Sunday, October 18, 2009

Biblical Poetry

I am so excited! I think that, after all these years, I've figured out a portion of what God wants me to do with my life. For those of you who know me well, this has been an issue that has plagued me on and off for the past twenty years. I've felt the tug of God upon my heart, but I've never really known what the tug meant. Now, it's somewhat coming together for me in the clear and concise way that I've wanted.

I could write a book about this journey of mine, but I don't think that's appropriate right now. After all, we've all got things that we need to do tomorrow, and I wouldn't want anyone riveted down in their seats for too long! But to say the least, I've always wondered why I was led to go to bible college for three years, only to leave there and then go to a public university. I've questioned why God led me away from protestantism and into the Catholic Church. I've been curious as to why I've loved ancient poetry and writing enough to get a Master's in Rhetoric along with an almost MFA in Creative Writing.

To the outsider, all this looks like a bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder. To me, I knew that it was part of some greater plan. Well, I'm back at it again. Back into my Bible, back into trying to find out my purpose in life. This time, though, my journeys and readings have opened a few doors that were never revealed to me in the past. I've hit on some wonderful truths in the Old Testament that have forever changed how I view the Bible, the authors of the books of the Bible, God's place in writing the Bible, and the message being delivered.

Today, I'm not going to go in depth on anything. I'll break this all apart and will focus on each little section as I go forward with my posts. Needless to say, though, it's all going to be very interesting for those who are interested in the Bible and God's message to us.

If you look at it all like I do, it all fits together reasonably well, and I am in a unique position to interpret the Bible in a way that many theologians cannot because of my background in rhetoric and creative writing.

Where am I going with all of this? Read the book of Lamentations. It's a short book of four or five pages, and it won't take you long. Twenty years ago, I read it and came away with a totally different interpretation. In fact, we really didn't spend much time on it in Church and bible college because it didn't really make sense as to its purpose in the Bible.

Now, however, read it as if it were written by a poet. Read each chapter as an individual poem. It's a shame that all English translations can't do it much justice, but I'll explain the book in my next posts. I'll explain what makes this book so special in the ancient Hebrew that it was written in. I'll talk about why this is both a work of art and a theological treatise. I'll talk about what message God is sending us about how we should deal with tragedy in our own lives.

What I want to leave you with today, though, are a couple of things. Hebrew poets were some of the greatest poets of their day. They were better than the Greeks and all other poets of other kingdoms. Secondly, the ancient Hebrews believed that God's language was a language of poetry, so they prayed in poetry, and that's what made them develop this art form to its highest potential.

Finally, however, I also want you to understand that God inspired poets to write part of the Bible. He gave them the gift of writing poetry, He laid a message on their hearts, and He let them write. These books of the Bible are the poets' words as inspired by God, so they must be interpreted as poetry first and the rhetorical message secondly. If you don't do this, you'll miss much of the meaning of the Old Testament.

Monday, October 12, 2009


There are a number of points that I'm going to bring up in this post that can and will be elaborated upon as separate posts in the near future. They all revolve around the difference between the "Catholic" Bible and the "Protestant" Bible.

The first thing that I would like to discuss is the concept of "The Word of God." Is the Bible the Inerrant Word of God or is it the Inspired Word of God? Believe it or not, there is a huge difference between these two phrases, and the implications are endless when it comes down to how you view and read the Bible.

The Inerrant Word of God philosophy basically assesses that the Bible is, word for word, written by God through man. This Bible is to be understood as flawless, it is to be quite literal in its translation to our everyday lives, and it is unwavering in application and definition.

People who assert the Inspired Word of God believe that God wrote the Bible through man. Man was inspired to write the Bible but interpretation of what was written should take into account the times in which it was written, the audience it was written for, the type of literature (whether it was a history or a literary book) the book was meant to be, and the skill of the author in crafting stories with allusions, allegories, etc.

The two views of the Bible aren't new. They've been around for a long time -- since the beginning of the church. They were especially brought to light when the Church was trying to establish the Holy Canon, or the collection of books that would comprise the Bible. Seven books were the seat of controversy. They are called the Deuterocanonicals. You won't find these books in a Protestant Bible anymore, but you will find them in a Catholic Bible. In fact, they were in all Bibles for about 1800 years until many Protestant Bible makers in the 1800s took them out altogether because they wanted to make a bigger split away from the Catholic Church.

