My poem, “After the Labyrinth,” now appears in Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing 3:3 (Fall 2017), 20, a themed issue focused on one word: remember.
by John William Waterhouse
My poem, “After the Labyrinth,” now appears in Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing 3:3 (Fall 2017), 20, a themed issue focused on one word: remember.
by John William Waterhouse
My co-edited volume, Approaches to Teaching the Middle English Pearl, is now in print from the Modern Language Association.
The moving, richly allegorical poem Pearl was written in Middle English by the anonymous poet who likely also penned Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In it, a man in a garden, grieving the loss of a beloved pearl, dreams of the Pearl-Maiden, who appears across a stream. She teaches him the nature of innocence, God’s grace, meekness, and purity. Though granted a vision of the New Jerusalem by the Pearl-Maiden, the dreamer is pained to discover that he cannot cross the stream himself and join her in bliss—at least not yet. This extraordinary poem is a door into late medieval poetics and Catholic piety.
Part 1 of this volume, “Materials,” introduces instructors to the many resources available for teaching the canonical yet challenging Pearl, including editions, translations, and scholarship on the poem as well as its historical context. The essays in part 2, “Approaches,” offer instructors tools for introducing students to critical issues associated with the poem, such as its authorship, sources and analogues, structure and language, and relation to other works of its time. Contributors draw on interdisciplinary approaches to outline ways of teaching Pearl in a variety of classroom contexts.
Table of Contents
My biographical essay on Judith Wilks, royal midwife to Queen Mary of Modena, now appears in Midwifery Today 123 (Fall 2017), 48-51.
“When the Catholic Queen Mary of Modena, wife of King James II of England, gave birth on June 10, 1688 to a son, James Francis Edward, the Prince of Wales and heir presumptive to the throne, a vicious rumor sped throughout predominantly Protestant England: that Queen Mary’s own child was stillborn and that the boy presented to the public was a spurious changeling child who had been brought to the birthing room in a warming pan (Haile 190; cf. Corp 184, 190, 200).
This accusation outraged the Queen’s midwife, Judith Wilks, who had delivered the prince. She wrote a letter to her cousin, Mrs. Winifred Wilks, which was later published, that provides a historical document attesting to the legitimate birth and the midwife’s own strong feelings of loyalty to the queen, love for the newborn baby, and fury at the wide-spread slander (Wilks 1-2).
To better understand this letter, it is important first to understand the life of the queen whom Judith Wilks served as a midwife and the historical tensions between Catholics and Protestants that were so exacerbated in England in the seventeenth century.”
My new collection of poems
about birding and the spiritual life:
WHAT NEVER FAILS
We went to the water
to see the Pelican –
the one, they say, who stabs her breast
and feeds her young with blood (like Christ),
but there was no bird like that
on the little islands by the pier.
There were Western Gulls instead,
crying out like Alcyone for Ceys,
flying over us like the ragged mists
of dreams we dream at dawn
and, waking, find
have told us the truth.
We were standing close together, just above
the water, like the Light Princess and her Prince,
when I noticed the cliff swallows
darting over the waves, under the pier
where they have hidden their nests
and are feeding the future
with a constant love
that never fails.
My biographical essay, “Christina of Markyate,” now appears in British Writers Supplement,Vol. 24, ed. Jay Parini (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale/Cenage Learning, 2018), 59-73.
“Born into an ambitious Anglo-Saxon family in Huntingdon, England, not long after the Norman Conquest of 1066, Christina of Markyate was a spiritually-minded child who grew up to resist the marriage her family had planned for her and devote herself instead to a chaste life as a religious recluse and, later, prioress of Markyate. Like other medieval English women writers, such as Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, her autobiographical reflections were shared orally with an amanuensis who preserved them for her, their religious communities, and future readers. A monk of St. Albans Abbey copied Christina’s hagiographical Life in the fourteenth-century manuscript, Cotton Tiberius E1, which was lost for many centuries. It was damaged in an eighteenth-century fire, and only rediscovered, transcribed, translated, edited, and published by C.H. Talbot in 1959. In addition to this rich, textual resource, two other textual sources recall Christina Markyate’s special existence: the Gesta Abbatum, a chronicle of St. Albans Abbey compiled in the 1250s, which mentions her, and the St. Albans Psalter, a richly illuminated manuscript which was altered for her personal use.”
My poem, “Destiny,” now appears in the poetry anthology, Contemporary Poetry, Vol. 4, edited by Pradeep Chaswal and Deepak Chaswal (2017), 24-26.
like a dry leaf.
