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Discovering Poetry: Part Two
Copyright©2004 by Nathan Harms

This is the continuation (Part 2) of a correspondence between me and a Christian writer, Vee, who I bumped into at a local library. Vee is on a quest to learn more about poetry, and our email discussion is an adventure into the makings of poetry, and what it means to be a Christian making poetry.

January 2003

Dear Nathan

I am enjoying Lorna Crozier so much! I read the poem about the man having an affair with the woman who wouldn't have him for more than a night. I love that poem. I read it to my husband, Tim. He has never read poetry before or enjoyed it. But he was moved by this poem. He said, "It's so sad." Then he quickly added, "But it's not right, him being with another woman like that…"

No, it's not right, but that's the point. That is life. Which brings me to a question. What is your opinion regarding Christian poets and what they should be writing? Lately I become angry when I hear comments like, "Couldn't you slip the gospel message in there?" or "How about a Scripture right at the end?" I don't want to slip anything in or tack anything on. I don't want to sell people a bill of goods. I don't even necessarily want to "get the word out."

I heard a writer say that she puts Jesus name in everything she writes. That's okay if you are writing devotionals or sermons, but I don't want to write doctrinal messages. I just want to write what God shows me to write.

I remember hearing B.J. Thomas say that he was not a "Christian" singer, but a singer who was a Christian. I was critical of him at the time for "selling out." I was also brutal towards Amy Grant, who crossed over to the secular market. How I wish that I could take back those judgmental statements. I was a new Christian at the time and could not understand why anyone would want to talk about anything besides the cross.

Now, what is your take as an artist who is a Christian? Is it necessary to only write about good people doing good things, quoting Scripture and praising God? Or can we write about real life and let the chips fall where they may? If I write about life from my perspective, which is Christian through and through, won't that draw others to God? I don't know. I'm rambling. But I'm really steamed about this. I am sick of mediocre "Christian" writing that is just lame, bland and boring.

What do you think, Nathan? You have been writing longer than I have. Am I straying or am I on track?

Vee

Vee:

Your letter cuts to the center of much of my self-defined "mission" where Christian poets are concerned. I can't pretend that I have the answers to your questions. If there are answers, I'm still in the process of uncovering them. I can only share where I'm at in my discoveries right now.

I was at a Christian poet's web site recently, a site that spotlighted the author's own poetry. Almost every poem was signed, "Copyright 2002 by Jane Doe and Jesus Christ." After reading a number of poems, I wondered if the poet shouldn't have posted a personal release signed by the Lord, proving she had permission to attach His name to her work. Although all the poems were explicitly about Christian faith—and most of them contained the name of God or Jesus—they were blatantly bad in their craftsmanship.

If we are so brash as to sign the name of Christ to our poetry we probably ought to be sure that it is worthy of His name. God is the great Creator, the Maker of mustard seeds, dinosaurs and silk cocoons. Poetic works to which we ascribe His authorship ought to reflect His creativity and His skill to the utmost.

For now, I’ve decided to leave His name off the copyright lines of my poetry.

What makes me a Christian? Is it the tiny gold cross on my lapel, or the fishy bumper sticker on my car? Is it the prayer I say at supper, or the fact that I tell people about Christ?

Or is it simply Christ himself who has made me who I am? Is it possible that my whole life, my days and nights, my vocation and my entire portfolio of poetry remain "unsigned" by the name of Christ—yet every bit of it reflects Him?

In my opinion, trying to pack a sermon into every poem or making sure that God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit are mentioned specifically in every poem is perhaps a tactic of lazy Christian poets who have nothing new to say or lack confidence in their message. It reminds me of movie directors who have actors utter profuse profanity in order to communicate anger. It’s much harder to characterize anger without the swearing, isn't it? Perhaps as hard to communicate the truth of the gospel without writing "Jesus said…"

I think many Christian poets lack faith in their ability to characterize the Holy Spirit without writing Him onto the page in plain ink. Beside lacking in creativity, the tactic dulls the writing and alienates readers who feel they're being preached at. Of course they are.

To get back to the Crozier poem you read to Tim, of course he is right about the morality. But the poem really isn't about the morality. The poem stirs up powerful emotions, and in that way it communicates in an uncommon way.

If a Christian poet honors God with divine creative energy, readers will feel and think about things that can't be said with ordinary words. In the process the persons who Christ has made us to be will be revealed to our readers. It will be a true image, not one blurred by rite and repetition.

Of course these are only my opinions at this time. And I am willing to allow leeway to new poets and new Christians. When we are first learning our way in any endeavor we must be forgiven our lack of refinement, and be encouraged gently towards further excellence.

Hi Nathan,
I couldn't have said it better.

There is so much more to living for Christ than preaching a message and quoting verses. I can't serve him if I allow myself to be untrue to the person he created me to be. That person will write about beauty, pain, triumph, testing, sin, joy, and the daily highs and lows of living.

"To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive." Robert Louis Stevenson

Vee

To be continued…

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