But, before then, though, understand that these books were part of every Bible in the world. Even Protestant Bibles since Luther. However, Luther and Protestants did not believe these books were inspired by God. They just believed that they told a good moral and did not want to remove them.

The question about these books was, are they the Word of God? Certainly, Church tradition made it so, but these books weren't part of the final Hebrew Bible, they contained errors that many people knew about, and the New Testament never quoted from them.

However, if you look at the Bible as the Inspired Word of God, much of the issue can be explained away in favor for these books.

To begin with, they were part of the Hebrew Bible but were later rejected after Christ's death. The fact that the Hebrews originally had them is found in the fact that they were included in the Hebrew Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of their Bible.

Yes, there are a few errors in a couple of books in regards to people and places. However, those were not history books. The message wasn't one in which the facts were dependent upon. In fact, when Jesus stated that the mustard seed was the smallest of seeds, he wasn't giving a lecture about Botany, he was using it as an example for a greater truth. The fact that the mustard seed isn't the smallest seed doesn't take away from His purpose. The same is true in these books.

Finally, the New Testament didn't quote from them, but the Apostles did allude to them several times. In addition, there were several Old Testament books that the New Testament didn't quote from. Should they be taken out too? Since Matthew alluded to the Book of Tobit, it goes to show that it was considered in the early days of the Church an important book in the Old Testament.

So, as I move through these issues into detailed points later on, just remember some of the generic principles I've brought out today.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What is Literature?

When I was in graduate school, I remember my professors always lamenting the fact that the majority of books sold in the United States could not be classified as literature. I admit. I was once among those who made those accusations; however, the more removed I am from sheltered academic life, and the more entrenched I am in the trappings of every day life, I find that their opinions about literature are stuffy and aristocratic.

A couple of years ago, when I was selling windows, I met a fellow and his wife who desperately needed new windows. As I talked to them, I learned that she was an art professor at a local university, and he was a writer. At that time, I'd already published a book, so I was interested in finding out what he wrote. She told me quite nobly that he wrote "literature," and "it was not to be mistaken with the crap that is sold in the bookstores." I translated that to, "he hasn't been published yet, but he writes well." What took me back, though, was the snotty attitude she had. She was very academic, as you can tell, and she probably couldn't believe that her window salesman had published a book too. I didn't tell her that my book was an academic book. They eventually bought my windows too.

So, as I'm reading a best-seller from the 1980's called "Marine Sniper," I ask myself: what is literature? Well, I'm happy to say that we should not listen to the high-brows. There's more to literature than Faulkner and Hemingway. Writers didn't just fall off the face of the earth after Frost died. They're still here, and they're writing for an ever-expanding audience. It's good that people still read, and I'm happy to say that books still sell by the millions, even if it is not considered literature by university-types. Trust me, in the future, that trashy novel you're reading right now might be this century's Marquis de Sade. You never know.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ruby Bute

Today, I would like to recognize St. Maarten's most notorious poet, Ruby Bute. I had the pleasure of meeting Ruby on my trip to St. Maarten a few weeks ago. Not only is she a poet, but she is an accomplished artist as well, and she is the artistic ambassador for the island.

I love Ruby's art. This, I guess, is what she is most famous for. Self-taught as artist and poet, she shows what a person can do when she puts her mind to it, no matter under what circumstances she is under or where she is born.

Ruby's poetry, like her paintings, is fresh and without the corruption of academia's influence. She doesn't worry about style or voice. She just writes what comes to her heart. The same is true with her art. She really can't be pigeonholed into one artistic school or another. She lets the subject guide her emotions, and she lets the brush do what it wants on the canvas.

I selected a poem which I think really reflects her style. It's called "Starry, Starry Night:"

Sitting on beach sand under the stars,
We listened
To the whispering of our hearts
And the serenade of the sea.

That night
We promised
To never part,
Come what may.

Under a jeweled sky of a thousand galaxies,
We pledged to conceal and cherish our love
Like a precious pearl sealed in
A golden shell.

This is a lovely poem. It draws the reader in to that night while sitting on the beach. The imagery really makes it come to life, and the emotions are whispered yet very powerful. In all her poetry, she tends to say little yet evoke much more in readers' minds about her subject. She allows the reader to come away with his own conclusion, and I like that aspect. I like how she's painted the scene and alluded to the situation without giving away all the details. I think that's the best way to write poetry. The poet should let the reader enjoy and live the poem. I also like the simplicity of language and the ease of reading the poem. How many poets write poetry that no one can understand? Even the critics can't get it right. That's not the case for Ruby. She writes to the people, especially for her people of St. Maarten.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I'm back after spending the past two weeks on vacation! I didn't want to lose anyone by letting everyone know that I'd be gone for two weeks, so I kept it on the low and thought I would surprise everyone by just logging back on and posting after I got back. Sherry and I went to the Caribbean for ten days and then to North Carolina for another three days. I expected to come home to a warm Maryland, but, man, am I sorely disappointed. It's cold here and, I shouldn't be surprised, rainy!

