actually has hold of it now.  I can hardly believe folk think it’s truly good.”

 

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Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad, March 2007 – Guest Blogger, Travis Poling

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This sonnet by Travis Poling was composed to bear witness to the bombing of an open-air market in Iraq in 2007

Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad, March 2007
By Travis Poling

By chance the sky was calm that morning.
Locals milled through the open street, browsed books,
turned pages, visioned worlds beyond this war:
a yam farmer resisting the new church priest,
a boy with a seed finding one word: unless,
a cricket practicing her song every night.
The sun glared through the stalls off the pages,
but the people kept reading.

They didn’t hear the car engine gunning
behind them till the shriek of brakes grinded
in a singular block-busting blast.
These paper worlds, incinerated, leaped
for the freedom of the sky—
as thirty dreaming bodies struck the earth.

photo (1)Travis Poling is a minister and artist who writes poetry, teaches college English, and curates worship at Richmond Church of the Brethren in Indiana. He blogs at The Poet-Liturgist

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