Senseless Act of Poetry

tree-in-fog

As the Newtown “anniversary” approaches I came back to this poem I wrote on the day of that tragedy. It seems our world is confronted with the realities of these shootings almost every day now. The likes of Newtown, Roseburg, or just this week the San Bernardino shootings, are all too frequent. For most part, there really isn’t any good or “proper” way to express thoughts or feelings about these events. Historically, in times of great joy or sadness this is poetry’s job, to express the inexpressible. That is what I love about poetry.

I’m not sure why I even picked the Newtown tragedy to write about three years ago. As far as I can tell, there have been ~85 school shootings since Newtown, and I have no connection to any one of them. No connection of course other than being a citizen of this country, disgusted at the face of evil, and at the time found no other expressive outlet other than poetry. At the time (September 2012) I had watched a live news broadcast showing a typical “car chase” in Los Angeles that ended in a visibly paranoid [perhaps mentally disturbed] man committing suicide, mistakenly broadcasted live over the air in real time. For some reason this incident was still fresh on my mind on December 14th. The face of evil has many disguises, but I think it probably feels the most horrible, the most evil, when it surfaces among our schools and children. Those lives we try to protect the most from situations in the world just such as Newtown.

The verse below has gone through some revisions over the last three years. Not many, but enough that the day it was written is still fresh on the mind, yet time has allowed for perspective. The name of the poem could have been Columbine, or Roseburg, or any number of names. The words seem to ring true to me no matter the title. Evil may have won on this day, but ultimately it’s time is fleeting. So, here are the words I penned that day.

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All i Want For My Birthday is an #IronBowl Win

Auburn Wins the 2013 IronBowl

Auburn Wins the 2013 IronBowl

All i want for my birthday
is an #IronBowl win.
A reminder of a day
that we can re-live again.

All i want for my birthday
is an #IronBowl win.
A play, oh what an hour
that once Gary gave spin.

All i want for my birthday
is an #IronBowl win.
A “there goes Davis…”
that one-second grin.

All i want for my birthday
is an #IronBowl win.
A call… Rod, take us,
that possible to do again?

All i want for my birthday
is an #IronBowl win.
Oh my Lord in Heaven
This’s but a game? Since when.

All i want for my birthday
is an #IronBowl win.
A deafening roar, the muff
that Tiger come alive within.

All i want for my birthday
is an #IronBowl win.
A chance to make history
that Spirit soars never dim.

All i want for my birthday
is an #IronBowl win.
A future moment to revisit
that glorious day back when…

All i want for my birthday
is an #IronBowl win.
A mere man ran back pigskin
that all who has ears to hear…

Auburn wins!


The photo was taken from our regular season-ticket seats we’ve sat in for 20 years, just after Davis ran back the 109 yards to score the game winning touchdown to send Auburn to the 2013 National Championship game. It was quite possibly the greatest game ever played in college football history.

Five Reasons The Behemoth is Art and Poetry in Theological Prose

The Behemoth Magazine

You may not understand The Behemoth’s orthodoxy because you are viewing art and poetry, not a theological exegesis or apologetic argument.

I have not been all that excited about any [Christian-based] magazine publication in a long time, though I do read most of them in some form or another. I don’t read any in paper form anymore (yet, most of you still snail mail it out to me every month in a colossal waste of paper, but that’s another topic). Most publications are pretty good. They range from hard hitting news around the world all the way to fluff on whether the Church should use Twitter or listen to U2. Many of them have great journalistic and editorial articles, but they seldom conjure up thoughts like, “I just can’t wait until the next issue hits my iPad.” Never has one actually brought me to the point of wanting to write a review about the publication itself either, until now.

Enter The Behemoth. What actually sucked me in to this publication was this article, Hitting a Major League Pitch, Looking at the physics, you’d have to say it can’t be done, not its namesake article based on the Genesis giant. My first thought was, “Could it actually be that someone of faith pulled in the statistical grace and beauty of baseball as might be written by a Roger Angell, and the poetic dance of words as might be felt by a Mary Oliver, and then tied it, weaved it, knitted it into the story God is writing Himself here on earth?” For the most part, yes, that is my overall opinion and review of The Behemoth and that was all it took for me.

