Poems from the Call-to-Be group on Poetry and Being Week 2 (September 14th 2022)

Andrew Fraser has submitted another 3 poems based on his responses to class this week. I include the notes he sent me that indicate how the poems arose from the poems we studied and the class interactions. Thank you so much Andrew for your sophisticated responses to the poems and your effort of compiling these notes that enable us all to tune in to your poetic responses. Good work!

The first is “Abraham’s Choice”, about which Andrew said “The first poem  ‘Abraham’s Choice’ relates to the ‘voice’ of God found in ‘nothingness’ (Thomas Merton) or ‘silence’ (RS Thomas). For me the experience of ‘light’ or ‘presence’ that these poets express respectively, when we find God, is strongly tied to an existentialist notion of freedom or free will, as encapsulated in the phrase ‘existence precedes essence’. We can either choose God or a a false God and when we choose the former we experience the ‘enlightenment’ or ‘presence’ that Merton and Thomas speak about.”

Abraham’s Choice

Believing himself victim of the Fall,

Abraham felt he must obey the call

To prove his faith and trust in God withal.

He led his son Isaac up the mountain,

Though wracked by guilt and in awful pain.

Then just before the fatal blow a voice

Moved the grateful parent to rejoice,

When Merciful God granted him a choice:

‘ ‘Prophet do not shed blood in Yahweh’s name,

Deluded that blind fealty be His aim!

For thy Maker be no common tyrant

That to murder would make thee compliant!

Choose life and seal a loving covenant

That for thy line will always prove constant!’

Andrew C Fraser 14/9/22

The second poem is “Opening of the Eye”, about which Andrew wrote: “I originally wrote the second poem ‘Opening of the Eye’  as an exercise that will form part of my assessment in my creative writing class at Sydney University but there is a connection to your exegesis of The Four Quartets by TS Eliot. What stood out for me was your depiction of him as a ‘universal voice and a ‘profound meditator’ which is basically how I see myself  (whether I am is for others to judge). Like Eliot, I like to make subtle allusions to spiritual traditions, but my worldview is not restricted to a High Church Anglican one like him, but looks for connections between all the world’s spiritual traditions. And I would distinguish myself from Eliot in that I dislike his serious and wordy ‘prose- like’ style. I would prefer to model my work on the sublime, concise and larrikin style of Clive James, as found in works like ‘Unreliable Memoirs’. You came close when you described my poem ‘Barangaroo and Benelong’, as a ‘satiric meditation’. Thanks also for publishing ’The Indigenous Prophet’ because I know it contains some pretty radical ideas from a traditional Christian point of view.”

Opening of the Eye

O Bridge from Heaven to Earth, Great Pan Gu!

Who for eons in thy cosmic egg grew

And in that time nine rebirths did accrue;

Who then every connection thou knew

And from there, Middle Way’s truth can construe;

Teach Annie Liu how to span Yang and Yin

Seeing all suffering beings as kin,

Head in heaven, her heart full of chagrin.

O Enneagram’s mystic traveller,

Clockwise from Reformer to Peacemaker!

O Buddha in thy Nirvana fiefdom!

O Confucius with thy canny wisdom!

Teach Seer Liu to see diverse truths as one

And speak the world’s destiny to be done.

Andrew C Fraser 17/8/22

The third poem is “The Translator”, about which Andrew said: “The third poem, ‘The Translator’ was inspired by an essay written by Korean poet and translator Don Mee Choi that is on the syllabus of the above creative writing class, entitled Translation is a Mode=Translation is an Anti-neocolonial Mode’ . Like Choi and in the tradition of Shakespeare, with works like Macbeth, Merchant of Venice or Othello, I believe it is the duty of poets to subvert the unjust power structure of the Colonial / Neo-Colonial Project.  Why I include ‘The Translator’ here,  with its reference to women’s shamanism, is that Mary Oliver’s poem touched on a similar theme,  her ‘curiosity’ about the ‘ cottage of darkness’, an image that to me recalls the witches of Macbeth. I also  liked her stanza in the middle of When Death Comes, describing the difference between how men and women see the world and her apparent advocacy for both a ‘left/right brain view’ or middle way.”

The Translator

Some objects of Coloniality

Act as agents of its unjust system

That does not improve with Modernity,

Since the evil they excuse corrupts them.

But others like Liu choose veiled schism,

To spread anti- neocolonialism

With women’s charism and shamanism,

Working in the Boss’s cultural chasm,

Subverting his light through her soul’s prism.

So, she translates for the Coloniser

And has a role to play as Peacemaker,

By acting as Middle Way’s soothsayer.

So, she is peace with justice creator

And honours the calling of translator.

Andrew C Fraser 25/8/22

From Jonathan Shaw

A long time after Aquinas

Tantum ergo sacramentum

Veneremur cernui

Et antiquum documentum

Novo cedat ritui

(A stanza from the 13th century hymn ‘Pange lingua’, attributed to Thomas Aquinas, 

sung in church each Friday by Catholic schoolchildren in 1950s north Queensland)

Tantum ergo, words we sang

like grey stones smoothed unreadable by time.

We bowed, though cernui (Latin for ’the bowing ones’)

was only solemn sound,

and felt a sacred presence,

most of us not knowing that we stood

on stolen sacred ground, our bowing heads

more sacred than the shining gold

we bowed to.

All that lives

is holy, life delights

in life.

An avocado seed puts out a single leaf 

in the compost dark. Out in the park

an ibis steals a sandwich from a child.

A woman in a MAGA cap seeks greatness.

A driver  lifts two fingers from the steering wheel

in greeting. A lizard skitters off the path.

A magpie lets me pass.

How fine, I mean no disrespect,

if when the priest intoned

Hic est enim corpus meum

I could have answered, 

Yes, and this is mine,

and let the bells ring out.

Can I do that now?

Can we?

  1 comment for “Poems from the Call-to-Be group on Poetry and Being Week 2 (September 14th 2022)

  1. September 20, 2022 at 9:18 pm

    Hi Jonathan, this is an accomplished poem full of richness, some of which I am still trying to decipher (always a good sign!). I love the range of natural images in your second last stanza, effortlessly spun out, yet radiant with life. I love your Blake quote from “America” and the way it informs the whole poem, but I am still needing help to see how R.S. Thomas’s possible response to Thomas Aquinas is a trigger for your song. I need some help with this and would love a couple of annotations from the creator of “A long time after Aquinas”.

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