AUTHOR INTERVIEWS SELF!

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS SELF!

DONALD:  So you are going to interview yourself?  How does that work?

DON:  I’ll ask myself questions and then try to answer them.

DONALD:  Your newest book is STARS THROUGH THE CLOUDS: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams, 2nd edition (Lantern Hollow Press, 2020), xx + 445 pages. $17.99. paperback.  Why poetry, of all things?

DON:  A number of reasons.  First, we live in an age not very hospitable to poetry.  Robert Frost said that the ultimate ambition was “to lodge a few poems in places where they will be hard to get rid of.”  I’ve published quite a few poems–in places where they are easy to ignore.  If I believe that some of my work deserves to be preserved, then it’s up to me to try to give it a more permanent form.  Second, at this stage of my life my poetic production is slowing down.  After half a century of writing verse, when I start a new piece now I usually end up saying, “Nope, already did that, already used that idea.”  I hope I’m not done writing poetry, but the volume is going to decline, because I don’t want to end up like so many poets in the last phase of their lives, doing cheap imitations of their younger selves.  So whatever I have done is starting to take a shape as a whole that is verging toward completeness.  Finally, there is a wonderful publishing venture started by one of my former students and some of his students (does that make them my grand-students?).  Lantern Hollow Press actually wanted to do the book, and the first edition of Stars Through the Clouds was their first volume to see the light of day.  For all those reasons, it seemed like the time was ripe.

DONALD:  You say our age is not hospitable to poetry.  Why not?

DON:  There is no market for poetry–or that’s the perception among most editors and publishers.  And they are not entirely wrong.  The market was killed by the last three generations of poets and the editors and critics who promoted them.  They by and large could not tell the difference between poetry and fractured prose, and they thought incomprehensibility was actually a virtue.  They basically didn’t know what poetry is, and as a result they have taught the current generation of readers very effectively to believe that poetry is nothing that could possibly interest them.

DONALD:  What is poetry?

DON:  It is not easy to define, but some of the greats have taken stabs at it that, taken together, can give us a good idea.  Dr. Johnson said poetry calls the Imagination to the aid of the Reason.  For Pope, it is “Nature to advantage dressed: / What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed.”  For Wordsworth, the poet is “a man speaking to men in the language of men,” in language elevated by meter, metaphor, etc., but still a language intelligible to normal people (this would be news to most contemporary poets!).  In that language the poet gives us “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion recollected in tranquility.”  I would add that poetry adds to prose a level of structure and meaning of which prose is not capable by making the line, not just the sentence, a significant element.  If you do this well, you can write something that justifies the loftier definitions of Johnson and Pope.

DONALD:  What are you trying to achieve in Stars Through the Clouds?

Dr. Williams, Author of Stars Through the Clouds

DON:  I want to give people a reason for reading poetry again, to prove that poetry can still speak powerfully to human minds and hearts.  I want to preserve and transmit the glimpses of beauty, truth, and goodness that I have been granted to see.  I want to show that Wordsworth was right about the poet as a man speaking to men.  I want to return the craft of prosody and form to the writing of poetry.  I want to make a start in rebuilding an audience for poetry, for the great poets of the past as well as myself and those who will follow me.

DONALD:  Pretty grandiose schemes, eh?

DON:  Yeah, I guess so.  But it’s what I want to do.  And since not many other people seem to be trying it . . .

DONALD:  What poets from the past are some of the biggest influences on Stars Through the Clouds?

DON:  I learned an awful lot from Robert Frost about how artfully to combine classic forms with contemporary language.  I studied the form of the sonnet under masters like Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and Keats.  George Herbert is a model in the way that he used every conceivable form devotionally in The Temple and showed how to be intelligent without falling into unnecessary obscurity.  Charles Williams gave me a lot of the ideas for “Tales of Taliessin,” though I do not much resemble him in style.  C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien did more than anyone else to influence the way I see the world.

