When William Stafford died in 1993, he was not the most famous or most critically acclaimed poet around, but he was certainly among the most beloved. To the many who knew him personally or through his work, he was not only an innovative poet, but one who managed to bring his life and his writing together into a seamless, striking witness to nonviolence and poetic freedom.
From Baptist to Presbyterian to Orthodox—that’s hardly a conventional trajectory for an American Christian. Even less usual, perhaps, than claiming to be a Christian poet, or being summarily unhired from a Christian university because a single poem was deemed unsuitable by the administration. But Scott Cairns has never managed to be typical.
Wendell Berry has lived as a farmer and writer in Kentucky for a quarter century. In his fiction, essays and poetry, he often meditates on the human relation to the earth. His poem “The Slip” is precipitated by a disaster. A river bank has given way, leaving an acre of farmland swallowed by water.
Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel Prize winner, makes poetry out of unusual materials: lists of instructions, clothes items, apologies or questions. Her tone can be wry or playful or chilling. Her purpose is to shake us awake to how human history gets assembled from the smallest movements—impulsive or thoughtful, random or rational—of our minds and hearts.
Poetry doesn’t have to be solemn. In a series of poems first published in 1990, U.S. poet Scott Cairns invented a comic character named Raimundo Luz, a Portuguese postmodernist “radical theologian” whose autobiographical verses Cairns pretended to be translating.