Best-selling author, pastor, and Message translator Eugene H. Peterson discusses his first collection of poetry, Holy Luck, along with several of his influences.
Bondfire: Why is poetry relevant?
Eugene: Poetry is relevant because it is basic language, using words not only to inform but to draw the reader into participation, using sounds and rhythms, images and metaphors to stimulate the imagination to enter the enter the language and be engaged with it. As a pastor I am not only interested in telling others about scripture and Jesus but use words in such a way that they live the words, the truth, not just know about them. Poetry is embodied language, not just ideas or abstract “truths.”
Bondfire: Who are your favorite poets, and how have they influenced you?
Eugene: There are several:
- George Herbert — he was a pastor and explored the many dimensions of the spiritual life using his poetic craft with extraordinary skill.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins — a priest who found ways to use words that bring the entire creation and life of salvation dazzlingly alive.
- William Carlos Williams — the attention he gives to the ordinary prevents me from being condescending to the “ordinary”.
- Wendell Berry — he manages to find a “sabbath dimension” in almost everything he touches.
- Denise Levertov — she has taught me to be alert and present to the transcendent and take it seriously wherever I notice it.
- Luci Shaw — her skill in finding beauty and truth in virtually everything she sees and touches keeps me grounded in holiness.
Bondfire: How did you incorporate your poetry into your pastoral work?
Eugene: Poetry keeps me attentive to the way words work, provides protection against cliches and manipulative language, alive to the ways metaphor works. Interestingly, I almost never quote poetry in sermons or lectures. It is more personal, keeping me attentive to the way the poetry in the Bible (the psalms and prophets and Jesus) keeps me involved in the language of prayer and faith, not an onlookers or bystander, getting the language into my gut not just my head.