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" ' Behold, I make all things new." Then he said, 'Write these words down'" (21:5). Hearing this in the monk's choir, I gasped. No wonder this chapter is Dickinson's favorite. Christ's commission may well have helped her define her calling, her vocation as a poet (and I would clam, one of the great biblical interpreters of the nineteenth century.) I gasped again, as a phrase entered my mind: " Ezra Pound thundered,'make it new,' and Jesus said, 'I will." . . .
Dragons within, dragons without. Evil so pervasive that only the poetry of the apocalypse can imagine its defeat . . . We will sing a new song.
Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (1996)
“Laundry, liturgy and women's work all serve to ground us in the world, and they need not grind us down. Our daily tasks, whether we perceive them as drudgery or essential, life-supporting work, do not define who we are as women or as human beings.”
August Author of the Month:
August Author of the Month:
Kathleen Norris was born in Washington, D.C., on July 27, 1947. As a child, Norris moved to Hawaii with her parents, John Norris and Lois Totten, and in 1965 graduated from Punahou Preparatory School. Growing up, she spent most summers in her grandparents' town, Lemmon, South Dakota.
After graduating from Bennington College in Vermont in 1969, Norris became arts administrator of the Academy of American Poets, and published her first book of poetry two years later. In 1974 she inherited her grandparents' farm in Lemmon, South Dakota, and moved there with her husband David Dwyer. In Lemmon, she joined Spencer Memorial Presbyterian church, and discovered the spirituality of the Great Plains. In 1986, Norris entered a new, non-fiction phase in her literary career after becoming a Benedictine oblate at Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota, and spending extended periods at Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. At this period in her career, one of her focuses was death and depression.After the death of her husband in 2003, Norris transferred her place of residence back to Hawaii, though she has lecture tours on the mainland. (Source: Wikipedia).
Kathleen Norris began her literary career as a poet, but it was her spiritual memoirs such as Amazing Grace (1998), The Cloister Walk (1996), and Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (1993) that brought her to the attention of the general reading public. In these books, Norris ruminates on her religious upbringing, the doubts that assailed her as she reached maturity, and her continuing examination of the conflicts within her. Norris, a married Protestant woman, found an apparently unlikely source for spiritual peace at a Catholic monastery near her home. Eventually, she took layman’s vows at this monastery. In The Cloister Walk and other writings, she sheds light on monastic life, the value of celibacy, and the need for religion in the modern world. Critics find her books appealing because they are written in accessible language, and because they express doubt and an ongoing sense of conflict.
She was a bookish and sheltered student, stunned by the hedonistic excesses common at Bennington in that era. Her memoir The Virgin of Bennington (2001) recalls those years and draws its title from the mocking nickname given her by her fellow students. The shy young woman protected herself by turning inward and immersing herself in poetry. Eventually she was caught up in the culture around her, however, and by the end of her studies there she had embarked on an affair with a married professor who was instrumental in finding her a job in New York City after her graduation in 1969.
In New York, Norris associated with Andy Warhol and his crowd, and also worked as an assistant to Betty Kray, an arts administrator employed by the American Academy of Poets. In The Virgin of Bennington, she sketches out these memorable, often disturbing years, and relates how in 1974, she and her future husband left New York to travel to Lemmon, South Dakota after her grandmother’s death. Expecting only a short stay, they instead settled there permanently.
Norris had already published a first book of poems, Falling Off (1971), which was the winner of the Big Table Younger Poets series. That book features what Paul Carroll, a critic in Choice, called “angelism,” with subjects that include the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City, and literary influences that include W.S. Merwin, James Tate, Stevie Smith, and Pablo Neruda. A prescient review in the Hudson Review alerted readers that “Kathleen Norris has enough wit and ease to be worth attention: let her drop all reference to angels and find something she cares to write about.” Similarly, author A.G. Mojtabai, reviewing Falling Off in Library Journal, praised Norris’s “superbly wry” manner and called her “a spellbinder, a poet to watch.”
