“For the whole world was holy,/not just parts of it. The world was the Book of God./The alphabet shimmered and buzzed with beauty.” ~ Barbara Crooker (“The Book of Kells: Chi Rho”)
Happy Almost St. Paddy’s Day!
Today we’re channeling our inner green with a little Irish breakfast and two food poems from Barbara Crooker’s new poetry collection.
The Book of Kells (Cascade Books, 2018) is Barbara’s eighth book, a masterwork of stunning, exquisitely crafted poems that left me breathless with awe and an even more acute yearning to visit Ireland again.
In addition to meditations and musings on the world’s most famous medieval manuscript (four lavishly decorated Gospels of the New Testament in Latin), there are observations about the Irish countryside, its flora and fauna, as well as personal reflections on time well spent during her two residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co. Monaghan, Ireland.
Barbara marvels at the beauty and singular magic of the Emerald Isle, whether blackbird, swan, lake, fuschia, wind, rain, the colors of autumn leaves (thank you, fairies), or “the bright splash of daffodils.” Ever present, profoundly human, she writes with an open, generous heart, reminding us to pay close attention to small miracles: “The rain’s thin music has set the world humming.” (“What is this world, but the body of God?”)
And of course I love that Barbara always knows just how to bring the delicious:
I was on my way to Lavina’s scones, butter-ready
from the oven, crusty and cratered, awaiting their dollop
of jam. The morning clouds had whipped themselves up
to a billow, mounds of soft cream. The plink plink
song of a chaffinch dotted the air like currants. Daffodils,
pats of butter on thin stems, did their little dance, and the edible
world spread its feast before me on the fresh green tablecloth.
Oh, how delicious, this sweet Irish spring.
Since Barbara wrote at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre during spring and fall, her poems reference both seasons. It sounds like her experiences at these retreats would be a dream come true for any writer or artist. Imagine being nourished, body and soul, by Ireland’s lush rural landscape and rich cultural heritage!
It certainly doesn’t sound like Barbara took anything for granted. In addition to wonder, reverence, and curiosity, another thread running through her poems is immense gratitude and celebration. Who would not be uplifted by this gorgeous praise poem?
~ Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland
Let’s hear it for this day, clouds racing by
deckled with gold leaf, and pines that have
inked themselves onto the sky. Let’s thank
the tea leaves for yielding their tannins,
released by the kettle’s steam. And the leaves
on the trees, three cheers, for changing into colors
crayoned by a child: Burnt Siena. Raw Umber.
Goldenrod. Red Orange. I’m grateful to the gas
burner that bloomed with blue petals cooking
my porridge, to the cows in green pastures
for making the cream. Later, I know I’ll be grateful
for lunch, red and green lettuce blessed with oil,
slivers of tomatoes, ham on the side. And one yellow
pear, a treasury of gold, its sweetness married to the salt
tang of Cashel Blue. Give it up for the walk that I took
in the woodlands, ancient trees rising from fern-covered
ground. And the long lake, its waters, a mirror, reflecting
two swans. Bravo! for the kingfisher I just caught a glimpse
of, exclamation of turquoise, bluer than blue. Let’s not forget
about dinner, a sea bass so tender it fell off the plate, surrounded
by root vegetables, stars of the season: carrots, turnips, potatoes
crusted with cheese. But wait, there’s an encore, a platter of rhubarb,
a blanket of meringue. Most of all, let’s hear it for the pleasures
of the table: good conversation, the music of forks and spoons
hitting the plates. And at the end of the day, there we are,
sprinkled with starlight and a darkness that covers us, tucks us
in tight. Tomorrow, there’s another day coming, not quite like
this one, but look, clouds are blushing, and here comes the sun.
So many swoon-worthy lines in this poem; extra joyous for me to read her references to blue: the blue petals of the gas burner, Cashel Blue cheese, and that glorious “exclamation of torquoise, bluer than blue”!
The largess Barbara shares with the reader is a blessing — like being sprinkled with the starlight of her poetic gift. 🙂
Lucky for us, Barbara will be here soon to tell us more about The Book of Kells, which features in its first section 21 poems inspired by Ireland’s greatest national treasure. Having already written over 200 ekphrastic poems, Barbara deftly offers keen observations about TBOK’s various aspects, “from the ink and pigments used by the scribes and illustrators to the various plants, animals, and figures depicted on its pages, including the punctuation and use of decoration in the capital letters.”
Informing the whole is the brilliant juxtaposition of ancient and modern. Barbara, a 21st century scribe, ruminates on a work of art created by diligent monks over 1,000 years ago. Such a remarkable contrast between pre-literate times (when “the word” was holy, coveted), and our electronic age (with pixels, acronyms, and emojis flying through cyberspace often with little or no forethought).
Imagine a world where books/were scarce. Where copying was done by human hand./Where the word itself was sacred.
Do we value words as others once did? Do they hold the same power?
While you ponder that, have another cup of tea, another bite of scone or bowl of porridge, and some Irish shortbread.
Hope your St. Patrick’s Day includes good music and a lively jig (we can’t stop our egg cups from dancing), an encounter with a leprechaun, a bawdy limerick or two, and some merry malarkey. 😀
Here’s an Irish blessing to set you on your way:
May your joys be as bright as the morning, and your sorrows merely be shadows that fade in the sunlight of love.
May you have enough happiness to keep you sweet, enough trials to keep you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to keep you happy, enough failure to keep you humble, enough success to keep you eager, enough friends to give you comfort, enough faith and courage in yourself to banish sadness, enough wealth to meet your needs and one thing more; Enough determination to make each day a more wonderful day than the one before.
THE BOOK OF KELLS
written by Barbara Crooker
published by Cascade Books, 2018
Poetry, 88 pp.
If you’re interested in learning more about The Book of Kells, Medieval Irish art and theology, how illuminated manuscripts are made, and more, consider taking this free online course offered by Trinity College Dublin: “The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Manuscript.” It will be taught by Rachel Moss, Associate Professor in the History of Art and Architecture, and Fáinche Ryan, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of Loyola Institute. The four-week course begins Monday, March 18, 2019. Click here to sign up!
Heidi Mordhorst is hosting the Roundup at My Juicy Little Universe. Zip on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Have a nice GREEN weekend!
This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
🍀 This post created by the Alphabet Soup resident leprechauns.
Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.