In this final post, completing a poetry collection responding to every theme from the year, 2013 Artist in Residence Emily Ruth Hazel brings us a beautiful poem in reflection of the theme of "Memory" and Jonah 2:5-7 as a 2013 Spark+Echo Artist in Residence.
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5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. 7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD : and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
It’s been a privilege to journey through 2013 with Spark and Echo Arts, responding to each of this year’s six themes as a Resident Artist. For this last piece on Memory, I was inspired by the biblical story of Jonah: specifically, his prayer from inside the whale that swallowed him (and became the vehicle of a second chance to fulfill his calling). I drew from my own memories as well—my experiences as an editor and as a college student before that, as someone on a continual quest for quiet who likes sitting in empty churches, and as a New Yorker fascinated by the daily mix of clothing styles worn by people from all walks of life.
I’m interested in how what we wear reveals something about who we are, and in how frequently we connect with people (or don’t) on that basis. Likewise, I wanted to explore how dressing God “in our own [human] image” can lead us to dangerously inaccurate perceptions of human/divine relationships, and on the flip side, how humanizing God can give us fresh perspectives that bring the spiritual within reach. (Of course, that kind of exploration requires acknowledging the gap—or chasm—between our limited understanding and who God actually is.)
One of the images that came to me is from the publishing world. Back when editors’ offices had narrow windows over the doors (often left open for air), writers sometimes submitted unsolicited manuscripts by tossing them “over the transom”—hence the phrase still used today. I’ve heard of a similar practice among musicians and would-be DJs eager for airtime on college radio stations. Artistically and spiritually, I can identify with the hopefuls looking to break in.
As I was thinking about ways in and ways of reframing tradition, I was reminded of my occasional encounters with the Book of Common Prayer, which is used in Anglican church services. I also recalled a term I hadn’t heard of until recently: Ordinary Time, which in the Christian liturgical calendar refers to all the months between Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. While certain seasons point us toward remembrance in more obvious ways, as a poet, I’m most interested in what we hold onto in the ordinary in-betweens.
To remember is to return internally to a place we’ve been, to an image or idea, to an impression of or relationship with someone. Jonah’s prayer inside the belly of the whale—“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord”—is an expression of returning. And at its essence, every prayer is a return: to ourselves and to God, to a belief, or simply to a sense of gratitude.
Emily Ruth Hazel is a poet, writer, and cross-pollinator who is passionate about diversifying the audience for poetry and giving voice to people who have been marginalized. Selected as the Honorary Poet for the 25th Annual Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading in Providence, Rhode Island, she presented a commissioned tribute to the Poet Laureate of Harlem in February of 2020. She is a two-time recipient of national Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prizes and was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for a residency at The Hambidge Center in 2014. Her chapbook, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press, 2005), was a New Women’s Voices finalist. Emily’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines, literary journals, and digital projects, including Kinfolks: A Journal of Black Expression and Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature. Her poetry has also been featured on music albums, in a hair salon art installation, and in a science museum exhibition.
Emily has written more than twenty commissioned works for organizations, arts productions, social justice projects, and private clients. Currently, she is developing several poetry book manuscripts and writing lyrics for an original musical inspired by the life of the extraordinary singer and Civil Rights icon Marian Anderson. A graduate of Oberlin College’s Creative Writing Program and a former New Yorker, she is now based in the Los Angeles area.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Pitts-Wiley