For a number of poems either about Lewis and Tolkien or inspired by their work and their ideas, go to https://smile.amazon.com/dp/173286800X?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860 and order a copy of STARS THROUGH THE CLOUDS: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2020).  (This commercial brought to you by Mr. Tumnus’ Library.)

 

Review: STARS THROUGH THE CLOUDS

Williams, Donald T.  Stars Through the Clouds (Lantern Hollow Press, 2020, xx + 445 pages $17.99 paperback)

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Bauman

In the preface to his long historical poem Old King Coel, Adam Fox, former Oxford Professor of Poetry, former Canon of Westminster Abbey, and former Inkling, wrote that in it he had “used verse and rhyme in a traditional way, since the experimentalists do not seem to have created any more pleasurable substitute.”  He was, of course, completely right, both about his work and theirs.

That statement could be lifted whole from Fox’s book then planted four-square into Williams’, and with good reason:  first, because Williams’ poetry is better–more  true, more beautiful, and more rhetorically apt—and, second, because its subject matter is more varied, its insights more enduring, and its content more theologically well-grounded.

All that is one way of saying that Donald Williams is an academic.  He lives in his mind.  That mind is furnished with the ideas and forms of classical culture and its subsequent reiterations.  His poetry, therefore, has meter, rhyme, structure, and substance.  It asks and answers the perennial questions of life, questions like:  “What’s a good life and what good is life?” “What’s a good death and what good is death?” “What’s a good love and what good is love?” and “What’s a human being?”

Because Williams is also a Christian, the poetic answers he offers to these diagnostic questions are full of Biblical theology and spirituality, the sort that grows up best and most richly in the hothouse of real human experience in a fallen world.  Those answers are robed in the drapery of precise, memorable rhetoric and then scattered liberally in epigrams, proverbs, images and gobbets of printed gold across almost every page.

For years, I have said to anyone who will listen that Donald Williams is the best practicing poet in America.  This collection bears me out:  formal, informal, satirical, theological, poignant, insightful, playful, factual, and beautiful — it’s all there.  Williams’ poetry is high verbal art that takes tradition seriously and that thinks art ought to serve the highest and best purposes.  That sort of verbal art is less appreciated in our age, when shock and offense have displaced beauty, truth, and goodness.   Thank God, that displacement has not been total.  The higher things still can be found, if you know where to look.  If you do not, then simply look here.

No poet is perfect, of course, though some are far better than others.  Count Williams among our best.  While every poet has a voice, Donald Williams has many.[i]  Sometimes it’s the voice of Frost or Dickinson or Gray.  Sometimes it’s De la Mare or Tolkien or Housman.  All have their place.[ii]  And sometimes, if you have the ears to hear, you might catch an echo of the Higher Voice.  In his impressive multivocity, Williams is much like the late Anne Ridler, another verbal artist whose works are too little known.  I’m not saying that Williams is a mere imitator.  I’m saying that his poetic mind is well stocked with the works and words of the great poets and sages, and that it shows.  I am saying that you are what you eat, and that Williams has obviously fed upon the best poetic morsels the English-speaking world (and beyond) has yet produced.

Dr. Williams, Author of Stars Through the Clouds

I won’t subject you to a selection of my favorite lines or poems.  This review is not about me.  But whether or not, like me, you prefer poems that are pointed and concise, poems that waste no time or words in getting where they’re going—something along the lines of Housman at his best—or those poems that are more patient and that draw themselves out more slowly and at length, like a giant waking from slumber, you will find plenty here to satisfy you: “Sehnsucht” (p. 351), on the one hand, or “Toccoa Falls: An Ode,” on the other (p. 85).

Williams is not the first of that name to write something significant and profound called “Seed” (p. 122).  When read together with Charles Williams’ nativity play “Seed of Adam,” the six-part poem published here becomes part of a double journey into the mind of God and incarnational consciousness.  But its six portions are perhaps one too many, the final installment unsuited to the rest and capable of standing on its own.  Still, his “Reflections” on the next page (137) is more than ample compensation, as are “The Irony” (138) and “The Hypostatic Union” (139). “Miracula” (149) is simply deepest conviction.  The two Williamses also have the poetic saga of Taliessin in common, and of the first the second Williams is a worthy successor and more, maintaining the profundity of the original while adding the clarity it sometimes lacked (pp. 189-245).