Now the rain begins
on my crackling
skin, so that it softens,
and I cling to the loam
dark as night
becoming one with the dirt,
sinking into the earth.
I feel the tender, slender roots
from a nearby patch of grass
reaching into me –
a dandelion seed.
What will we become,
this tiny seed and me,
entwining in the dark
under the earth
where no one else can see?
When the rain stops,
when my former shape
when I am spread out
and taken in,
when I can’t speak
in the usual way, when the vocal-chord veins
in my skin can’t be played
like a harp, by the wind, the wind I love,
the wind I remember so well,
when I grow
through the new life
of a flower
through the soil to the sun,
opening her green self
to become her yellow self,
feeling the light
to transform into her white self,
clean and pure –
who will I be?
Will the wind come back
and blow through me,
scattering me again,
for the sake of someone else’s wish?
My poem, “Uplifted,” now appears in The Muse: An International Journal of Poetry 5 (2017), 50.
Even the silhouette
of a songbird on a wire
singing as the sun goes down
lifts up my heart
My poem, “Ruth and Ruah,” now appears in Time of Singing: A Journal of Christian Poetry 44:2 (Summer 2017), 36.
“RUTH AND RUAH”
The rushing wind blew
and chaff from the threshed barley
swirled in the air
over the field
where I saw you, kinsman-redeemer,
standing in sheaves still up-standing,
dressed in blue and gold.
My biographical essay, “‘The Sainted Ann Hutchinson’: Midwife of Grace (1591-1643)” now appears in Midwifery Today 122 (Summer 2017): 29-31.
” … After the banishment, the Hutchinson family moved to Rhode Island. While there, Anne Hutchinson gave birth for the fifteenth time not long after the trial—which suggests she had been pregnant during the trial itself (Schutte 85ff). Extant descriptions—one written by her doctor, John Clark—suggest that Hutchinson birthed a hydatidiform mole, which looked like a handful of transparent grapes (Battis). Some of Hutchinson’s detractors saw her pregnancy loss as proof of God’s punishment or of the midwife’s league with Lucifer (Schutte). This sort of thinking had already been evident during the controversy over the relationship between grace and works, when it had been discovered that the midwife, years before, had attended a Quaker woman, Mary Dyer, who had given birth to a deformed baby. At the recommendation of the minister, John Cotton, the family had buried the stillborn quietly, for no one wished the birth to be interpreted as a sign of God’s displeasure.
Nevertheless, the story of the birth became known during the controversy, and it was taken as a sign against Anne Hutchinson. To those for whom good works were directly connected with God’s blessing, and all kinds of human suffering was the result of God’s wrath, it was difficult to imagine that God’s grace might work through an accident in nature. But they had forgotten the lessons of Job.”
My essay, “Managing GBS,” now appears in Midwifery Today 122 (Summer 2017): 50-52.
FROM THE INTRODUCTION:
“The goal of managing Group B streptococcus (GBS) is prevention of maternal chorioamnionitis and neonatal infection (such as respiratory disease, general sepsis or meningitis). Careful management helps to protect life and health. There are various ways to manage GBS, which we can consider and apply appropriately in midwifery practice.”
My poem, “Explaining the Placenta,” now appears in the anthology All We Can Hold: Poems of Motherhood, eds. Elise Gregory and Emily Gwinn (Spokane, WA: Sage Hill Press, 10 May 2017).
This is the house your baby lived in
before she was born,
I say –
and I hold up the membranes
of amnion and chorion
(words like notes sung
by cherubim and seraphim)
to show the mother
who now is breastfeeding her newborn babe.
This shiny side was the baby’s side,
and the cord in the center
was connected to the center of her!
I turn the placenta over
in the bowl, and say:
This side was your side, attached
to the inside of the uterus,
and the blood that perfused it
brought life and food to your baby.
The mama knows this was part of her.
Now that she has seen it,
she will remember.
She has understood something about herself
and life when it is first beginning:
unseen, unheard, inside.
She says she will
bury it in the ground.
What will grow from it then?
Also available in …
Transfiguration: A Midwife’s Birth Poems
(Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press, 2016), 43.
My pedagogical essay, “Three Approaches to Teaching ‘Pearl’: Introduction to Literature, British Literature I, and the Mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien” now appears in The Once and Future Classroom (Spring 2016), Art. 6. Ejournal.