Except for a small volume of four illustrated poems, however, Falling Off was to be Norris’s last collection for ten years. In 1981 her next book, The Middle of the World, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Showing the positive effects of several years of hard work (both mental and physical) on the Plains, the volume dealt with a theme that the Virginia Quarterly Review expressed as that of being centered, physically and emotionally, in time and space, of being at the midpoint. The reviewer liked Norris’s “strongly narrative, easily accessible” poems. Library Journal reviewer Laurie Brown declared that “when Norris succeeds, she’s worth remembering.” A chapbook, The Year of Common Things (1988), followed. Prairie Schooner reviewer Stephen C. Behrendt labeled it “striking,” calling attention to the Wordsworthian influence on the poems. Behrendt praised the poet’s “broad humanity” and “keen eye for particularizing local detail”; he noted, too, the difficulty of crafting apparently simple poems in a relaxed, conversational tone and idiom discussing ordinary people and events. “From the fabric of the familiar in language and experience alike, Norris evokes the intensely personal responses of her characters and speakers,” commented Behrendt.
Norris’s next full-length volume of poems was titled Little Girls in Church (1995). Kliatt reviewer James Beschta stated that the book’s title is “unusually accurate,” since the work is dominated by religious and female themes. The book does more, Beschta asserted, than simply bind life with religion: the major theme of the poetry is “the blending of life and death and love.” Belles Lettres’s Geraldine C. Little was even more enthusiastic, welcoming the author of Little Girls in Church as “a poet who with wit, sharp intelligence, joy, and an all-seeing eye [who] praises life from the ordinary to the sublime.”
Norris had, at that point, gained public recognition with her first nonfiction book, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (1993). In the tradition of Annie Dillard and Gretel Ehrlich, Norris finds in the land—in this case, the farmland of the Great Plains—the inspiration for religious musings and personal renewal. In the book, Norris tells of how life on the Plains—which she called “a crucible”—has changed her: “Like Jacob’s angel, the region requires that you wrestle with it before it bestows a blessing.” Norris tells of the ordinary social lives and gossip of her neighbors; of the drastically changing weather through the seasons; of her experiences as temporary pastor of a Presbyterian church with only 25 members; and of her many contacts with the monks in the local Benedictine abbey, whom she increasingly appreciated for their “contemplative sense of fun” and for their commitment to celibacy, which—like a commitment to marriage, she felt—left them secure enough to be free.
Critical response to Dakota was overwhelming, and the book, which had only a 8,500-copy first printing, sold more than one-hundred-thousand copies in hardcover, according to a Booklist interview with Norris. A reviewer in Bloomsbury Review commented, “For a deeper understanding of the Plains, for exquisite poetic descriptions, and most importantly, for an alternative vision of life, Dakota is invaluable. Norris’s gentle desert wisdom has the potential to restore lost dimensions of our humanity, to return us to our roots, and to offer possible alternatives to our alienation.” Commonweal reviewer Elizabeth Bartelme called Dakota “a poet’s book; a work of beauty; a testament to the work of the Spirit.”
Critical response arose in much the same key for Norris’s followup volume, The Cloister Walk (1996). This book focuses more intensely on the side of Norris’s life that touches organized religion and monasticism. She had recently spent two nine-month periods at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey and University, a Benedictine institution in Collegeville, Minnesota. As an oblate, or layperson who took limited monastic vows in harmony with her worldly and marital life, she “walked” with the monks without being precisely one of them. In the process, she became more deeply familiar with and appreciative of Roman Catholic theology and practices. The book, which contained seventy-five meditations, deals with such subjects as the connection between religion and poetry, the meaning of certain Catholic feasts, the lives of inspirational figures of the past, and the value of the celibate life. On the subject of celibacy more than one critic noted that Norris is especially insightful. She views celibacy as a lifelong conversation process leading to spiritual and emotional maturity: as Nancy M. Malone, writing in America, stated, “she talks of celibacy as a form of service to others, as expressive of the essential loneliness of life ... necessary for all of us at one time or another.”
Even married people, Norris observed, often undertake de facto periods of celibacy during personal crises or at other crucial times. Drawing on her personal experiences, Norris, Malone claimed, offers insights that save the book from being a self-indulgent memoir, as is typical of the genre. “The author learns something from her experience, and so do we.” Concluded Malone, “The Cloister Walk is often just plain funny. ... It is beautifully written ... in giving us life closely observed and accurately expressed. Norris ... has something significant to say.”
Norris has also continued her work as a poet, and in 2001 a collection was published as Journey: New and Selected Poems, 1969-1999. The book won praise for being “witty and graceful” as well as “supple and inventive,” in the estimation of Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman. Critic Paul Mariani also praised the collection, especially the later work which shows people in a “compassionate light, often with humor, always with insight.”
