C. E. Chaffin is a well-known poet, especially on the net, who has been publishing for 40 years. His new book, his first since 1997, includes a section of over 20 love poems, based on the miracle of his falling in love at 45. He's been in love ever since—almost ten years!
Why did you call your book “Unexpected Light?”
In a fallen world where we're often surrounded by darkness, as if in answer to prayer unexpected light often leaks through just at the moment when we fear we can no longer go on. It can be sunlight on a leaf or a late phone call from an old friend, but that's how most light comes in my life.
Furthermore the actual title is mentioned in the last line of the poem, “Prayer to la Virgen,” detailing how Christ was lucky enough to receive a donated grave. But more so, when I fell in love at 45 for the first time (and it has continued ever since), I was shocked out of my mind. It was truly unexpected light! A whole lighthouse worth of it.
Trained as a medical doctor, I had always been rational about love, thinking (in C. S. Lewis's words) that love should be the result of, not the reason for marriage. All that changed when I met Kathleen. And right after I met her my second wife e-mailed me that she was leaving—such synchronicity!--leaving me a perfect opportunity to experience romantic love for the first time, a gift I wish for everyone. And true love is not just infatuation but an abiding love, a love that puts on overalls and boots in the service of the beloved.
How did you come to write “Unexpected Light?”
I've been publishing poetry for 40 years, and this is my second book. My first was published in 1997. This book was 12 years in the making. It deals with many themes, including the usual four in poetry: God, Death, Nature and Love. The last section of the book, in fact, is devoted to love poems. And that was a main impetus for the book. I had compiled a manuscript entirely of love poems but no publisher showed interest, so I limited the love poems to my very best 20 or so and added poems on other themes, and voila! I had a publisher go all the way for me, including royalties—for poetry, imagine!
Who are your major poetic influences?
T. S. Eliot, Robinson Jeffers, Robert Frost, Theodore Roethke, Mark Strand and Pablo Neruda, to name a few. None of these except Neruda is truly a love poet, and he has been the most influential on my romantic poetry. One of the poems in the volume is entitled, “To Kathleen, after Neruda,” for instance. As for poets in English, I like John Donne's love poems bests, though they are so intellectually dense one must assume the object of his love was some kind of a genius to consistently unravel his metaphysics.
Does poetry have a chance in this day and age?
Yes, for man does not live by bread alone, but by every word... There may be a smaller audience for poetry today, given the competition, and more poets publishing than ever. The Net has caused a proliferation of literary journals that is more democratic and participatory. There are probably more serious poets writing than ever before. And poetry is the miner's canary of the culture, in my opinion. It records the travails of the time and tries to connect them with eternity and history. Love is one of the four enduring themes of poetry and one of the most difficult topics to undertake.
It's available through Amazon.com and all the usual suspects and any bookstore will order it for you. Best to order it directly from the publisher. There's a page on my website where you can do that: http://cechaffin.com/light.html
It comes in hardback for just $20 and paperback for $12. I wish I could give it away but I can't afford it. Seven reviews have already been published, and I can say without embarrassment that they have all been glowing.If you join the facebook group, “Unexpected Light,” you will automatically be updated regarding readings and new reviews.
Here's a short excerpt from one of the love poems, “Valentine 2008,” where the speaker imagines his love as a waterfall:
Inside the moss-lipped haven of your granite
I hide behind your thundering skirt of water.
Your clarity dissolves all self-deception.
I would not recognize myself without you.
The shelter of trees is never so generous
As your pouring and thinning of yourself
Into the forest air. I kneel and drink
And like the alder rise up satisfied.