So, from a reader’s perspective, what is it that makes The Behemoth a successful publication? Why do I look forward to each issue?

1. Typography

In our world distraction rules. I look and seek out those things that have gone the extra mile to create a clean, clutter-free, pleasing, distraction free experience. A “typography” that takes me deeper into the task at hand, not one that conforms to the rules of distraction. That’s what I love about @iAWriter, it’s why I’m writing this on @Medium, it’s what I love about the new ESV Reader’s Bible, it’s why Helvetica still conquers all. They all created an experience using intentional design through sophisticated simplicity. In this case, when referring to typography I use the term in the general sense. That is to say, I refer not to a typeset they choose, but how the designers intentionally choose to interact with their consumer. The designers created The Behemoth with intention, and it shows. On the iPad, The Behemoth is periodical typography eye candy.

Highly important to me, The Behemoth is an all-digital publication (no paper-waste-clutter-junk). Each issue contains four articles, a web-gem-type piece, and each article is around 1,500 words or less, some much less. Word length is very important today. At 1,500 words it’s a real sweet spot that allows a reader to find enough depth to sink in and become briefly lost among the words, but short enough for our small attention spans and brief periods of uninterruptedness. Once you are in and among the 1,500 words, there are minimal headings, no clutter, no flashing boxes, no bolded outtakes, no bullet-pointed tidbits, nothing distracts you from the words themselves. The typography has allowed the story to take over the words.

2. Curation

One of the specifics I noticed early on is how carefully the editors choose each article, and how each article plays on the other. In short, they removed all the noise and choose with intention. The articles for the most part are a mix of high tech and tradition making for many timeless pieces. These can be read years from now and still remain readable not dated. With only four articles to work with each issue they must go through a crazy culling process of possible articles that fit the mission and vision stated for The Behemoth (summed up as Plumbing the depths of God’s mysterious creation and beauty). The articles included often come from an excerpt of a larger work. At first as you read you may think, “All they did was just copy a piece of this book and stick it in here,” but the result has been like reading a carefully chosen anthology of the best of the best of the unknown. In a day where content is still king, curation of content must be its’ master.

3. Wonder

We reside in the age of information and usually think every single thing about every single topic should be a known. It is pretty amazing how the more we know, the more we realize how little we know about how much we actually do know. Scripture is still filled with this awesome wonder. There are great mysteries packed deep into scripture and The Behemoth chooses to display those mysteries to its readers while remaining comfortable with those mysteries, and then allowing them remaining mysterious. After all, we do not have the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2.16), and we should be able to celebrate those mysteries, not always having to explain them away or theorize about them until the second coming. Some things God has hidden from view, and without compromising an orthodox view of scripture, we can look at those mysteries with the awe they deserve. Many of the articles here do the same.

4. Theology

This is where it gets possibly muddy-ish, at least as far as an AIG-theology is concerned (see footnote). Answers in Genesis is a theological site dedicated to apologetics, a defense of the faith (1 Peter 3.15). I love apologetics, it was one of my favorite areas of study in seminary. But as far as I can tell, apologetics is not the main theological focus The Behemoth aspires to achieve, and that’s fine. Not everyone is gifted in apologetics and/or theology. Yet make no mistake, The Behemoth is packed full of rich, deep theological issues. They often view these theological issues from a 35,000 foot level (or even a 135,000 foot level). At that distance, theology can become filled with the beauty of God’s creation in painted colors and glorious views, instead of drilled down to a divisive pinhole debate. I have come to appreciate this stance more and more. In a world of endless criticism and debate you can’t always show the sheer beauty found in sound theology from the micro level. The Behemoth often seems to try to fly high above the fray. [1]

5. Art and Poetry

The previous four points (yes I included five points semi-on-purpose) have now crafted this last point into being. To this reader, the greatest contribution The Behemoth makes to the Body is the art and poetry it has crafted into being. Its as if they are curating a series of watercolors with four new pieces released every other week. This is why if you look at The Behemoth as a theological treaty you will miss the point. It wasn’t until the eighth issue that I realized what gave this publication the intangible beauty missing in so many things today. When I read Hurrahing in Harvest by English poet Gerald Manley Hopkins the artistic beauty bled through the canvas.

