Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where Are All the Christian Poets?

This is not just a rhetorical question because I wouldn’t be surprised if someone e-mails me to point to several great Christian poets. A good Christian poet would not be that easily recognized as such. The reason is, they would write as a Christian but from a human perspective . . . not writing “Christianly.” I’m sure you can find many “Christian” poems that smile and resolve.

I actually think that there would only be only subtle differences between the great writings of a Christian poet and those of a great non-Christian poet because both should write skillfully from their observations of the human condition. Maybe the Christian would give more hope, but it wouldn't be a cheap, plastic hope.

I’ve been seeking out great writers as I’ve mentioned before. I see this trend in the artists . . . even though they may start from a Christian perspective . . . there comes a time when they must choose between the “Christian” narrative and reality. Artists observe reality perspicaciously and feel the raw emotions of it deeply. When they see a contradiction between their preconceived Christian narrative and reality . . . they usually chose the latter. But we need those to continue in both their Christian beliefs and their astute observations of life . . . the way it really is.

I've followed the lives of many of those poets and the end seems to be familiar. They give up their hope when they give up their Christian narrative. They usually end up with serious depressions, alcoholism or suicide in their own, personal lives.

But there needs to be prose written that describe the pain that a young lover feels when the love of their lives . . . leaves them for another. Lines need to be written to explore that awful place that one lives in when their precious child slowly slips from their protective arms into that of a terminal disease. Someone with a true gift of words must write about the great joys that comes with the birth of a child, and the sadness that comes with the loss of an aged parent.

For a Christian to write humanly and to write well, they need to write about the glory of that sunset over the Olympics . . . without an artificial closure, where that sunset has some obscure special meaning from God to do such and such.


I want to be you. said...
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Anonymous said...

Where are all the Christian poets?

Over the Berlin Wall into the West, along with the Christian SF writers, Christian fantasy writers, Christian horror writers, Christian FRP gamers...

Me? I wanted to write the next Poul Anderson Technic League series, NOT Left Behind: The Knockoff.

Why stay where you KNOW you're not wanted?

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...


Came across this blog article by a Phil Cooke that illustrates the point.

Seems someone was doing a Christian documentary out in rural Thailand, and when the locals -- rural hill tribesmen, the Thai equivalent of Hmong -- found out the film crew were Christians, they actually asked "Will this be Christian (TM) or will it be good?"

Backwoods Thai hill tribesmen.
You'd think that'd send a message.

Brian said...

The two I immediately think of are George Herbert and John Donne. Of course they both lived around 400 years ago....

As far as modern poets, I was in a used bookstore and picked up a collection of poetry by Madeleine L'Engle(The "Wrinkle in Time" author) and have quite enjoyed it.

She is probably on the fringe of what most Evangelicals would consider "Christian" but that's probably not too surprising. Here's a sample :

Pain is a partner I did not request;
This is a dance I did not ask to join;
whirled in a waltz when I would stop and rest,
Jolted and jerked, I ache in bone and loin.
Pain strives to hold me close in his embrace;
If I resist and try to pull away
His grasp grows tighter; closer comes his face;
hotter his breath. If he is here to stay
Then I must learn to dance this painful dance,
Move to its rhythm, keep my lagging feet
In time with his. Thus have I a chance
To work with pain, and so may pain defeat.
Pain is my partner. If I dance with pain
Then may this wedlock be not loss but gain.

And a few more :

MJ said...

Yeah Brian, I forgot about her and she only lives about 25 miles from me. I've only read a Wrinkle in Time but that was a great poem.

HUG, I understand about the not-staying. I'm sure that there are many great writers, who are Christian, but don't write Evangelically and therefore blend in with the other great writers.

Lutestring said...

T.S.Eliot and W.H.Auden are phenomenal. So is Denise Levertov - I am not sure if she is Christian but she well may be - but her poetry is well worth reading.

Chad Walsh also does some splendid things - he does a lot of outright Christian themes, but they are done very well.

The Madeleine L'Engle poem is wonderful!

pennyyak said...

Gerald Manley Hopkins is the only one who comes to mind, but he lived some time ago, also.

N.L. Moon said...

I believe and follow Christ. I fancy myself a poet. However, I can find no place to "publish" my poetry because it's Christian. If you can find a place that would seriously consider my work, you might have a 21st century Christian poet who isn't afraid to show his heart and be honest.

jmj said...

Good luck NL. I don't any publishers but I hope you find a way to make your writing into the world.

theartistformerlyknownasgeorge said...

Why would you know a living poet was a Christian?

I worked as singer/songwriter up until the last two years and never felt the need to advertise such things. I wanted to write about what I thought was true.

Of course my faith tradition informs my perspective, but as your hero Shaffer said everyone borrows from a Christian world view when they talk honestly about reality.

Anonymous said...

Kahlil Gibran

"Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love."