Conspiracy of Light (review)

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Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. LewisConspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis by D.S. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“There is, then, creative reading as well as creative writing” said Emerson. Canadian poet D. S. Martin has read. C. S. Lewis creatively over years in order for us to now enjoy Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C. S. Lewis. From the first lines of the first poem:
“A glance over your shoulder / assures you you can always get back” to the final “Destination” it is a magical trip.

Martin takes us in 77 poems through seven sections that include poems that look at the role of the poet, riff on ideas and lines from Lewis’s writings, explore his fantasy settings, muse about communication, the vastness of God and the final state to which we aspire.

You may wonder, do readers have to be familiar with Lewis’s writings themselves to get these poems? No. They stand very well on their own, though Martin has included an acknowledgment section where he names the inspirational source of each poem.

Lewis’s (and Martin’s) philosophical bent is seen in many of the ideas on which Martin expands. What proves something is true?

“Some things are only known
once you step in” from “Proof” p. 5.

What is real? From “The Poet Weaves Three Worlds”:

“The marvelous he believes …
The marvelous fictitious fantasies …
The world his eye perceives …
The poet twists from these
a three-strand cord of truth” p. 35.

Many of these poems whisper eternal truths that we pick up in echoes from Bible texts like these ending lines from “The Sacred Fish”:

“Better is one day in his boats
than thousands elsewhere” p. 19.

and these bits from “The Dogs” (obstacles, challenges, troubles):

“I want to tell them to move
to pick them up and throw them into the sea
like a mustard tree
or a handful of mountain” p. 26.

What I like about these poems is the way Martin has made the ideas his own by bringing in elements of his generation. In the poem “Something” (about music) the title evokes the song by the Beatles and the poem contains the line “his guitar gently weeps” p. 36.

In “On the Latest Impending Doom” which, the notes tell us, got their inspiration from Lewis’s poem “On the Atomic Bomb’ Martin gives his dooms a 21st century feel:

“So you’ve found a new engine of doom
running on fossil fuel …
Who needs new science to kindle dread
whether coastal cities be blooded or simply left behind” p. 66.

Most of the poems are free verse. There are a few sonnets (though not of the traditional rhyme scheme, iambic pentameter variety) and one very traditional rhymer. Still, Martin’s crafting fascinates me. He uses lots of rhyme—perfect and imperfect within and at the ends of lines that sing to each other across stanzas unifying the piece as well as making it a pleasure to read aloud. “After Evensong” is one such that I thought had an almost lullaby quality to it:

“Like cranky toddlers we can fight
so long not strong enough to stay vertical
or resist rubbing our eyes
although wise men know darkness is deep
& in the end the dark is right

For soon we all are ravished by sleep…” p. 63.

I could go on about the titled sections and the way titles of each are hidden within poems, the whimsical wordplay within many of the selections and the wonderful note of hope on which the book ends. Having found so many goodies on a quick read-through, I now want to return and reread to see what other surprises this collection will yield in both the categories of idea and technique.

Conspiracy of Light reminds me of the moon. In reflecting the sun’s light, the moon shows off its own topography. In the same way Martin’s poems reflecting on the brilliance of Lewis, reveal the man who wrote them.

(A shorter version of this review was first published in Faith Today.)

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Conspiracy of Light is part of the Poiema Series of poetry books from Cascade Books of which Martin is the series editor. It also includes Scape by Luci Shaw, Gold by Barbara Crooker, Second Sky by Tania Runyan,  and Particular Scandals by Julie L. Moore.

You might like to try writing a poem for Martin’s blog The 55 Project. Poems need to connect in some way with Isaiah 55. Visit the blog and look in the right sidebar under “Join The Project” for contact information.

D. S. Martin also blogs Christian poetry from all eras, featuring a new poem and poet every Monday at his blog Kingdom Poets.


Bright Scarves of Hours (review)


Bright Scarves of HoursBright Scarves of Hours by Diane Tucker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing is wasted on Diane Tucker. From the lyrics of an Arlo Guthrie song to a dull November day, a wait for the bus to the sounds of someone bathing in the next room—it’s all poem material, and woven into her Bright Scarves of Hours collection (Palimpsest Press, 2007). I met Diane at Write! Vancouver where we swapped poetry books. I’m sure I got the better end of that deal.

Tucker’s 84-page, 56-poem collection is divided into hours of the day, nine sections beginning with “9 A.M. Drop the children off at school” and ending with “7 P.M. Go out. Come home.” I had favorites in each section, from “Yellow Vinyl 1972” where the 1970s Arlo Guthrie lyric “Good mornin’ America how are ya? has the little girl thinking about Daddy who “… is somewhere in his truck in America” (p. 12), to “sleep” where sleep ensnares and holds us under its watery surface:

“Dreams are the mer-people ….
They let you believe, while you are here, that you are one of them, and that your legs, awkward as peeled sticks, will never return…” (p.75).

