New Book for Advent: Translation of a Thousand-Year-Old Poem with Commentary

I always say I’m excited to announce a new book. But this time I’m even more excited than normal. Gracewing in the UK has done me a great favor in bringing out a book that pulls out all the stops. O Shining Light: Old English Meditations for Advent and Christmastide is the first stand-alone, poetic translation of the Old English Advent Lyrics, a poem that opens the Exeter Book. (The Exeter Book is the first anthology of English poetry, copied down in the southwest of England sometime in the later tenth century.) You can get a copy here!

The Advent Lyrics are a set of short meditations on the “O Antiphons” sung at Vespers leading up to Christmas, and several others. (O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is based on the O Antiphons too.) The early English poet gave us a heartfelt, brooding, and celebratory poem. At the same time, it can be hard for modern readers to see what he is doing clearly at first blush, so we’ve included commentary that breaks open the poetic and theological riches of the poem too. Guides for individual and group reflection too make the book perfect for devotional Advent reading.

I’m particularly delighted because of the following features: my wife Mamie and I collaborated on the Introduction and Commentary; Daniel Mitsui provided illustrations inspired by Anglo-Saxon manuscript illustrations that frame the poem thru-out; Br. Paul Quenon, a terrific poet, photographer, and Cistercian monk, provided a welcoming and astute foreword; and the crew at Gracewing set the work in splendid typeface imitative of Anglo-Saxon script. It’s a poet’s (this poet’s) dream book.

Oh, and for anyone who might want to hear the original poem read aloud, I have posted audio files of myself reading the lyrics here. You can follow along in your book, just like when we were kids! 🙂

state natural area poems, supplementum anthropocenum #1, a & b

a.

stinkhorns, you’ve taken

all we’ve thrown your way

disturbance a way of life

b.

primrose blankets the broken ground

wort-wisdom making virtue

geese along the evening’s river

this new supplemental subgrouping of sna poems, the “supplementum anthropocenum” will showcase occasional moments of exceptional, natural rupture in the urban and other built environments.

in one of my seminars this term, my students and i are talking about how ‘nature’ isn’t ‘out there.’ (and the troubles that arise from the view that it is.) thought i should start taking it seriously in this series too.

here, a patch of stinkhorns continues to work down the wood chips in a median strip heading into downtown milwaukee (it fruits a few times a year), while a vigorous stand of evening primrose beautifies an abandoned lot on the city’s lower east side. how is this not ‘nature’?

state natural area poems #16: sander’s park a, b, & c

a.

elms tower the swale

and feathered honey understory

stop listen see

canopy
jack in the pulpit down
zigzag goldenrod

.

b.

thick-cut rivers of bark

spleenworts humbling below

root yourself in the made

canopy
agarics doing what they do best
sky

.

c.

zygomorphic spikes

of great blue lobelia

crowding our hasty retreat

great blue lobelia
woodland sunflower fading

.

sanders park state natural area is set within a park and ringed ’round by exculpating road(!). two different kinds of forest grow on swells and swale, an ancient terrace of lake michigan. an intermittent stream flows thru the whole; lots of wildflower and fern species.

thanks to racine county parks for keeping this patch of earth.

Audio of “My Embering” from _Sunk_ to Celebrate Fall Embertide 2020

In honor of today beginning Fall Embertide, the Quatuor Tempora (Four Times) of fasting and prayer that go way back in the Latin Church, here is a poem from my 2018 collection Sunk in Your Shipwreck, “My Embering.”

(For any liturgy buffs: I do know that in the Extraordinary Rite ordo for this year the Fall Ember Days are moved to next week, but it’s b/c of a technicality of the 1962 reform that I’m not worrying about–since I don’t follow the old rite anyhow, I’m sticking with the prior 1400+ year tradition.)

state natural area poems #15: muskego park hardwoods a, b, & c

a.

waxy white sentinels

urge the leaf-litter

bowed and tremendous

b.

turkey tail splaying for the world to see

gill-bearers make life from death

the deep wet black of rot

c.

jack-in-the-pulpit lobed rubies

frogs in the rain-filled tracks

under-story going to sleep

Muskego Park Hardwoods is an old-growth southern dry-mesic forest in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. Some past grazing has brought in new species of wildflowers, and a healthy blend of different hardwoods stand strong. Thanks to Waukesha County for preserving this old-growth community!

state natural area poems, supplementum #11: urban ecology center-riverside a, b, & c

a.

a foot in boggy fossils

and cousins thrive together

your eyes a slippery flame

cousins

b.

you play the possum joey

on slick bare trunk

an image for when you’re grown

polypores pushing their margins

c.

mud on your boots and leggings

you sniff out gold-decked trails

and lead me to new crossings

river’s edge
birds-foot trefoil

the urban ecology center has three absolutely fantastic sites in milwaukee. check them out whenever you’re in the city.

this is a trio of “found living poems” for my kids, one for each.

New essay on “Monastic Tradition and the Problems of Big Tech” in _The Windhover_

An essay of mine bringing together my interest in the Benedictine monastic tradition with my concerns about the pervasive (and pernicious) influence of Big Tech has just been published in The Windhover.

In the essay, I bring to bear on our screen-saturated consciousnesses two key, foundational insights of the western monastic tradition: the daily practice of calling to mind one’s own death (Rule of St. Benedict 4.47) and the call to treat all things like “the vessels of the altar” (Rule of St. Benedict 31:10).

In light of these and other teachings of the monastic tradition, I suggest that “If we were to tend to our own attention with care and concern, we might individually and collectively find ourselves again, find the stable parts of who we are, and begin to build something new with the technological advances that we have surrounded ourselves with . . .” Doing so would bring us into accord with Benedict’s prescription to “let peace be your quest and aim” (Rule of St. Benedict Prologue.17).

The Windhover doesn’t make its contents fully available online, so if you have an interest, please do help support a literary journal open to a variety of Christian perspectives and that publishes solid poems, fiction, and essays by buying a copy here.

Pax!