Luci Shaw's zest for life is contagious. At 92, the poet and writer is still discovering and creating. She talks with Nathan Foster about her new book, The Generosity, her creative process, and her close friendship with Madeleine L'Engle.

Episode Notes

[2:40] Where did the title of new book, Angels Everywhere, come from?

I began to understand that angel means messenger. Because I enjoy taking photographs of beautiful things in our landscape and in our lives, they seem to me like the beautiful things were being messengers that God sent to illuminate and give us enjoyment. So I wrote a poem, called Angels Everywhere, and from there the book took off.

[3:37] The Generosity – where did that title come from?

I wrote a poem called the The Generosity that helped me focus on the immense amount of giftedness God sends through his people and nature. Sort of a universal understanding of the grace of God and the givenness of God.

[7:55] Would it be safe to say that your dad was a kind of inspiration and helped encourage you as a poet?

Yes, and he was a wonderful man of God. He didn’t have me until he was 60. He lived a generative life. I was with him when he died, about 6 weeks after he was diagnosed. He was so excited about going to heaven, he was like a kid expecting a bicycle. And when the moment came he just said, “It’s time,” and his spirit just went back to God. He lived that kind of life.

[12:48] How has your writing as a poet changed through the years?

I’m a little more experimental than I used to be. Mark Jarman and Andrew Higgins at the Glenn Workshop in New Mexico were encouraging. And Carolyn Forché. She wrote about her experience in El Salvador. So having friends and poets like that in my life, you’re on the same wavelength where you want to take what you see and turn it into something beautiful that can be communicated to other people. And that’s the genius of books, that even though I’m not with you in person, you can read a book or a poem that I’ve written and we can have a conversation about it, and then make it a connection. So that’s the grace of God, the givenness, the generosity.

[15:21] How would you like people to read your poetry?

Aloud. Go somewhere quiet and open the book and see a poem. And read it aloud more than once and let the rhythms of the words and the physicality of the process move you emotionally, intellectually. No poem is meant to sit on the page, it’s meant to be read aloud.

[16:42] In which Luci reads a poem she wrote yesterday called April.

This day,
this springy day,
I claim the never-ending
Sky for ceiling
And in the little rooms of my life
I cultivate seasons
As if they are flowering vines
Growing across my bedspread.

And grapes maybe,
Or seeds,
Our promises of July
Sleeping underground
Waking and awakening
A green resurrection.

On all our ancient trees
Rising sap
Has thickened the twigs
Until they sprout a thousand
Honey colored catechins
Heavy enough to swing in the wind,
Flinging in the bursts of wild air
Their lusty spores.

Pollen,
Though it may be an affliction,
Promotes new life
And the cherry trees exploding
With their frothy pink blossoms.

It is all joy,
All gratitude,
All grace.

[18:14] Tell me the process – were you on a drive? Where were you sitting?

When we drive - we live in such a beautiful part of the world - I will find a little phrase coming to me. I note them in a little notebook in the car and I can just put a couple of phrases down to remind me when I get home to get it into my computer. I’m just grateful for the impulses that come to me from the world around me, which all reflect to me the creativity of God. I also have a little camera. I’ll open the window and take a photograph. I really love photography and poetry and the way they work together, bringing images and reminders of the gorgeous world we live in. And when I get home, I work with it; I’ll get it into the computer, but I’m constantly revising and changing things until I feel they’ve reached where they wanted to go. I worked with Madeleine L’Engle as her editor – that’s where I learned to edit good work. We were best friends for 35 years.

[19:42] What was it like working with Madeleine L’Engle?

She was such a wordsmith and such a student of Scripture. I edited 11 of her books. I would cross the country to go to New York City and stay with her a couple of weeks and we would work on a manuscript in her apartment, either that or her summer home in Connecticut. She came from the liberal left in her Christian faith, and I came from the very conservative right from the Plymouth Brethren. We met in the middle and just found that we had so much in common thanks to the grace of God. And once we stood up at the end of that (editing) and spontaneously sang the doxology.

[22:45] In which Luci reads a poem she also wrote yesterday called Daybook:

This day is a book still unfolding,
a suspense novel—
we recognize the genre
with clues from the morning paper.

We are beguiled by the headlines
of sun struck clouds
and dew wet enough
to rinse our hands in.

The plot is original.
We can only guess
how it will turn out.

So we follow the narrative arc,
reading it through
the burn and blaze of high noon
all the way to the last page.

Until like an ancient writer
the night writes fini
and the stars endorse
the grateful author.

Every poet looks at the world from a different angle, and there are so many wonderful angles available to us, made possible by the fact that we have minds and imaginations. We see things through the portal of our eyes and our senses, and they create images in our heads. And then that has to be expressed in a creative way. I just wished everybody would be able to let go of their fears and anxiety about poetry and just let it flow and enrich them and release within them.

[24:51] What would you say to folks who are thinking of writing poetry or beginning?

I think the beginning is reading poetry. I’ve helped a number of groups of people to get together on a regular basis and read their poems to each other so they can get it out into the air, into the atmosphere, and then work together to refine it and make it the best it can be. It’s helpful to have several poet friends who listen to each other, and give very specific advice and feedback, because none of us is perfect. I value another mind, another eye on my creative work. I want to be open to improvement.

I look at the initial creation, and God had so much joy in what He had created and the people He created. Think of the creativity God had to use in deciding how to make animals; the diversity of creation is a part of the grace of God. And we still wear that. We still have that within ourselves, that creative spark that God put there.

[30:26] In which Luci reads Pilgrim from The Generosity:

Meaning is a landscape
Of boulders.
There, ahead of you,
A thorny wilderness.
You cannot leap over it. You
Must conquer it stone by stone.

To traverse it,
You must find sure footing
And fortitude
In uncertain weather,
Your fear like metal
In your mouth.

And yes, it is possible
To walk the knife edge of longing,
A blade narrow
As the path to heaven.

You know, Jesus said there’s a narrow path, which I think is a focused path, not a restrictive path. We all are pilgrims, are all on a journey. We all have difficulties that we have to surmount.

[32:18] Nate and Luci talk about Eugene Peterson and his new biography

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