I love how many of these poems illuminate ordinary things:
– the fine line between summer and fall – “summer’s end” and “august 30.”
– the memories of summer in November – “november 28: in the shower.”
– the significance of rain – “rain reunion.”
– the way a church organist’s hands embody art and worship – “praying for the organist.”
– a boy and his dog playing outside on a bleak November day – “vacant lot, november.”

Several poems were memorable to me for their strong voice. “door” for example, begins:

Stop being that brilliant door.I hate every golden inch
of the scented wood of which you’re made” (p. 29).

And here’s a bit of “going” which begins:

“Stars, I let you go.
Don’t stand in formation for me.
Retire below the horizon.

and ends:

“if you know what’s good for us
what’s good at all, run the other way” (p. 41).

But probably my favorite of the favorites are the poems full of the grace of compassion. Like “legit” where Tucker asks,

“What makes a kid legit?”

and answers

“Breath I figure ….
Even before breath we qualified,
all of us swimming in the same sea” (p. 49).

and “no ugly people”:

“… this planet is peopled
with perfectly kiss-sized chins
a world of solid jaws waiting
to be cupped, enfolded
between two hands …
in every square inch of us
beauty to stop your breath” p. 45.

With fresh language and surprising twists Tucker weaves, or should I say knits, magic through every scarf of every hour, onto every page.

I hope she puts out another book soon, although I hear she’s been busy writing plays—has one about to hit the stage this winter. I guess “the failed actress” who

“… is a decorated papier mache girl
a hot piñata full of candy …”

gets to

“… spill her sweet guts out and see
them scrabble on the ground for bits of her”

after all (from “failed actress,” p. 16).

 Bright Scarves of Hours is available for purchase from Palimpsest Press as well as from

Read some of Diane’s poems online (none of these poems is in the book):

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Humble Fare (review)


Stephen Kennedy tells me about his newly published collection of poems at breakfast Friday morning of the Write! Canada conference (Guelph, Ontario, mid-June). He looks pleased as he talks about the hand-pressed covers and individually assembled and tied books.

As soon as I get home, I order one. I love chapbooks—especially when I know the poet. In due time it arrives in the mail.

A slim five- by seven-inch volume slips out of the mailer. Its sand-colored card cover with simple but elegant graphics pleases the eye. The letters are pressed into the paper (from the copyright page: “Printed letterpress from hand-set type on a proof press in Peterborough, Ontario – Published by Jackson Creek Press“).

The cover (which extends and folds into bookmark flaps front and back) opens to an inner cover which is a black-and-white photo. It’s a street scene and just visible on the left is the steeple tower of a church. When I flip to the back cover, I see the rest of the church—a continuous photo with the front. On the flip side of the first photo is another church photo. It too continues on the inside of the back cover.

Humble Fare by Stephen Kennedy - front cover

Humble Fare by Stephen Kennedy – front cover

Humble Fare inner photo cover

Humble Fare inner photo cover

Humble Fare center spread

Humble Fare – center page. These books were assembled and tied by hand

Humble Fare contains only eight poems, though the light card stock on which it is printed gives it a nice heft. I read through it way too fast and then read it again.

The first poem, “At the intersection of Romaine and Aylmer,” introduces me to the churches in the photograph. In the poem Kennedy (a former pastor and editor of Testimony magazine) talks in a rueful tone about church divisions. It ends:

Do you still long to
gather in these chicks, and whisk
them underneath your wounded wings,
absorb the ignominy
of this sibling rivalry
into your sacred heart?

Next comes the poem from which the book’s title is drawn. In an email Kennedy tells me this about its inspiration:

“The back story to the poem “a winter afternoon at the bakery” is my daughter’s field trip with her art group (marginalized adults living in poverty) to an art exhibit in Cobourg, ON. On their way home they stopped in at the Millstone Bakery where Jill, the owner, had everything ready for them to roast marshmallows over the coals in the bread oven. When she told me the story I couldn’t get the image out of my head.”

Here’s the poem:
a winter afternoon at the bakery

a lambent bed of hardwood coals
the smell of bread still on its breath
welcomes our gathering of souls
and draws us back to simpler times
with wooden sticks and marshmallows
a mingling of sweat and sweet
the salt of hospitality
levels the earth under our feet
and feeds us with the humble fare
of our shared humanity.

© 2013 by Stephen Kennedy (used with permission)

Another wide-angle shot of the two churches is the book’s center page. The repetition of those church images gives the book a sense of continuity—and tension.

The collection also contains two poems of tribute to Kennedy’s parents, now deceased (how well those of my generation can relate to such!). A suite of three bus stop poems carry on the tone of humble, simple things. The last poem is of the fleeting image of a deer, making its graceful way through winter.

In these days of almost-instant e-books, I am glad that the tradition of  handsome hand-made chapbooks carries on. I treasure my #55/100 copy of Humble Fare. If you want your own, Kennedy says he has about twenty remaining. Contact him by email HERE.

Here’s a little bit more about Stephen Kennedy via a November 2012 interview with the Cobourg Poetry Workshop.

Poetry Friday LogoThis post is linked to Poetry Friday, hosted today by Margaret on Reflections on the Teche.