“Pearl is an extraordinarily beautiful, fourteenth-century, dream vision poem. It is infinitely rewarding to teach, but notoriously difficult to do so. That is because the poem requires a level of literacy that college students do not always possess. In order to read Pearl, whether in Middle English or in a Modern English translation, students must be brave enough to encounter not only poetry, but medieval poetry; not only medieval poetry, but a specific dream vision poem densely packed with biblical and classical allusion; not only a dream vision with a literal meaning, but one with several layers of meaning: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical. Although students may not come to the poem with the skills to understand the poem at first, by reading key precursor texts and studying Pearl in different contexts, students can learn to read Pearl, and in the process, learn how to become better readers overall.”
|•How is the symbol of the pearl transformed throughout the poem?
•What is the nature of the relationship between the Pearl-Maiden and the Dreamer?
•How might we interpret this poem literally, allegorically, morally, and anagogically? What parable, fable, and fairy-tale motifs appear in the poem?
•Is the dreamer consoled at the end of the poem? If not, why not? If so, how?
To learn more about teaching Pearl,
My poem, “Song of the Selkie,” now appears in Aji Magazine 6 (Spring 2017): 66-67.
Song of the Selkie
in honor of Augustine Vegas
I am a singer, and I must sing:
that is what few people understand.
Whether in love or death,
I must sing the enchanting song
that draws listeners closer to me.
You don’t know how many men
I have seen drowned in the deep of the Deep,
the sailors we tried to rescue
as the water filled up their lungs
and they, and their ships, sank to the floor of the sea.
Some wrapped their arms around our necks,
and we swam with them to the surface,
so that they breathed, and lived, and went back to shore
where they told the truth about us and our songs –
the selkies who saved them from storms.
Some told lies. They said that we sang
the enchanting song, a serenade of death,
and filled them with desire to plunge into the flood,
to seek love and death and oblivion in our arms –
like sea-witches, like goddesses or shee-demons.
How little those liars know! What have they seen,
under the waves, of the faces of the pale dead?
The swollen eyes, fully dilated and black,
the mouths open and expressions distorted,
the arms and legs floating, helpless, without strength?
You don’t know why I sing. You don’t know who I have
saved from drowning – or who I couldn’t save.
You never transformed your true self into the image of one
who died, a pregnant woman who flung herself
from the starboard side of an ancient wooden ship
in despair from her pain, to give birth to a dead child,
in the sea, and you don’t know how we carried her
back to the surface, and her baby to an invisible grave
in the heart of the sea, in my heart forever, the stillborn,
and her mother, crying, until she finally stopped.
You never became one of the lost ones
to try to deal with your grief, the incomprehensible
sorrow of watching someone die, before your eyes,
as their pupils open and yours narrow
in the dark beneath the Deep.
You never walked upon the shore, human for the first time,
or wondered about the love of a man in a Lighthouse,
who tries to save the ships by guiding them home
with a beacon to declare the source of safety –
you never thought he might understand.
You never went back from the shore to the sea,
knowing that a man in a Lighthouse
is different from a selkie, from a woman water-creature
who saves men in the sea, who brings the dying
to the surface to breathe.
You never rocked in the cradle of the loving waves
and watched from their embrace as a pirate
held a pistol to the heart of a prince, and pulled the trigger,
so that the prince fell, already dead, blood flowing
from his chest into the sea.
I am a singer, and I must sing –
that is what few people understand.
Song of the Selkie
My essay, “Joana Torrellas and the Spanish Inquisition,” now appears in Midwifery Today 121 (Spring 2017), 42-43.
“Joana Torrellas was not a witch. She was a Catholic midwife from Valencia, Spain, who lived during the fifteenth century. She married and had five children, three sons and two daughters. After being widowed, she moved to Teruel to live with her daughter, who was married to the town jailer, Joan Gil.
As part of her normal practice of midwifery, Joana recited prayers, such as the Prayer of St. Cyprian, which were contained in a small book that had been given to her by her mother-in-law (who was also a midwife). Joana usually placed nómina (literally, “the names”), a necklace with a pendant on it or in which were written the names of Christ, around the necks of laboring mothers, and she asked for the blessing of the Virgin Mary during the birth. When a woman was about to birth the placenta, she would place a book with a crucifix in it under the woman’s feet in order to help facilitate delivery.
This kind of “spiritual midwifery” was apparently welcome in Valencia, where Joana was from, for it occasioned no scandal. But in Teruel, where Joana was an outsider, her normal practice might have been unusual …”
My short story, “Opening,” now appears in Dappled Things: A Quarterly of Ideas, Arts & Faith.
