Love Stands Ready – Guest Poetry Blog #28 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, Canadian Christian Devotional Poet. Margo Swiss – Part One of Two

The 2007 poetry anthology, Poetry as Liturgy, edited by Canadian poet Margo Swiss

Lover's Instructions

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark one come upon you,
           which shall be the darkness of God.
                                      T.S. Eliot, East Coker

Lights out-
now step into the dark;
lift up your eyes to whatever
you can not see.

As the blind go,
so you must move,
hands in reach of whatever
you can not know.

even fear recedes
and words

Beyond in
in silence
Love stands ready
(eyes closed i anticipation)
to cover you
with such an embrace-

          In this place
          all receive
          and none waits.

Margo Swiss from Poetry and Spiritual Practice, Edited by Susan McCaslin, St. Thomas Poetry Series, 2001


I first discovered the poems of Canadian Christian devotional poet Margo Swiss in 2002 when a dear friend gave me the book Poetry and Spiritual Practice, edited by well-known Canadian poet Susan McCaslin and published by the St. Thomas Poetry Series in 2001.

Then in 2007 I discovered another St Thomas publication, the poetry anthology, Poetry as Liturgy edited by Margo Swiss. (To read Margo’s definition of Christian liturgy from her anthology please see below.) After finding her anthology Margo and her poetry stuck with me. And as you will read in her post it was Margo and her husband David Kent who started the St. Thomas Poetry Series in 1996 which has included such well known Canadian authors as John Terpstra, David Waltner-Toews, Susan McCaslin, Richard Greene, George Whipple and Pier Giorgio di Cicco among many others in its list!

I have been fascinated over the years to find poets who see poetry as a deeply spiritual, if not religious, practice. And Margo certainly sees her poetry as a practice of faith as she says in Poetry and Spiritual Practice. She also says how important meditation and centering prayer is for her to enter into God’s Presence. She adds:

As an extension of such meditation, writing poetry, like any other daily activity, is an encounter with Mystery. Whether we write of the most mundane or most glorious of life’s circumstances, we are called to behold and transcribe Mystery as it reveals itself to us in our daily lives.

Here now, in her own thoughtful and considered words, Margo Swiss. Her journey to and with poetry.


I started writing poetry at eighteen during my grade thirteen year. In English class we were studying the poetry of John Keats and the Romantics with our wonderful teacher Anne Heideman. After school during the second term, several of us also participated in what she called her “poetry seminars.” Our focus for these discussions was the Metaphysical poets, Donne, Herbert, Marvell, and Vaughan. Overflowing with poetry as I was, I began composing my own poems and continued to do so, as time allowed, throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies in English.

As an undergraduate at Trent University, I was generously mentored by Michael Sidnell, my English Professor who tirelessly read and commented on my poetry. Through Michael’s intervention I managed to publish my first poem in the Canadian Forum. Soon after, my poems appeared regularly in Quarry magazine at Queen’s University thanks to Michael Ondaatje, its editor who liked and encouraged my writing. I continued publishing in various journals, and once, after my Master’s year, I met with Professor George Whalley of Queen’s University who read and considered a batch of poems I had been working on. Much later, Gary Geddes was another supportive editor, who included me, along with other new poets, in an anthology, The Inner Ear (1982). Gary kindly endorsed my work until I began writing religious poetry, which, for personal reasons, he could not accept.

My husband David Kent and I had both been raised in the United Church, where we were married. But after two years together we each experienced the spiritual need for a more Catholic mode of worship, and were confirmed in the Anglo-Catholic church, St. James, Vancouver. Shortly after, we moved to Toronto to begin doctoral studies at York University, and joined St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, a traditional Anglo-Catholic parish in downtown Toronto. My weekly worship at St. Thomas’s, my doctoral studies, and love of the metaphysical poets have profoundly inspired and influenced my writing. That lasting influence was once noted years later, when my editor, Don Martin, urged me “to stop sounding like George Herbert” in the title poem of The Hatching of the Heart (Wipf & Stock, 2015).

For my doctoral thesis I had first wanted to work on Herbert as a Poet-Priest and poetry as liturgy, but I was dissuaded from doing so. I eventually applied the same perspective to the early poetry of John Milton, who was himself a poet-priest during and after his Cambridge education when he was preparing for ordination in the Anglican priesthood, a career path he would later vehemently reject. I was supervised by a competent and committed advisor, Robert Adolph, who, by his own self-definition, was a secular Jew.

Bob saw me through the arduous and protracted process of my thesis, riddled with incredible administrative obstacles. The problems had nothing to do with the inherent quality of the work, several parts of which were eventually published. The resistance was what would now be termed “misogynist and sexist.” Happily, I was rescued from failure by the intervention of a distinguished Harvard Professor, Barbara Lewalski who, when evaluating the Renaissance division of the graduate program, found it to be severely deficient; it had never produced a graduate.

My completed thesis, in quadruple form, had been sitting unread in the director’s office for much of a year. Thanks to Bob Adolph’s prompt action, it was immediately retrieved, and an external examiner was duly assigned. Arthur Barker, eminent Miltonist and Professor Emeritus at Western University, not only“ loved” the thesis but during the oral exam also heroically defended me against repeated attacks by the program’s director.

After graduation, I soon began teaching Milton and the Metaphysicals at York, which was an immense pleasure. I also taught Humanities and Creative Writing for more than 35 years until retiring in 2018. I learned from my students, one of whom, Billy Smith, advised me of Karl Rahner’s work on the Poet-Priest. More about that connection in Part Two.

Meanwhile back at St. Thomas’s, in 1988 my husband and I began to organize regular poetry readings by local Christian writers. These continued until 1996 when we published the first three books in the St. Thomas Poetry Series. Recognizing how difficult it was for Christian poets to find publishers, we began publishing Christian books through the excellent facilities of Coach House printing, located next door to the Church. To date we have published 35 books, several of which have received awards. We see these books as an expression of Christian witness, what Karl Rahner would call “the pastoral theology of books.” I have published in our series an anthology, Poetry as Liturgy (2007) and two books of my own poems, Crossword: a Woman’s Narrative (1996) and Second Gaze (2020).

Margo Swiss, July 2024

Note: From its Greek theatrical origins, Christian liturgy exhibits four common attributes. It is 1) an offering made for divine glory and human edification:2) a performance of a religious and communal service; 3) a work intended to be both instructive and therapeutic; 4) a ritual enactment that is sacrificial and, ultimately, reconciliatory.

Margo Swiss from  Poetry as Liturgy.


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