For good measure — and quite unlike anything I’ve seen since they collected Thurber or Nash — you’ll find page upon page (pp. 247-87) of rhyme that will make you smile, chuckle, and laugh, while simultaneously reading your way through the history of philosophy, theology and hermeneutics, to which topics Williams returns later not in levity but in full seriousness (pp. 289 ff.).  The effect is a liberal arts education in miniature, with Theology as its capstone (pp. 375 ff).  The book ends beautifully, much like Paradise Lost:  the end is the beginning (p. 420).

Lastly, please understand this comment as the highest possible praise:  Of the more than 400 poems in this collection, not one can righty be called a somnifacient—not one.  The achievement is impressive.  Not even Sidney, Housman or Gray could ring the bell every time.  Yet here, every poem both embodies and elicits thought and piety.  Each one, considered carefully, illustrates why thought and piety are so closely related, perhaps twins.  Williams’ poetry is the verbal embodiment of Henry More’s dictum that no notion ever changed his heart that did not first enlighten his mind.  Read here to benefit both.

Michael Bauman, Author of the Review

[i] For example, Frost: “Times in the Appalachian High Country” (p. 6) and “Metaphor Glimpsed” (p. 50), Hopkins: “Plane Flight” (p.29), Dickinson: “Spring Metaphor” (p. 13) and “Commentary, Job 38:7” (p. 32), De la Mare: “New Every Morning” (p. 42), and occasionally even Wordsworth: “Conversation with a Back-Packer” (p. 52).

[ii] But not–praise God–Eliot, Sandburg or Pound, or at least not too much.

The late Michael Bauman was Professor of Theology and Culture, Hillsdale College, and Scholar in Residence, Summit Semester, Summit Ministries.

You can order the book here:

https://smile.amazon.com/dp/173286800X?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860

Books! We wants them, yes, precious!

Let me bring to your attention two recent books that belong in the library of every Christian college, Christian school, and Evangelical seminary—and in the personal libraries of many of their professors of English literature and theology–not to mention hordes of their students!  Not to mention yours.

First is Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016).  Diana Glyer says, “Williams has done the impossible: he has written a highly readable overview of C. S. Lewis’s theology.  He draws from the deep well of a lifetime spent studying literature and theology and Lewis.  My understanding has been greatly enriched; yours will be too.  This book is a marvel.”  Lewis was the greatest apologist and one of the most influential Christian thinkers and writers of the Twentieth Century.  Yet until now we have not had a study of Lewis’s theology that was both comprehensive and critical, asking, “What is the theology that lies behind the Narnia books, the Space Trilogy, and the popular apologetics, and what are its strengths and weaknesses as a guide to biblical truth?”  Clearly this book meets a critical need.

Then there is An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018).  Jim Prothero writes, “This book on Tolkien is not only readable, it is profound. The counter-culture movement latched onto to The Fellowship of the Ring more than a decade after its 1954 publication and never let go. The ultimate irony is that many of those young people were looking for alternative world-views to traditional values. And all the while, Professor Tolkien was a devout believer writing stories that reflected precisely traditional Christian beliefs and values. Donald T. Williams explores all the nuances of that irony here with humor and insight.”

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was listed as the book of the century in three separate polls, and remains one of the most popular and beloved books of all time.  And it was built on the biblical worldview of its author, as he himself said, “unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”  That grounding in the Christian worldview is less obvious and in-your-face than in his friend Lewis’s books, but Williams brings it into clear focus here.  Tolkien’s vision is a lens that lets us see the Gospel as true in the real world too.  Williams is a good guide to why that is true and to what difference it makes.

