Luci Shaw is now 90 years old. The author of more than 35 collections of poetry and creative non-fiction over the last five decades, she describes her dedication to this art as a burden to “speak into a culture that finds it hard to listen.” This collection of new poems — all composed over the last two years — is in many ways the culmination of a stunning career.
The joy and responsibility of the poet is to focus on particulars within the universe, finding fragments of meaning that speak to the imagination. Ordinary things may reveal the extraordinary for those willing to take time to investigate and ponder. In this fresh collection of poems, Luci Shaw practices the art of seeing, and then writing what she sees, realizing that beauty is often focused in the Eye of the Beholder.
Eye of the Beholder is meant to awaken in readers awareness of the extraordinary in the ordinary. They will find in this collection a focus for meditation and be excited into their own imaginative writing.
About the Author
Luci Shaw was born in London, England, in 1928. A poet and essayist, since 1986 she has been Writer in Residence at Regent College, Vancouver. Author of over thirty-five books of poetry and creative non-fiction, her writing has appeared in numerous literary and religious journals. In 2013 she received the 10th annual Denise Levertov Award for Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. She lives with her husband, John Hoyte, in Bellingham, WA.
“Luci Shaw crafts her poems in the way that she sees God’s creation is crafted—seamlessly and with enviable freshness. Always honest with herself and her readers, she writes movingly about poetry and prayer and growing older. She has written some of the best recent poems I have read about aging. Aging itself may not be marvelous, but Luci Shaw’s are marvelous poems. It is always a pleasure to spend time with her work.”
—Mark Jarman, author of The Heronry
“These are poems that find their beginnings in small, but particular details that catch what Hopkins once called the “inscape” of things, and then climb upward into the air, trusting words, arranged into poems, to come together to say something beyond what they can say. Throughout Luci Shaw’s Eye of the Beholder
, there is the steadfast belief that there is an intimate connection between the writer, words, and a meaningful cosmos. She trusts that the universe can be “psalmed,” that words, especially when the writer is “radiant with assent,” can, and do, stitch a narrative together, a narrative that connects the beholder to what is beheld, that seeks and often finds the “pulse of the world,” and, in so doing, demonstrates how gratitude and praise are essential to happiness and contentment.”
—Robert Cording, poet and author of Walking with Ruskin
and Only So Far
“Luci is like the great oak tree she describes, her poetry an abundance of acorns, and we the harvesters, squirreling away the treasures. One of the most generative poets of living memory, and this among her finest collections yet.”
—Sarah Arthur, author of A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle
“In Eye of the Beholder
, we are asked to behold the eye of the beholder, and in Luci Shaw, that eye is lovely to the last. “Who am I to psalm the universe?” she asks. Yet there she stands and there she speaks, exchanging a “dialogue of glances” with “a squander of bright wind,” and then, finally, inviting us into “a small / house in the forest, with a stream running past, / and odd poems happening.””
—Paul J. Willis, author of Deer at Twilight: Poems from the North Cascades “Eye of the Beholder
is a collection that not only distills a lifetime of spiritual reflection and poetic craft but also launches with the author’s characteristic boldness into new, uncharted, liminal spaces. Like the lavender that Luci Shaw breathes in, her poetry “is itself a prayer, / a reaching, a receiving . . . breathing what God is telling me.” To which grateful readers can only say: “Thanks be to God.””
'Eye of the Beholder' awakens awareness of the extraordinary in the ordinary
“Beauty, yes, but not only.” So begins Eye of the Beholder, the new poetry collection from Luci Shaw—a volume that is both gentle and transcendent. Shaw’s poems are reminders of daily divinity: the wonders we might see if only we look closely enough, long enough. Her poem “Signals” captures this way of seeing: “Later / he showed me himself as a / honeycomb with bees, / and when I didn’t respond / he presented me with / a hillside of trees with / red and yellow leaves, and / finally I understood.”
Shaw is a prolific poet—at 90, she’s published over ten collections over the years, work that has originally appeared in publications like The Christian Century, Writer’s Almanac, Books & Culture, Image. Her poetry is devotional without being overly sentimental, and never trite.
Born in Britain, Shaw has said that she “always felt like an outsider” growing up in Canada, and later living in America. As a young woman, “not the treasured son and heir of the family in that British setting,” she felt like she was supposed to become merely a “good wife”—and not a poet. “To try to keep this flame of poetry alive—because it wouldn’t go away—I had to write in a kind of isolation,” she recalls, and that sense complemented her Episcopalian faith. She feels as if “the Holy Spirit is my muse,” and has spoken about how “the Spirit is holy breath, and that this breath carries my ideas into words, from my mouth into the air and into someone else’s ear.”
This sense of herself as poetic conduit feels particularly appropriate for Eye of the Beholder, which begins with her introductory essay, “Prophets & Poets.” In our “mechanistic society trammeled with political conflicts and a waning consciousness of the sublime,” Shaw believes that “poets—and particularly poets of faith—have a similar mandate” as the Biblical prophets: to look, to imagine, to document, and to share.
Ambitious sentiments, but Shaw’s own kenotic verses open from the self and move outward and upward—a humbling act. Her narrators are faith-filled, but imperfect. “Sometimes a prayer comes out / half-chewed, like a tough crust / that sticks in the teeth.” In a later poem, she revisits those flawed prayers, but reminds readers that our “troubles eat at God like nails.” Our pain is not ignored; “He never fails / but reassures he’ll heal again, / again, again, again and yet again.”
Shaw is also a fine poet of the aging body. The narrator of “Regrettable” feels “unreliable. My fingers shake, / fumble.” She drops her earring while taking it off. Her handwriting has become illegible. She remembers faces and voices, but names have wandered away. “I can’t think what to do. I can’t / think. I am unlikely.” The narrator ends the poem looking in the mirror, wondering if “the marvels seen and written will / live on, or simply dry up, abandoning / their juiciness like dishwater down / the drain. Or damp bath towels / evaporating on the line, their moisture / vanishing in the air.”
She is a poet of “incremental life”—to borrow her own words. She has longed for “more celebratory poetry,” and Eye of the Beholder puts into practice what she has gently preached. Poems like “Testify” are finely written, but also serve a practical end: they help us see better. “Though my hearing is never / acute enough to detect / the soft script of the fly’s footfalls / as it dances on the window, / or to record the swift play of wings, / the glass knows.” There is a moving, churning world around us. Maybe it is up to poets to act as prophets of vision. “Like my mother’s voice when she / spoke truth to me. The whisper of / small roughage, and crumbs / left on the table between us.” Eye of the Beholder brings us to that table, and offers whispers of truth in humble lines.
Nick Ripatrazone has written for Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Atlantic, and is a Contributing Editor for The Millions. He is writing a book on Catholic culture and literature in America for Fortress Press.