The Jeep rolled through a shallow ditch in the road, and Filijee gripped the steering wheel more tightly, saying as he did, “Priez pour moi . . . parce que je veux dire ma famille, mais j’ai puer.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I wasn’t praying much these days. I had just said I was Catholic. The concept of “Catholic, non-practicing,” so prevalent in the States, meant nothing in Sénégal. So, half-heartedly, I nodded and said, “Okay.”
Then he changed the subject and asked me about the birth I attended the night before.
“Qu’est-que ce passé pendant la accouchement de Kurukemeh?”
I didn’t know what to say, so I looked away from him and out at the landscape. We were passing another village. Girls were carrying water jars on their heads as they walked along the side of the road.
His question forced me to remember every painful detail of the night before.
My poem, “The Ladder of Contemplation,” now appears in Literature Today 5 (2016), 27.
And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! Genesis 28:12
THE LADDER OF CONTEMPLATION
Sometimes the total madness of being human
makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.
Like that acrobat-girl I saw on a Cirque du Soleil stage
in San Francisco: surrounded by smiling performers,
she could not pretend.
The ladders on that stage reached into the heights
of the circus tent, and men and women climbed them,
only to jump down, dancing in mid-air,
or bicycling upside down, or flipping and spinning
and landing, feet-first, on the trampoline
and bouncing back, reaching out to catch the ropes
swinging above their heads, like angels
who used to have wings, and still remembered
how to fly. So they went surging up
and plunging down, out of the abyss, back into heights.
If only rising on the ladder of contemplation
were as easy as humility, illumination, and purity.
My new book, The Signifying Power of Pearl: Medieval Literary and Cultural Contexts for the Transformation of Genre, is now available from Routledge.
This book enhances our understanding of the exquisitely beautiful, fourteenth-century, Middle English dream vision poem Pearl. Situating the study in the contexts of medieval literary criticism and contemporary genre theory, Beal argues that the poet intended Pearl to be read at four levels of meaning and in four corresponding genres: literally, an elegy; spiritually, an allegory; morally, a consolation; and anagogically, a revelation. The book addresses cruxes and scholarly debates about the poem’s genre and meaning, including key questions that have been unresolved in Pearl studies for over a century:
Noting that the poem is open to many interpretations, Beal also considers folktale genre patterns in Pearl, including those drawn from parable, fable, and fairy-tale. The conclusion considers Pearl in the light of modern psychological theories of grieving and trauma. This book makes a compelling case for re-reading Pearl and recognizing the poem’s signifying power. Given the ongoing possibility of new interpretations, it will appeal to those who specialize in Pearl as well as scholars of Middle English, Medieval Literature, Genre Theory, and Literature and Religion.
My new biographical essay, “Ruth Stone,” now appears in American Writers, Vol. XXVII, ed. Jay Parini (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2017), 249-65.
“With three daughters to raise on her own, Stone began a series of poetry residencies and visiting teaching positions at a number of colleges and universities across the United States, beginning with a two-year poetry fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When she was not teaching, she would return with her family to a farmhouse she had purchased in Goshen, Vermont. Her itinerant life ended after twenty-five years when she was awarded tenure at the State University of New York at Binghamton in her seventies. After her retirement, she received an honorary doctorate from Middlebury College in Vermont. She published thirteen print collections of poetry in her lifetime and received many awards, including a Pushcart Prize and the National Book Award; her book What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Her verses express, with often acerbic wit, what has been called her “tragicomic vision”: an unrelenting and incisive commentary on poverty, loss, the human body, relationships between men and women, odd characters on the edges of American communities, old age, the universe, and poetry itself. At times bawdy, at times profound, her poems never fail to make a sharp point.”
“In the Next Galaxy”
Things will be different.
No one will lose their sight,
their hearing, their gallbladder.
It will be all Catskills with brand
new wrap-around verandas.
The idea of Hitler will not
have vibrated yet.
While back here,
they are still cleaning out
pockets of wrinkled
Nazis hiding in Argentina.
But in the next galaxy,
certain planets will have true
blue skies and drinking water.
My new book chapter, “Patience on Pilgrimage: Job in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales” now appears in the Brill Companion to Job in the Middle Ages, edited by Franklin T. Harkins and Aaron Canty.
