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The Poet's Craft and the Pastor's Task

I know pastors who read nothing but books on the Bible, the church and pastoring. I know leaders who read little else besides books on leadership. In fact, I know leaders and pastors who read very little of anything. I know only a few who read poetry.

Too bad. Because I think there is an intersection—an overlap—between the poet’s craft and the pastor’s task, as M. Craig Barnes so ably demonstrated in his book, The Pastor as Minor Poet. I believe that reading poetry can help a person think more clearly and creatively. It improves the reader’s vocabulary. It expands a person’s vistas and challenges his or her assumptions. It exposes the reader to literary figures and devices such as metaphor. It increases a speaker’s verbal intelligence and precision, giving preachers in particular more (and better) tools. And it can help leaders become more skilled at wrestling with and simplifying complex ideas and concepts. And those are just a few of the benefits.

So, with that in mind, I herewith offer my 10 favorite poets:

1. William Shakespeare
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player … “

2. Robert Frost
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood … “

3. Emily Dickinson
“Each life converges to some centre/Expressed or still … “

4. Wendell Berry
“Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling … “

5. Mary Oliver
“I thought the earth remembered me … “

6. Robinson Jeffers
“The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those/That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant … “

7. Christina Rossetti
“Then He shall say, ‘Arise, My love,/My fair one, come away.'”

8. Albert Orsborn
“I know Thee as Thou art/And what Thy healing name … “

9. Edgar Lee Masters
“Out of me unworthy and unknown/The vibrations of deathless music … “

10. Richard Wilbur
“I can’t forget/How she stood at the top of that long marble stair/Amazed … ”  

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I’m desperate for God. Desperate to make a difference. Desperate to find some sanity in my life and ministry. And because I am in desperate and constant need of help, prayer, counsel, grace, and forgiveness.