Canadian poet creates new collection to help us “turn aside”

D.S. Martin is a Canadian poet and the editor of the Poiema Poetry Series.  His latest endeavour is The Turning Aside, “a collection of Christian poetry from dozens of the most spiritually insightful poetic voices of recent years.”  Martin says, “It is a book I have long dreamed of compiling, and it has grown beyond my mere imagining in its fulfillment.”

Turning Aside is a new poetry collection edited by Canadian poet D.S.Martin.
Turning Aside is a new poetry collection edited by Canadian poet D.S.Martin.

We interviewed Martin to find out more about this project, and why poetry is so important.

What inspired you to create The Turning Aside?

I have found anthologies of Christian poetry to be both inspiring and encouraging through the years. This is how I discovered, or gained greater interest in, such poets as R.S. Thomas, W.H. Auden, G.K. Chesterton, George Mackay Brown, Wendell Berry, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

There have been a number of anthologies over the years, but nothing recently that focused on contemporary poetry, which tried to bring the most significant poetic voices into one volume. This is what I have sought to do with The Turning Aside, so that young poets, and others interested in the art form from a faith perspective, will be given a valuable resource.

Why is poetry so important, and yet so often overlooked, or simply not read by so many people?

Poets seek to write about things that matter, and as they search for truth – with a confidence that truth really exists, and that such a search may possibly lead them closer – they often gain insights into the ways of God and man. When the poets are Christians who take Scripture seriously, they provide valuable insights for us to reflect upon. This goes beyond how a Bible teacher may tell us something. With poetry, we are drawn into the reflection process ourselves.

Our society is obsessed with instant everything, as our lives spin faster and faster. We go faster, but we’re only skimming the surface. We don’t go very deep and have no patience for either poetry or true spirituality. Reading poetry teaches us to slow down and listen.

Unfortunately universities have celebrated the sort of poetry, in the past couple generations, that is difficult and academic, which makes the average person feel inadequate. If you have felt this way, open yourself up to discovering the pleasure of reading poems that express things with beauty and profundity. Most poetry is fairly accessible, and as you read more you will develop the skills needed for more difficult verse.

These poems are about “turning aside.” How can poetry help us do that well?

In one sense every poem is about turning aside. They draw us away from the mundane, and shine light on what we might have previously not given much thought to. When the poems cause us to reflect on God, they are very much like that burning bush.

How do you define “Christian” poetry? 

I admit I don’t really like the term, but I want readers to know that the poems in The Turning Aside are not merely “spiritual” in a fuzzy, new-age kind of way, but particularly poems of Christian faith. Although someone who has a relationship with Christ should be better equipped to write about many things, I wanted the poems in the anthology to primarily be poems that deal with ideas of faith.

What misconceptions might Christians have about “Christian” poetry?

Christian poetry, like the message of your pastor each Sunday, is not divine revelation, but simply one person’s attempt to work through ideas that are worth thinking about.

It is also more than just self-expression. Christian poets are worth reading, even when you disagree with them. This trains us as readers to discern what is being said, and what God is saying.

We know this book has poets from outside of Canada, but can you tell us about the Canadian Christian poetry scene? Is there one? What do we need to know?

There are many fine Christian poets in Canada. We have had so many over the years. David Kent collected many in his book Christian Poetry in Canada (1993). Today, I see most of our serious poets as following in the footsteps of Margaret Avison – not that we necessarily write in her style, but that we have seen that here in Canada it is possible to be both a genuine poet, and a genuine child of the King.

There are certainly “scenes” in various parts of Canada, but writers always write in isolation, and only reach beyond their own rooms for inspiration, encouragement, friendship, and fellowship.

I have included several Canadian poets in The Turning Aside, beginning with Margaret Avison, and including Sarah Klassen, Sally Ito, Richard Greene, John Terpstra, and Margo Swiss.

What we need to know, is that they are out there writing, and that they are well worth reading. Buy books by Christian poets; this will encourage publishers to publish their books.

Lots of us have a relative, or a child, or a friend, (or maybe ourselves) who likes to write poetry. How can we encourage them?

One important way to encourage someone within the Christian community who wants to be an artist of any type, is to show them others who have gone before. It is important for them to see that there are artists (people like themselves) within the Church; otherwise they may either abandon faith, or abandon thoughts of using the skills God has given them. That’s where a book such as The Turning Aside comes in.

Secondly, the Church should celebrate the arts, and make opportunities for people to use their artistic skills within the Church. In the case of poetry, churches should use both the work of established poets and the work of their own poetic people within the celebration services on Sundays.

Lastly, once someone has been encouraged to explore the creativity God has placed in them, they will be able to find like-minded people from across the breadth of Christianity who will encourage them further to bring glory to God through their art.

Thank you, D.S. Martin!

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