As readers of this blog and those who follow my academic work know, I believe that poetry, literature, and the arts are ways of communicating truth — and are much needed today. I also believe that Christian poets are called to show us how to see rightly, to show us beauty and truth. Too often, though, the “Christian” arts scene is mediocre. As I have spoken about with some passion on other occasions, Christians are called to excellence in the arts; it is not enough to tack on a moral or a Bible verse to a story. It is not enough that a song be about Jesus. What would true excellence in contemporary Christian poetry look like?
We need Christian writers who can speak about both the dark and the light, about pain and depression and difficulty so as to have a legitimate voice about joy and peace and love. We need Christian literature that is accessible — we’ve had enough of obscure, inward-focused, self-indulgent poetry — but also one that is rich, deep, and meaningful.
Malcolm Guite’s poetry does this.
It is great poetry, the equal of any of the ‘classic’ poets I so often talk about here, and his collection Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Church Year is a serious poetic achievement. And so I am very glad to heartily recommend to Hieropraxis readers that they add this excellent collection to their shelves.
Readers who have followed Malcolm’s blog know that the sonnets first appeared there. However, the book “Sounding the Seasons” is much more than a printed collection of these sonnets. I had the privilege, along with my friend Dr. Michael Ward, of reading “Sounding the Seasons” in draft and seeing the way that Malcolm transformed a collection of individual poems, each powerful, into a cohesive work that is more than the sum of its parts.
The sonnets have been selected and sequenced (and in some cases revised) for “Sounding the Seasons,” such that the book is valuable in two ways: as a collection that one can dip into for individual poems, and also as a book to read in one sitting as a single powerful experience.
Here is what Michael Ward says about the sonnets:
“The heart of the book is the ‘Stations of the Cross’ sequence, where Guite’s poetic and theological gifts come together most perfectly and movingly. I predict that this section of the work will become a regular feature of Good Friday liturgies in churches round the world and in due course come to be regarded as a classic. It’s quite brilliant. The rest of the sequence has less intensity, but is still full of great things. The poetic register, while remaining deeply suggestive, is always accessible, and the doctrinal presuppositions are very much in the Lewisian ‘Mere Christianity’ tradition, meaning that almost all Christians should find that they are able to gain spiritual nourishment from what is on offer. In addition to the poetry itself, the volume is richly furnished with supporting apparatus, including an excellent introductory essay, two helpful appendices, a couple of user-friendly indexes, et cetera. All told, a gem.”
The introductory essay is fascinating as well: Malcolm discusses the history of the sonnet sequence and how he has chosen to adopt (and adapt) the form, and articulates his particular vision for poetry in the 21st century.
You may also be interested in listening to a series of talks that I did on one sequence of sonnets within “Sounding the Seasons,” the “Stations of the Cross” sonnets.
Dr. Holly Ordway is a poet, academic, and Christian apologist. She is the chair of the Department of Apologetics and director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, and the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith. Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.