UPDATES

“Explaining the Placenta” by Jane Beal

cropped-cropped-cropped-Gilbertson_1-e1457541831757-1-1My 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).

POEM:

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?

Jane Beal

Also available in …
Transfiguration: A Midwife’s Birth Poems
(Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press, 2016), 43.

“Three Approaches to Teaching the Middle English ‘Pearl’: Introduction to Literature, British Literature I, and the Mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 7.44.11 AMMy 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.

EXCERPTS: 

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,

please visit:

https://medievalpearl.wordpress.com/teaching/

“Song of the Selkie” by Jane Beal

AjiMagazine 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.

Jane Beal
Song of the Selkie 

“Joana Torrellas and the Spanish Inquisition”

MT121-Mothering-Spring2017My essay, “Joana Torrellas and the Spanish Inquisition,” now appears in Midwifery Today 121 (Spring 2017), 42-43.

EXCERPT:

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 …”

 

“Floreta d’Ays” by Jane Beal

mt120-winter-2016My biographical essay, “Floreta d’Ays:  The Trial of a Medieval Jewish Midwife of Marseille, France” now appears in Midwifery Today 120 (Winter 2016), 46-48.

Abstract:

Floreta d’Ays was a 15th c. Jewish midwife who lived in Marseille, France. After a maternal death caused by a massive post-partum hemorrhage (PPH), at which Floreta had been present, an anti-Semitic prosecutor accused Floreta of deliberately killing the mother. This is the first known case of “medical malpractice” brought against a midwife. However, careful study of the extant trial record suggests that Floreta was actually attempting the manual extraction of a retained placenta, after which she tried to stop the PPH with bi-manual compression of the uterus. Rather than trying to kill the mother, Floreta was actually trying to save her. However, because the court showed virtually no understanding of the art and science of midwifery, and because the attempt to save the mother had not been successful, Floreta was forced to defend herself by simply denying the charges rather than by explaining the science behind her actions. While the final outcome is unknown, it is clear that Floreta d’Ays actively resisted the accusations brought against her with the help of six lawyers, three Jews and three Christians, and objected to the court’s plan to torture her bodily in order to elicit a confession.

“Stop Cutting: The Right to Bodily Integrity” by Jane Beal

mt120-winter-2016My essay, “Stop Cutting: The Right to Bodily Integrity,” now appears in Midwifery Today 120 (Winter 2016), 38-39.

Abstract:

In this essay, I begin by recalling a certified nurse-midwife who had the responsibility for suturing 3o young girls who were ritually cut in West Africa. Following the World Heath Organization (WHO), I define the four recognized types of female genital mutilation and their complications, note that unnecessary episiotomies and cesareans could be considered types 5 and 6, and review the beliefs in developed and developing countries that lead to the physically and psychologically harmful practices of cutting / FGM. I then discuss effective means of preventing this practice as well as the value of cross-cultural partnerships that intervene when and where necessary. I conclude by giving an overview of the role midwives can play as educators and healers, noting that midwives who know how to suture all kinds of cuts and tears (not just 1st and 2nd degree tears) can be especially helpful when needed.

“The Tree of Your Life” by Jane Beal

mt120-winter-2016 My poem, “The Tree of Your Life,” now appears in Midwifery Today 120 (Winter 2016), 4.

POEM: 

The tree of your life
has deep roots in the earth
and branches sky-high:

like a mother’s placenta
imprinted dark red
on a white piece of paper –
like da Vinci’s Renaissance drawings of man:
a microcosm in the macrocosm
of the universe –
like an ancient parable of a mustard seed
that springs up into eternity
where souls, like birds, find their home.

Every green leaf of your tree
holds the veins of memory,
open and thriving with sap:

so that even when the leaf ages in autumn,
turns red, then golden, then brown,
and falls, crackling under careless feet,
a powerful wind comes and carries away
the precious molecules of your tree-dust,
in which every cell holds the DNA
of the past that fertilizes the future
and the new seeds, the tiny seeds, implanted
and growing in a garden of love.

Today, the tree of your life is already grown tall
in heaven, lifting up its branches with the angels
and singing with the wind because

your birth-dreams are being fulfilled
     in Time and Eternity.

Jane Beal
Commissioned by Cathy Daub
President, BirthWorks International

for Michel Odent

Published by Jan Tritten
Editor, Midwifery Today

“Opening” by Jane Beal

2016-MQA-cover-for-website-199x300.pngMy short story, “Opening,” now appears in Dappled Things: A Quarterly of Ideas, Arts & Faith.

Excerpt: 

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?”

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.

 

“The Ladder of Contemplation” by Jane Beal

literaturetodayMy 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.

jb

THE SIGNIFYING POWER OF PEARL by Jane Beal

beal-signifyingcvr-2016My new book, The Signifying Power of Pearl: Medieval Literary and Cultural Contexts for the Transformation of Genre, is now available from Routledge.

Abstract: 

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:

  • What is the nature of the relationship between the Dreamer and the Maiden?
  • What is the significance of allusions to Ovidian love stories and the use of liturgical time in the poem?
  • How does avian symbolism, like that of the central symbol of the pearl, develop, transform, and add meaning throughout the dream vision?
  • What is the nature of God portrayed in the poem, and how does the portrayal of the Maiden’s intimate relationship to God, her spiritual marriage to the Lamb, connect to the poet’s purpose in writing?

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.

“Ruth Stone” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2016-11-10 at 6.55.40 PM.jpgMy new biographical essay, “Ruth Stone,” now appears in American Writers, Vol. XXVII, ed. Jay Parini (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2017), 249-65.

Excerpt:

“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.

Ruth Stone

 

“Patience on Pilgrimage: Job in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales” by Jane Beal

brill-job-2016My 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.

Excerpt: 

“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.”

“Reading in a Roundtable, Socratic Dialogue, and Other Strategies for Teaching SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT” by Jane Beal

GGK_94.jpgMy 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.

Excerpt:

“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:

  • What codes govern Gawain’s life, and how do they come into conflict in this poem?
  • What games are played in this poem, and how do they test Gawain’s character?
  • When Gawain makes each of his confessions in the poem (there are three), what level of self-awareness of his choices does he show, especially in relation to the codes governing his actions? What does he confess, what level of responsibility does he take for his actions, and why (and how much) does it matter within the world of the poem?
  • How might we, as readers, interpret the conclusion of this poem, and what might be its relevance for a medieval audience and for us?

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.”

“Martha Mears: Nature’s Midwife” by Jane Beal

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-12-43-30-amMy essay on Martha Mears — a nature-loving, bird-watching, poetry-quoting, 18th c. English midwife — now appears in Midwifery Today (Fall 2016).

Excerpt:

“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.”

Transfiguration: A Midwife’s Birth Poems by Jane Beal

THE POETRY PLACE

Now available from Lulu Press,
JANE BEAL’s new poetry collection:

TRANSFIGURATION

BEAL-Transfiguration-Cvr2016r

“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.”

Jan Tritten
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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