For information about Brad's poetry collection, Opening King David, click here.
LeAnne: What draws you to poetry?
Brad: I am drawn to images and ideas. By image (plain, textured, or figured) I mean a sensory impression, and by idea I mean anything from a concept to an emotion to a motivation. In poetry I find a concentration of both image and idea that is usually compressed into a brief language event. And yes, I am drawn to brevity, perhaps because I am drawn to contemplation, the poem functioning nicely as a springboard to, as Merton spoke of it, thinking into and with the heart of God. I also love the music of language, especially of plain speech. Though I am not as much a sensualist (one who, apart from virtually anything else, loves language for how it plays on the tongue and in the ear) as many of my poet-friends, if a poem is aurally clunky (without meaning to be), it cannot be an excellent example of the art. I am drawn to poetry for the experience of how it makes my brain work: in an encounter with a well-written poem, whether on paper or articulated at a reading, I see, hear, feel things vividly in my inner self that enlarge my experience of the beautiful, broken world in which you and I serve as stewards.
LM: Why should Christians read poetry?
BD: I have issues with "shoulding" on people. Actually, most Christians encounter poetry on a weekly basis, but they don't think of it as such; besides the hundreds of songs they listen to on the radio and their iPods, every Sunday they sing hymns and spiritual songs, read aloud from the Psalter, intone canticles, and listen to the words of the prophets and the poet Jesus. Music, secular or sacred, is poetry's number one delivery system in the modern world, and yet I suspect most believers fail to make the connection. For them, "poetry" remains one of those subjects they hated in high school. That said if there are Christians who, as stewards of the Mystery, understand that before compassion there's the necessity of attending to the culture in which they serve, then they "should" read all kinds of things, the culture's poetry included. And go to art installations and lectures and other highly valued cultural events. Even NASCAR races (poetry in motion?) and music festivals. How can you connect meaningfully with a neighbor about kingdom stuff if you don't know anything about his or her cultural orientations, or favorite music, or the language used to describe his or her lived experience?
I often joke that the best reason for Christians to read and grow comfortable with poetry is that poetry is the highest form of kingdom communication. In the Garden before sin, the only recorded example of speech is the poem uttered by Adam when introduced to Eve. In the Bible's most ecstatic, transportive moments (prophesies, love lyrics, proverbs, laments, beatitudes, parables, doxologies, etc.) the human authors launch into poetry. And, of course, every biblical representation of heaven reveals a realm in which all inhabitants do all of their communication business in poetry. So there would be two big reasons why we Christians "should" read poetry: first, for its value in understanding the world and communicating with the culture in which we serve (see Paul in Athens), and second, because (see tongue in cheek) poetry is the official, eternal, and highest mode of kingdom communication--so get used to it! I joke about the second reason, but it may not be entirely wrong-headed.
More from Brad Davis on Thursday.