Donald T. Williams (M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, PhD, University of Georgia) is R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College in the hills of NE Georgia.  The author of eleven books and countless articles, he is a border dweller, camped out on the borders between theology and literature, serious scholarship and pastoral ministry, Narnia and Middle Earth.  These books are most easily ordered from Amazon.

Soli Deo Gloria!

With the long vacation of summer dawning and no international trip planned for this year, I will be more free to move around the country to speak or preach for the next three months.  So I thought I would remind you of what I have to offer.

3R MINISTRIES

Renaissance:  The restoration of the life of the mind;

Reformation:  The restoration of sound doctrine;

Revival:  The restoration of vital Christian spirituality.

Donald T. Williams, PhD:  Pastor, Professor, Writer, Speaker, Apologist

Renaissance—a restoration of the life of the mind; Reformation—a restoration of sound doctrine; Revival—a restoration of vital Christian spirituality.  These are the three great movements of God we desperately need in our generation.  And our great mistake is to believe that you can have the last one without the first two.”  —  Donald T. Williams

Donald T. Williams, PhD, is one of the foremost apologists and Christian thinkers you may not have heard of.  What makes him unique?  He is a border dweller, camped out on the border between fields of theology and literature, the border between pastoral ministry and serious scholarship, and the border between this world, Narnia, and Middle Earth.

Pastor, professor, and poet, theologian, apologist, and cultural critic, Williams is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College in the hills of NE Georgia.  He also serves as Scholar in Residence for Summit Ministries and has served as a pastoral trainer for rural pastors in places like Uganda, Kenya, and India for Church Planting International. He is past president of the International Society of Christian Apologetics.  Williams is the author of eleven books, including Mere Humanity: G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Jr. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (Nashville: Broadman, 2006), Inklings of Reality: Essays Toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012), Reflections From Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012), Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016), and An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018).  His articles appear frequently in popular magazines such as Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity and Christian Research Journal as well as various scholarly journals.  He is also one of the featured “talking heads” in the popular recent apologetics video “Mining for God” (www.miningforgod.com).

Donald T. Williams

Williams speaks frequently for churches, colleges, Christian schools, home school groups, campus ministries, and other ministries.  Popular topics include “The Theology of Tolkien’s Middle Earth,” “Why We Lost the Culture War, and How to Make a Comeback,” “Worldviews in Literature,” “The Problem of Evil,” “True Truth: Why We Need to Remember Francis Schaeffer,” and “The Validity of Lewis’s ‘Trilemma.’”  His preaching is expository, in the tradition of men like D. Marty Lloyd-Jones.

To book Dr. Williams for your church, school, or group, contact him at dtw@tfc.edu.

3R Ministries:  Renaissance; Reformation; Revival!

 Donald T. Williams, PhD

381 Talmadge Drive, Toccoa, Ga. 30577;  dtw@tfc.edu

 

APOLOGISTS TO MEET AT TOCCOA FALLS

APOLOGISTS TO SPEAK TRUTH IN LOVE!

The International Society of Christian Apologetics will hold its annual meeting at Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, Georgia, Friday-Saturday, April 1-2, 2016.  The theme for the meeting will be “Apologetics in an Increasingly Hostile World.”

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Plenary speakers will include Warren Cole Smith, senior editor of World Magazine, speaker for Summit Ministries, and vice president of The Colson Center. Smith will address the conference on “How Media Shape Your Worldview:  The Medium Really Is The Message–Mostly,” and “Restoring All Things:  Knowing What You Stand For, Not Just What You Stand Against, or Promoting The Good, The True, And The Beautiful.”  Smith says that “We Christians must pay close attention not only to what we say, but how we say it if we want to be heard in a culture that is increasingly indifferent or antagonistic to the Christian message.”

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

The meeting will also feature workshops on many apologetic topics by notables such as Norm Geisler and a presidential address on “C. S. Lewis as a Role Model for Winsome Apologists” by Toccoa Falls College apologist Donald T. Williams.

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For further information or to register, go to http://isca-apologetics.org/annualmeeting.