UPDATES

“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.

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“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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