“In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer invokes the name of Job in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, Clerk’s Tale, Tale of Melibee, Friar’s Tale, and Parson’s Tale. In each case, Job serves as an archetypal, almost allegorical figure of the virtue of patience or long-suffering; he is also associated with the related virtues of humility and contrition. He participates in a wider network of meaning that connects him to issues of good moral character in marital conflicts, deserved and undeserved suffering inflicted by devils, and the penitence appropriate to people in general and pilgrims in particular. To understand Chaucer’s use of Job’s figural power, it is important to examine the biblical and extra-biblical textual milieu that influenced Job’s reception in the Middle Ages, Job’s multiple appearances in the Canterbury Tales, and the overall role that Job—and the virtue of patience—plays on the pilgrimage to Canterbury.”
My pedagogical essay, “Reading in a Roundtable, Socratic Dialogue, and Other Strategies for Teaching Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” now appears in SMART: Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching 23:2 (Fall 2016): 73-100.
“The lai of Lanval thus shows the complex nature of medieval literary depictions of love in a courtly context as well as how very important chivalric courtesy really is in that context. Just as importantly, our discussion of Lanval introduces the character and reputation of Gawain, “the knight of courtesy,” who appears as Lanval’s friend in the romance and aids him in his difficulties. Therefore, students have a foundation upon which we can build as we discuss the following key questions about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in our roundtable:
These questions are made available to students so they are familiar with them and have reflected on them during their reading prior to coming to class.
In the remainder of this essay, I will give an overview of the contextual information I usually share with my students and the key insights I attempt to evoke from them in response to the questions about the poem. The categories for consideration include the following: (1) the codes of chivalry, courtly love, and Christianity; (2) gaming for glory—the beheading of the Green Knight; (3) Gawain’s identity revealed in the symbolism of his shield; (4) gaming for glory—the exchange of winnings; and 5) Gawain’s spiritual growth—the confessions to the priest, the Green Knight, and King Arthur’s court. My purpose in writing is to give ideas to other teachers who may wish to teach Sir Gawain and the Green Knight using roundtable discussion, Socratic dialogue and other pedagogical strategies. I have found that exploratory discussion, enriched by informal but informative lecture, becomes more meaningful when the world-views of students are compared to the world-views evidenced in medieval poetry. The students tend to learn much more than they expect, and sometimes their views are changed or subtly shifted.”
My essay on Martha Mears — a nature-loving, bird-watching, poetry-quoting, 18th c. English midwife — now appears in Midwifery Today (Fall 2016).
“Mears places a high value on cultivating the emotional well-being of women during pregnancy. In her third essay, devoted entirely to this subject, she writes that the prayer of the wise is ‘the enjoyment of a sound mind in a sound body’ (26). She observes the connection between a woman’s emotional health and the first learning experiences of her unborn child. Drawing on the author Strabo, quoted in Chavalier Ramsay, she specifically adds the authority of the ancients to her argument:
‘In some of those valuable remains of eastern antiquities, which even the withering hand of time has delighted to spare, we are told that the Magi began, in some sort, the education of their children before their birth. While their wives were pregnant, they took care to keep them in tranquility and perpetual chearfulness, by sweet and innocent amusements, to the end, that, from the mother’s womb, the fruit might receive no impressions but what were pleasing, mild, and agreeable to order. The justness of the principle on which they proceeded is fully confirmed by the history of the whole human race, and certainly deserves the serious attention of parents …’ (26-27, italics in the original).
Mears goes on to attack the problem of ‘one of first and most prevailing passions in the breasts of pregnant women’ (27): fear. She observes that ‘the happiness of becoming mothers is sourly checked by preposterous ideas of danger. They take alarm at the change, at the novelty of their feelings, and the few instances they may have known of miscarriage, or of death, outweigh in the quivering scale of fancy the numbers not to be counted of persons in the like condition, who enjoy both then and afterwards a greater degree of health than they ever before experienced’ (27). Mears is all for rooting out fear by knowledge and hope, which she calls ‘the balm and life-blood of the soul’ (28), and with the help of a husband’s love. These are her answers to fear and melancholy.”
Now available from Lulu Press,
JANE BEAL’s new poetry collection:
“Jane’s perspective, from being an international midwife and a talented writer, gives rise to the absolutely beautiful poems contained in this little book. She incorporates sweetly the people she has served in her birth practice and travels. She also teaches us some midwifery along the way! Jane’s great faith in our Lord adds so much to this labor-of-love volume. I highly recommend this book. It should be in the possession of all midwives and mothers.”
Editor of Midwifery Today
Author of Birth Wisdom, Vol. 1 & 2
“Birth is sacred experience: a time when the formless takes form. In Jane Beal’s new book, Transfiguration: A Midwife’s Birth Poems, we are taken through beautiful poetic form, closer to the spirit of birth. We feel both joy and grief. But who are we to question the ways…
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