When you combine beautifully designed, well curated, theological artistry that points beyond itself to the greatest wonder of all, the Creator God, you get something really special. Kudos to The Behemoth for coming up with this unique perspective, this artistic expression. It brings the reader to a still meditative reflection proclaiming our enormous God (Psalm 46.10). It really isn’t the words or the editors or the writers or the platform, it is of course that they point us back to beautiful words like these:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Please keep moving forward and I’ll keep reading and telling all my friends to go read too.


[1] This article was originally published on Medium.com at http://medium.com/scottfillmer Please indulge me with a few qualifiers to this article.

First, I purposely let time test out this publication for a bit. The first issue of The Behemoth was first published July 24, and now having published their eighth issue time has allowed my ideas to be more formally identified. Anyway, who can really judge a periodical by just one issue, regardless of the baggage one might theoretically think is being brought to the party.

Second, to be transparent, this review is partially a counter-review to the Answers’ article written back in September fresh off the first article in the first issue. While I love Answers own publication, and Answers in Genesis as a whole, I think they missed the mark as far as understanding The Behemoth. I wanted to offer up a different point of view.

Third, this review is not intended to be read as an apologetic defense of all theological issues presented here. It was written to parallel the publication itself. Are there things they could improve? Of course, but that wasn’t really the point either. (For one I would love to see an iPhone 6 Plus version released on Newsstand.)

Fourth, this review is penned without any prior discussion or compensation with any party at the time of this writing. The words here are my own, the opinions stated can be attributed to my own rationale.

Now, if you still have comments or questions, by all means, let’em fly, I’d love to hear your opinions as well. .SF.

Newtown

News Reports of the Shooting a Newtown Elementary School

News Reports of the Shooting a Newtown Elementary School

Our wounds come at first breath
In the blood of a garden at rest
Toil cursed upon our commute
Commissioned to die in our youth

Hope like a blanket will be
At the coming He will set us free.

There are virtually no words to describe the news today. Is this our culture, our time, in which history will judge. I’m sad for all those involved today, God be with those families.

Newtown by Scott Fillmer

Malone Kaak Senior Photo Shoot for 2013

Malone Kaak Senior Photo Shoot for 2013

I’d like you to meet one of our local seniors, Malone Kaak, who came out to our farm a few weeks ago for his senior photos. As I mentioned on a previous senior photo shoot post I don’t normally do senior photos, but this was my other exception for the year. Malone was a great sport and put up with everything we threw his way, I’m sure for his mama’s sake, since moms are really the point of doing senior photos anyway, right. There is one thing I know, moms love photos of their kids. I love the last shot of the two of them sitting on the swing together, that ended up being one of my favorites of the afternoon.

To me one of the many great lines written in the book of Psalms is this four line poem from Psalm 139.16:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

All of our stories are different, individually crafted by God, but Malone has a great story of perseverance in a world of uncertainty. A story I have related to well over the last few years. If you want to read more about Malone just head over to his mom’s blog and start back a few years into the archives. God has an exact plan for each of us, down to the exact day, and on this day, it was for us to share the afternoon with Malone.

John Newton’s Poem The Kite

15' Kite At Annual Kite Festival in Blackpool (UK) by David Nightingale

15′ Kite At Annual Kite Festival in Blackpool (UK) by David Nightingale

I came across this poem by John Newton in a book I was reading the other day and had to share it. John Newton is the pastor, write, and poet who’s more famous lyrical writing came when he wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.  In the theme of sophistication through simplicity, this poem is amazing. Only four lines, and yet so profound.

The Kite by John Newton

Were I but free, I’d take a flight,
And pierce the clouds beyond their sight,
But, ah! like a poor pris’ner bound,
My string confines me near the ground.