(Source: Poetry Foundation)
Emily Isaacson is known for her lucid and dramatic poetry, as well as her astute vision to use revelation to make information, images, and words relevant and meaningful. Her use of images and soundtracks to create movies during Covid lockdown has contributed to some of her poetry being put to sound and images for her viewers.
See her YouTube here.
Call to the Poets
Call to the Poets
Before the Fire
There was a vandalised wall
between my heart
and my mind.
The graffiti coloured wall drove
for fear of persecution.
Few continued on in this vein
of silence over spiritual matters,
of quiet church,
humming the great hymns of the faith
behind bolted doors.
When the wall came down,
like tiny people,
only for us to tell them
there was no watermelon
on this side of the wall before now.
They talked about Creation,
but we had only heard
was to smile, accept us,
and invite us in.
We were an acceptable darkness,
with poverty of religion,
no candle to see by,
like being married
with no wedding rings
and no church.
Then there was a bonfire,
and people surrounded it
with their hands stretched out;
better to be warm, we thought,
Now we could sing louder.
rang over the hills
it was a sad and glorious song.
Emily Isaacson, published in Hallmark (2017)
Self portraits by Isaacson
Self portraits by Isaacson
Emily Isaacson is a poet with both Canadian and American influences, who is a dual citizen. Her prolific verse and multimedia art bring poetry to life: she has created over 75 videos of her poetry, and hosted a weekly poetry movie on YouTube during Covid lockdown. In the last sixteen years her sites have been visited over 1.8 million times by more than 45 countries. She is also an arts advocate who has taught on Creative Writing. She has a Bachelor of Science from Bastyr University in Seattle and is currently the Director of the Wild Lily Institute, founded to preserve her poetry and legacy.
She now invites you to her secret cache of over 35 photos, taken by herself over a time span of 15 years.
All photos are under copyright by WLI. To use any of these photos for media purposes, please contact us.
What is Emily Isaacson's claim to fame?
She was chosen to write the sacred manuscript of The Fleur-de-lis to commemorate the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011.
This historical book of Canadiana literature contained over 800 poems in English and French and was published in three volumes.
Not only that, it was her first real publication of her work, and took her over 5 years to complete. She claims this divine invitation was given to her by God and that it is a prophetic and anointed work.
The Lion and the Unicorn Tapestry
The Lion and the Unicorn Tapestry
Emily's stylised poetry under the symbol of the Fleur-de-lis is world-renowned for its poignant and lyrical style and theatrical use of language. She engages an audience that may have lost interest in the dusty field of poetry long ago. Now rekindle the fire: postmodern poetry at its finest hour.
"But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences;
they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh."
-- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own
"The New World sounds its horn to all its evangelists, antagonists and enthusiasts, in bold claim of the English language and all its endeavors. There are those who will rise up. This new renaissance of post-modern verse varies in its expense from page to page, and yet, no expense is spared. The jewels of the world vary greatly, but few are as rare a find as this trilogy of works of the Black Saint. . . "
Preface to Victoriana (2015)
I listened from out the little window
to see if I could hear your song
in the lane,
and when the familiar whistle sounded,
even my dulcet heart gave way.
There was the song of us
that whistled on the moor
before the seasons began,
when we knew we’d be together
even in a foreign land.
There was the wood
that burned dry in the hearth;
I took a coin from my purse,
and counted the face on it
memorizing the moments your touch
reached out in healing.
There was the building of
something new amid the old,
a search for independence,
a need to voice a referendum.
The old country calls me home.
Its architecture has not yet crumbled.
I wave from my window
and write Scottish poems
to the sonorous bagpipe,
the fire, burning, burning cinders.
From the poem "Burning Cinders"
What is the length of the
What is the length of the
Isaacson's complete works includes over 1600 poems in chronological order, ranging from age 13 to her most recent unpublished works. The book is at present approximately 1,100 pages.
Toward the replanting of a land—
once deserted, cold, and barren, still;
now citrus, and the olive, myrtle stand,
our pride in the distance, through the hills
spilling fine perfume and virgin oil.
Early songs still rise from temple mount
amid the prayers, centuries old toil.
--Emily Isaacson, The Replanting
House of Rain
“Being a woman is a full-time job.”