Local resident David Craig is no stranger to writing poetry.
To his credit, the professor of English who has taught creative writing at the Franciscan University of Steubenville for the past 25 years has published 13 collections.
But his two latest works out recently - "Whose Saints We Are" and "St. Francis Poems" - have a uniqueness about them, he says.
"These two books are different in that I really felt called to get rid of all my autobiographical poems, to just write about saints," notes the Weirton resident. "There's a real danger for poets to, unconsciously, write in a way that exalts themselves, to say in some deeper way: 'Look, see, I'm really a pretty good guy.' I think that's true, but I don't need to take up your time telling you about it! So the idea is to bless God," he said.
Craig's poems are devotional poems - "a nice way to praise God," he said.
"It's music, really, the sound of the words. And it's fun; there's play involved. Also, I'm always being fed by poetry. It's a way of hearing the 'real news.'"
Asked why he writes poetry, Craig said he discovered it was something he was good at, but also offered this reflection.
"We all have deep terrain within. We all have inner lives. That's where art goes; it's where it finds, dredges up, what is new and good. That's exciting to me. What new way can I appreciate or speak about God's mercy, about all he's done for me. But like all artists, I've got to push for the new," he said.
Craig's poetry has been widely published and anthologized, most significantly in David Impastato's "Upholding Mystery" for Oxford University Press where he shared space with only 12 other poets in the English-speaking world. Thirty-two of his poems are included there and also are recorded in the Library of Congress.
He also has co-edited three anthologies of Christian poetry and written two works of fiction. In addition to teaching, he edits a poetry chapbook series.
He resides with his wife, Linda, and their three children: David, Jude and Bridget.
Asked where he gets his inspiration for his poetry, Craig suspects Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, wasn't altogether wrong.
"Poets write because there is something missing (true for all of us). That's psychological, but it's also existential," Craig said. "We are beautifully incomplete. We need God, we need the comedy that life, finally, is. But you can't have one without the other. That's what it means to be human, and art always humanizes us. That's why it's more than valuable, it's central to who we are as people," he said.
"Beyond that, I trust that the Holy Spirit motivates what I do. As I tell my students, God likes us, why wouldn't he help? As a Christian, all we do is evangelistic in some way. It's a sweet thing: to wait on him," Craig said.
And besides, poetry is "just cool," according to Craig.
"That's why rappers rap. That's why Frank Sinatra chose the songs he did. Poetry is about what matters in life, what matters most deeply. It's about what's dearest to us, about the sadness of mortality and sin, about the answers - which will never be fully available until heaven. It's the soul calling out to its maker," Craig explained.
Asked what message he would like to get across to readers about his poetry, Craig responded, "As Christians, we belong to a great big family, a family who models for us and who is there to help. We can learn from these guys. One way to explain the saints is to talk about them as school. It's the Marian school of following Jesus. It's the Francis school of following Jesus. I found that meditating of St. Francis, that by reading the medieval sources, I could really start to penetrate what humility is. That, to me, is valuable in the extreme. It's not just a football player saying 'stay humble'; it's a deepening way of being. Now I haven't got that in my life, but I got closer to it in the writing and being there."
Craig said a professor he had as an undergraduate thought his poems "shared something with Robert Frost's; that is, she said they could be understood by many and by those who are more used to walking poetic landscapes. I hope she was right.
"I think these books might matter to average people because we all want more than we have. Most people are smart enough to know that that doesn't come with material stuff. So it's our shared search that makes the poems important, at least to the degree they are."
"Whose Saints We Are" is available for $11.20 in paperback on Amazon.com. "St. Francis Poems" is available for $12.35.
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)