I love that. Such a symbol of how we want to live our lives sometimes, let me free of this thing that has me tied down to the ground, yet if we were released, we would crash and burn. Sometimes those things that make us feel tied to the ground are the things that God uses to hold us up. I can think of so many things over the years I thought, if I just could get rid of this or quit that it would allow me to do other things, and more times than not, I was in that place or situation for a good reason.


photo credit from 500px by David Nightingale at http://500px.com/photo/1295537

This Week’s Project 365 with Poetic Clouds and Bubbles

Project 365 [Day 241] Working on a Draf of a Poem on Prayer

Project 365 [Day 241] Working on a Draft of a Poem on Prayer

Another week in 2012 has gone into history, and the week was as unique as the previous one for Project 365. This is Day 237 through Day 243 of 366 photos for the year so far (you can see the full gallery on Flickr here). Seems I can’t get by a week without having some different sunrise or sunset photo. The weather here down in the south has been dynamic as far as the clouds go, just without much rain. This week was a hard week for different reasons, and for different people. Often it seems there are so many different people and situations that need and deserve prayer, yet it can quickly become overwhelming if you try to take it all on yourself. Of course that’s not the point of prayer, and thank God He is never overwhelmed by our prayer requests, or number of prayers we offer.

The photo above that leads off this post is a draft of a poem on prayer I worked on this week. Surprisingly, once I started working on it, the bulk of the verse came together faster than any other poetic attempt, and I really only had to rewrite it a few times. If you have followed this blog at all you will know I have tried to put my creative mind to work through photography, reading, and writing, which includes poetry here and there. Poetry is one of those art forms our culture has ignored to such a point that it captured my attention, maybe because it has been so highly ignored by my generation. This is not to say I am a poet, but I do make attempts. Poetry is like photography in that if I never took any photos, there is a 100% chance I would never improve.

One thing I have learned about poetry is it’s every bit as difficult as I thought it was. It is difficult to understand at times, it’s extremely difficult to write, and overwhelmingly difficult to write well. Anyway, what I have learned about poetry is that when simple prose are inadequate to express the greatness at hand, poetry steps in and creates an entirely different level of expression, and that is incredible. Look for this poem later in the week, but this week, the images of the week include this attempt at poetry on prayer. If you are wondering about the bubbles image below, check out Weekly Photo Challenge: Purple, Oil and Water for an explanation.

There is no Frigate Like a Book from the Pen of Emily Dickinson

The more I try to learn and understand how prose and poetry works, the more I realize that I can’t recapture the the years of ignoring virtually all literature from my childhood. It’s like starting in grade school again and working your way up, only now you don’t have time to do so because of bills and life and work and school and family and so on. This part of literature now gets relegated to learning a tiny snippet then when another writer (Lenard Sweet in this case via Viral) points out how important poetry is, then picking it back up again and learning a little more. I’ve done this for almost 5 years now, and I’m not sure I’ve learned a whole lot, but I’ve learned more than if I never picked up poetry at all.

Lenard Sweet in his book Viral spends a great deal on the importance of poetry in one chapter, and then goes on to show how much the Google generation has rejected this form of literature (and mine too for that matter), to replace it with the world of images and graphics. But the more our world, culture, and societies as a whole forget how to write in cursive, the more we should continue to write in cursive ourselves, lest we forget the power of words. Same goes with poetry, and especially in our churches!

If you are a Christian, no matter how much you try, you can’t get away from the fact that God’s way of communicating with us is in words, and the greatest poetry ever written is found in Scripture. It’s no wonder. Poetry, in one form, is a way to say something that can’t be said in words, and much of Scripture is just that, too great for words. There are countless examples, but I like the this reason from the book of John… “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (3.12). The Spiritual world of God uses poetry for a good reason, it helps to explain the unexplainable, something that needs a parable to show its depth.

I love short poems that are easily digestible at this point, it will take me years to work up to appreciating Shakespeare, but here Emily Dickinson explains the power of a book.

There is no Frigate Like a Book

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll.
How frugal is the chariot
That bears the human soul!

~Emily Dickinson

It just conveys so much more meaning to compare the power of a book to a warship of immense power and beauty. Much like a product of my generation, I know my weakness in understanding literature is the image. Being a photographer for so long, the image is what I created through capturing light, not an image in my mind through capturing words read. Trying to relearn how words express their own images, without the need for a graphic is quite hard in the 21st century, I can’t imagine how hard it will be in the 22nd century, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.