The Caribbean was great! We went on a cruise to Bermuda, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Puerto Rico, and we enjoyed every bit of our time out. It was a nice time. Bermuda was colder than I wanted, but apparently, the cold front that we were experiencing on the east coast as we left pushed through with us to the upper Caribbean. However, as we made our way south, it warmed up quite nicely. St. Thomas was our favorite stop, and if I could arrange a week there, I'd be very happy.

I was able to ingratiate my artistic senses on the trip. While in St. Maarten, we took an art tour, and I met an artist/poet while there. Here name was Ruby, and she's an island local who is self-taught. We bought a book of her poetry (along with a nice short story) and a couple of her prints. We enjoyed our visit with her. I'll probably focus one of my next posts on her poetry and her ability to tell a good story which is something I think we've lost as a culture for the most part. Every painting she painted, she had a good story to tell, and she captured that story in her art. Her poetry is good too, and I think it captures her life well.

While on St. Thomas, we took an excursion on a Pirate ship and went snorkeling in Honeymoon and Christmas coves. We swam with a green sea turtle and a Ray along with many other colorful fish around the coral reefs. It was a blast! I could do that all day long. By the way, Sherry snorkeled in Bermuda while we took a trip on a catamaran, but I chickened out because the water was just too cold for me there. She saw a few fish, but I think she was disappointed at the location they took us too. It was too choppy for them to take us to their normal place, so they took us somewhere "new." It wasn't as good of a place based upon their responses and Sherry's description of the waters. Plus, everyone who went in froze to death! Not me!

The Caribbean trip was a sans-kids trip where Sherry and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. The kids stayed with our parents (Ian in North Carolina with my parents and Aidan in Maryland with Sherry's parents). They had a blast getting one-on-one attention from their grandparents too, and it was a little vacation for them. When we got back, we picked up Aidan and headed down to North Carolina to get Ian where we stayed for another three days. We had fun down there on Memorial Day by going to the beach and spending the day swimming in the ocean. Ian and Sherry swam for about three hours. Again, I got in up to my waist, but the water was a little cool for me. It'll be bath water there in about four weeks, but for now, it's a little cold. According to Sherry, though, it wasn't as cold as Bermuda. That's funny since Bermuda was due-east of where we were that day and is in the Gulf Stream. I suppose Bermuda's waters must be much warmer now.

I came away from the trip with a little gem. While in St. Thomas, I noticed all the men who were running our snorkeling trip on the Pirate ship were wearing these old coins around their neck. I was immediately interested in what they were. I found out that they were coins that were found in local shipwrecks from the 1600s. Most of the coins went back to Spain, but some were sold to local jewelers who took them and make pendants out of them. I got one and will always wear it around my neck. On the certificate of authenticity, it states that the coin came from a treasure that was found on May 15, 2008, (our 9th anniversary!), from a Spanish ship that sunk in 1648 (Santa Maria). It's a two-bit .999 silver coin that looks every bit of the 300 plus years it has aged under water. It's real cool, and I love it. When you see me next, ask to take a look at it! There's a lot of history in it! Plus I like wearing it!

Well, I could go on and on, but I've got to start getting organized. I have a lot of projects that I have to finish, and I need to start now by getting myself back on a schedule. In addition, I have some new projects that I need to begin, so I'll be busy for a while. I have some very unique writing jobs, and I'm looking forward to working on them. I know that my clients are glad I'm back too, but I have to admit that the time away has refreshed me, and I know my writing will be better as a result. As well, I have a publisher who wants me to write something in my own name, and I want to make time for that too.

