Poets, Poems, and God: Eugene Peterson, Jane Kenyon, and Wilmer Mills

by Anna Blanch on April 19, 2012

Today I want to share a couple of interviews.

The first is with Eugene Peterson, on Gerard Manley Hopkins, taking time to worship, and learning the fear of the Lord, the second is with John H. Timmerman author of Jane Kenyon: A Life, talks about how the late poet lived and worked and the third is an interview with Wilmer Mills as he reads two of his poems: “Diary of a Piano Tuner’s Wife” and “The Tent Delivery Woman’s Ride.”

Proverbs 1:7 reads:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but foolsdespise wisdom and instruction.

Eugene Peterson was for many years James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College. He also served as founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland. A prolific author, he is probably most well known for The Message, his translation of the Bible into language fitting for today. He is now retired from full-time teaching, you can find his website here.
John H Timmerman is a Professor of English at Calvin College. He has written on the evocative power of fantasy literature, books on writers Robert Frost, Jane Kenyon, T.S. Eliot, John Steinbeck and Frederick Manfred. His recent publications include short fiction and creative non-fiction in Rockhurst Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Weber Review, and Coe Review. Jane Kenyon was an American poet and translator. During her lifetime Jane Kenyon published four books of poetry—Constance (1993), Let Evening Come (1990), The Boat of Quiet Hours (1986), and From Room to Room (1978)—and a book of translation, Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova(1985). She died of leukemia, aged 47. At the time of her death she was serving as the poet laureate for New Hampshire. Her work is often characterized as simple, spare, and emotionally resonant.Kenyon’s poems are filled with rural images: light streaming through a hayloft, shorn winter fields. She wrote frequently about wrestling with depression, which plagued her throughout her adult life. Though a subtle faith permeates her poems, they are not overtly Christian. The essays collected in A Hundred White Daffodils reveal the important role church came to play in her life once she and Hall moved to Eagle Pond Farm. However, two visits to India in the early 1990s led to a crisis of faith, as Hall (in introductions to her books and in his own memoirs), Alice Mattison, and her biographer John Timmerman have described. Her poem “Let Evening Come” was featured in the film In Her Shoes, in a scene where the character played by Cameron Diazreads the poem (as well as “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop) to a blind nursing home resident.Sadly, like Kenyon, Wilmer Mills is no longer with us. Mills passed away, aged 41, in 2011 after a short battle with liver cancer. By all accounts Mills was an artist and a maker to his very core, and relished the breaking of bread with his family and friends. His obituary reads:

Wil also painted (with art shows in Sewanee and Chattanooga), he wrote and performed music, worked as a carpenter and sawyer, wove white oak baskets from trees he felled himself, renovated two log cabins, built his own house (which was written up in Southern Living), made furniture, grew gardens, and baked bread in a wood-fired bread oven he had made himself.

His work was included in the Penguin Anthology of Contemporary Younger Poets and the Swallow Press Anthology of New American Poets; his publications include a book, Light for the Orphans, and numerous poems published in the journals including New Criterion, Poetry, New Republic, Hudson Review, and Shenandoah. Acclaimed as a careful practitioner of form and meter, Mills received praise for the dramatic monologues of his first book, Light for the Orphans (2002). Influenced by poets such as Robert Frost and Richard Wilbur, Mills evoked an older, pastoral landscape and its denizens with skill and sympathy. He passed on his love for poetry to students as a Kenan Fellow in Creative Writing at UNC Chapel Hill, and as a Writer-In-Residence at Covenant College. Here is an interview Leanne Martin did with Wilmer Mills in 2009.

These are  volumes 75, 61 and 57 respectively of the free Mars Hill Audio bonus tracks ! Here is the full list of free interviews.  If you are interested this is a good reason to join the Emerging Scholars Network, which is free, because Mars Hill Audio offers all ESN members a substantial discount on new subscriptions for one year (six issues) of the Mars Hill Audio Journal in either format: cassette for $33, CD for $35, or $25 in MP3 format. (That comes to $5 to $13 off their usual rates, by the way.) Non-US residents receive this discount but will need to pay an extra shipping cost. Even before you subscribe, you can order a free demo CD or cassette or listen to several bonus interviews for free in MP3 format.
Anna M Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD student in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland.

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