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.
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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 New York City-based poet and writer who is passionate about making poetry accessible to a diverse audience of readers and listeners. Twice she has been awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize in a national competition for emerging poets. A collection of her poetry, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press), was published as a finalist in the New Women’s Voices competition. Her work has also appeared in Kindred, Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature, Brown Alumni Magazine, The Mochila Review, Texas Poetry Calendar 2014 (Dos Gatos Press), Deep Waters (Outrider Press), The Heart of All That Is (Holy Cow! Press), and Mercury Retrograde (Kattywompus Press), among other publications.
A graduate of Oberlin College’s Creative Writing Program, she has led creative writing workshops for youth at schools, libraries, and community centers in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, and South Africa. She has also mentored underserved teens through Girls Write Now, a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing the next generation of women writers.
Emily enjoys cross-pollinating with artists of all kinds and has performed her work solo and collaboratively at numerous events. Two of her recent appearances were at the International Arts Movement conference and at the album release concert for "Soon We Will Not Be Here" by James Hall Thousand Rooms Quartet, a CD featuring poems transformed into songs by jazz trombonist/composer James Hall. You can connect with Emily on her Facebook Artist’s Page: facebook.com/emilyruthhazel.