Bellingham writer Luci Shaw's books aren't best-sellers. She doesn't have a doctorate or a master's degree in fine arts. She hasn't spent her life in academia.
What she has done is write 30 books of nuanced poems, essays and non-fiction from a Christian perspective, with two more coming out soon. A bountiful crop, indeed, perhaps reflecting what she calls her "strict upbringing in a Christian work ethic."
"I've learned to write simply by doing it," Shaw said, "and reading lots of other poets."
Thanks to her decades of writing - she's now 84 - as well as her lectures on art and spirituality, the Christian imagination, and on writing poetry and journals to foster spiritual growth, Shaw has been named the 10th recipient of the annual Denise Levertov Award.
Levertov, who died in Seattle in 1997, was a renowned poet whose work reflected both political advocacy and deep interest in religion and spirituality. The award, given to a writer or artist "whose work exemplifies a serious and sustained engagement with the Judeo-Christian tradition," is presented by Image, a literary journal based at Seattle Pacific University.
Shaw is a worthy recipient, said Gregory Wolfe, Image's editor.
"She has really built bridges between the literary and faith communities," he said. "She's been an extraordinarily generous person whose involvement is personal, not just professional. She cares about the people she encounters."
Previous winners include poets Madeline DeFrees and Franz Wright, and writers Kathleen Norris and Ron Hansen.
"To be included in that is just amazing to me," Shaw said. "I was quite overwhelmed."
Shaw, like Levertov, was born in England. Shaw's parents were missionaries, so the family lived in several countries while she was young. Shaw says she was fond of writing and full of gumption from the start.
"I was always a troublemaker," she said. "I was asking existential questions. I was having ideas that I wanted to share."
In time she moved to the United States. She graduated from Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in Illinois, raised five children and has married twice.
She and her second husband, John Hoyte, moved to Whatcom County 15 years ago. She attends St. Paul's Episcopal Church, for its blend of openness and tradition, and is a writer in residence at Regent College, in Vancouver, B.C.
Shaw loves sailing, camping, gardening and photographing wilderness, so it's not surprising that her poems explore the sacred through close attention to nature.
"It's like you're leaning in to something to learn more," she said.
In the 1980s, Shaw was an original member of the Chrysostom Society, a group of Christian writers who wanted to, as Shaw put in, "engage culture from a faith perspective."
Shaw says that she, like Levertov, is "enfaithed" by her work.
Her writing isn't hard-sell religion. Rather, Shaw's writing is thoughtful and measured, descriptive yet contemplative. She's both observant and open to awe.
"I get whole words and phrases that seem to be calling out to be written," she said.
And while her work isn't as overtly political as some of Levertov's, that doesn't mean it's gutless, Wolfe said.
"Her writing has always attempted to challenge complacency," he said, "particularly complacency in the religious community."
CATCH OF THE DAY
by Luci Shaw
It leaps, breaking the skin of the lake
of possibility, this thing that flashes steel -
this trout of a poem, wild with life, rainbow scales
and spiny fins. Now, for patience, the pull of the catch:
I cast, wait for the jerk - the tug of hook in bony jaw -
feel the line go taut. The ballet begins, a wrestle
to land this flailing, feral thing - all thrash and edge -
and tame it into telling its own muscular story.
I heave it over the rim of its arrival, glorious,
fighting the whole way, slippery as language.
Its beauty twitches on the floor boards, its glisten
spilling over the lip of my notebook page.
Luci Shaw's website: lucishaw.com
Denise Levertov Award: Go to imagejournal.org, click on "events," then click on "Seattle events." Shaw will give an award talk in Seattle on May 16. The event is free and open to the public; reservations are requested.
Chrysostom Society: chrysostomsociety.org
Reach Dean Kahn at email@example.com or call 715-2291.