I'll be sure to post more frequently from here on out, and I think I have some interesting things to discuss!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night -- Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Read this poem aloud, listen to the musical qualities of the poem, and you will hear what makes Dylan Thomas one of the greatest lyrical poets of the 20th Century. Lyrical poetry is meant to be read aloud, and it is beautiful to listen to when read with emotion. Try it, and I'll bet you'll love the poem.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


What rainy, cool weather we have been having here in Maryland over the past ten days! Every time I turn around, the weatherman is adding another rain-filled day to the ten-day forecast. I'm beginning to think that I live in London! We endured our April showers, and now, when I'm expecting May flowers, I'm getting May showers. I shouldn't complain, and I'm really not. There are places all over the country that are dealing with drought. At least I know that my well won't run dry anytime soon! I would just like a few sunny days every now and then. Perhaps I could cut my grass if that were to happen. As for now, it grows and grows under wet conditions. The miracle in it all, though, is that, where there was brown nothingness two weeks ago, there is now green growth.

I'm still dealing with a bit of an internal drought regarding my play. It seems that I have trouble with my own writing. I think it's funny that I can write without a problem when I'm writing for someone else on subjects that I am really not interested in, yet when I write for myself on subjects that I'm passionate about, I hit major roadblocks. This play is but another of many projects where I've suffered throughout the process.

When I think of this "writing process" and the pain that it sometimes brings, I can't help but think of Dylan Thomas. Dylan Thomas was one of the world's great poets, and he was perhaps the greatest lyric poet of the 20th Century. Welsh by birth, he died in 1953 while touring the United States at the age of 39. Thomas was quite transparent when talking about the writing process. He once stated that he wrote poetry at the rate of about two lines per hour. But slowness at writing did not stop him from going through draft after draft until he found the right words. He was known to have revised some poems up to ninety times before he published them. Talk about pain!

It is painful to write well. There is no doubt. I think that is what separates the great writers from the good ones. Revision and rewriting are the most intense, confusing periods of a writer's life. This is what I'm going through right now with the play. What felt good coming out just didn't work in all spots. Sure, there are good things that I want to keep, but there are many things that need to be re-done. So, back to the drawing board I go to see if I can make the entire play work for me. I know what I want it to be like when I'm finished, and I know where I want it to go, but there are countless directions I could take to achieve the same end. My job is to find out which direction is the best for the play. And to have direction, I need to know where to begin, and that is one of my base problems. The middle never seems to be the issue. It's the beginning and the end that I take issue with. But to get it right, I must re-examine the middle to fit new beginnings and ends each time I try something different. When it's all said and done, it feels like I'll have ninety plays to choose from.

As a former writing instructor, I know that the writing process isn't taught very well to students. We always talk of writing and revision, but revision often said quietly as if it's an evil word. Most students can get through college nowadays without ever having to go through multiple revisions on papers. Most English majors too! No one is so gifted that revisions aren't a fact of life for writers, so why is it that we don't accept this component of the process as we do others? Fifty years ago, it wasn't the case. People understood that they had to work for something in order to benefit from it. They understood that first draft quality wasn't acceptable. Today, that is not the case.

I believe that it is just another reminder that we have become lazy. We don't want to put in the extra work. We don't want to rack our brains with direction and perfection. We want to write and put it out there in rough form, hoping that we have a hit. That doesn't work, and that's why there are few great writers among us who are not over fifty years old. Believe me, I'd love to think that the first draft of my play is acceptable and will be picked up by a Broadway production company. However, as I read through it, I know that it's not. I know that I need to write a line a hundred times in order to get the best line I can get. I know that it's going to take months not weeks.

This is not the same Mark talking now as it was a few years ago. A few years ago, and all the way back to my days in the MFA program, I was arrogant and lazy. I believed that I could write quality stuff without all the work. Well, age and life have taught me differently, and I'm still coming to grips with all of the effort needed to produce something worthy. My poetry still suffers from a lazy mentality. If I were to just accept the work ethic of Thomas, I could perhaps write some fantastic poetry. As it stands, it's just good poetry right now. But should I accept good? I don't think so. Everything I touch should be great, not good. The same with this play, no matter how much it hurts.

The moral that I'm getting to is that art isn't about inspiration and a few minutes of work. Post-modernism tries to teach us that it is. It tries to instill in us that all art is Jackson Pollack and a dripping paintbrush. Well, it isn't, at least in regards to writing. The great poets didn't frolic in the sunlight all day and write for a few minutes at a time. They slaved over their work. The inspiration is the same with all artists, but for poets, and all writers for that matter, inspiration is just the beginning. The work itself is long and intense. What that teaches me is that I need to stick to my inspiration, not give up, and fight through the process. If I do that, then I will have what I've always dreamed of having -- a quality piece that everyone can appreciate on an artistic level.