Two memories account for my life as a reader: In the 1930s, my great aunt read books to me that were written for children when she was a child. When I was recovering from a tonsillectomy, I read Felix Salter’s Bambi and soothed my throat with ice cream.
Love and a sweet treat, then, made me a reader.
When did I decide I wanted to write? All I remember is that I first published some things in the 1960s – a theology and literature article in a church publication and church school curricula dealing with Christianity and art.
My interest in poetry was awakened by Professor Francis at Franklin and Marshall College. This interest came to focus on Robert Frost when a parishioner, Helen Tyson, gave me, in 1968, a signed copy of Frost’s A Further Range. Soon I was assembling a Frost collection.
Early in the 1970s, a review piece in the Saturday Review called my attention to the poetry of R. S. Thomas. Hooked, my collecting switched from Frost to Thomas, and the rest you can read about in my book A Masterwork of Doubting-Belief: R. S. Thomas and His Poetry. For several years, I’ve been a speaker at the RS Thomas Literary Festival in Aberdaron, Wales.
While I was doing my bachelor of divinity work at Drew Theological School, my interests in history, art, poetry, and theology were stirred into an emulsion by professors Hopper, Karlin, and Michalson. So if I had decided to pursue the Ph.D. degree, it would have been somewhere in that zingy blend.
Because writing opportunities came looking for me, most of my published work, except for my first book Cutting the Monkey Rope (1973), are in the area of United Methodist Studies (history, doctrine, and polity).
I live alone in an apartment in a retirement community in Pennsylvania. My wife, a victim of Parkinson’s disease, lives in the same community’s health center, where I visit her several times each day. We married in 1959, have a daughter and son, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
A Masterwork of Doubting-Belief: R. S. Thomas and His Poetry
by John G. McEllhenney
R. S. Thomas (1913-2000) was a major poet of the twentieth century. He was respected by luminaries of the literary establishment, recognized with numerous awards, and nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1996. Thomas was also a priest of the Anglican Communion who wrestled ceaselessly with problems of faith and doubt in his poetry.
John G. McEllhenney makes R. S. Thomas’ poems, ministry, and irascible character come brilliantly alive in his new book, A Masterwork of Doubting-Belief: R. S. Thomas and His Poetry. McEllhenney, who developed a personal relationship with Thomas during the last decade of the poet’s life, draws on his conversations and correspondence with Thomas, as well as his experiences as a clergyman and lover of poetry, and offers readers a unique experience that is part biography, part appreciation, and part religious meditation.
A Masterwork of Doubting-Belief is an important new contribution to our understanding of R. S. Thomas and an inspiring source of insights for all who struggle with their faith!
Published by Wipf and Stock. February 2013. 146 pages. Paperback. $18.00. ISBN 13: 978-1-61097-310-6.
Other R.S. Thomas Websites I Like
R.S. Thomas 2013 – a project of Llenyddiaeth Cymru / Literature Wales