Luci Shaw is a legend in Christian literary circles. Her many volumes of poetry—named for rivers and clay, the color green, the glint of seaglass—speak to the beauty of creation and the generosity of the Creator. She has written on faith and art, the Christian imagination, and prayer, including a few books co-authored with her friend, Madeleine L’Engle. Shaw is also a beloved teacher, serving as longtime writer-in-residence at Regent College.

Speaking with the poet about her latest collection Reversing Entropy (out this spring from Paraclete Press), I understood how she has served as an inspiration for generations of students and readers. She’s gentle, curious, and wise. Her way of seeing the world is wondrous—everything from lichens, to a shivering little lake, to “jewel dew” in the grass, is significant. All the world inspires praise.

Reversing Entropy doesn’t just look around; it looks ahead. Luci Shaw is 95 years old, and this collection is understandably full of endings. Leaves fall; ripe apricots drop from a tree; her brother passes away. There is “the inevitable decay / the leaving and the dying.”

But there’s also hope. From the collection’s final entry, a long, tumbling prose poem that Shaw says “poured out” of her “like a gift”:

Give praise, now, to our God, the Quickener, the One who stirs us into such new life that we, and all creation, may wake to the sound of a fresh music, and start to sing again the songs of love, and longing, and refreshment. …

Come Springtime, that most beneficent of seasons, all, everything, every thing, will be thawing, rising, joyful, laughing, tuning up for the evermore, and in every green plant, sap will begin again to up-rise, elated…

Entropy has been reversed. Decline denied entrance, or existence. Death has been utterly extinguished as we enter, and join, the Quickening.

—Excerpt from “The Quickening: To Be Sung in Procession to Heaven’s Gate”

My interview with Luci Shaw has been edited for clarity and length. Poems in italics were read by Shaw during our conversation.

Let’s start with the title of the collection: Reversing Entropy. I wonder how this phrase gets at what poetry (and living as a Christian) means to you.

Reversing entropy is important to me—pushing back against chaos and despair, replacing them with hopefulness, with joy, with creativity. The concept of entropy is that systems of an evolving creation are declining and losing energy. People of faith, people of Christian faith, are able, through the arts, to take and reclaim territory that has been lost.

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This “reclaiming territory” can happen through our art—but also in daily living. One of your poems, “Clues for Perception,” begins: “To reverse entropy is to avert chaos, to restore order in a / system, to correct or forgive a wrong.”

And it ends: “I rejoice when the crumb on the floor falls victim to the broom!”

Oh, absolutely. You don’t wall off your poetry into a separate little room. You open up the whole house. You open up the windows and the doors!

I recently listened to an interview with Marilynne Robinson in which she said, “a mind at peace in any degree, and a mind that’s schooled toward good attention, sees beauty all the time.”

That line reminded me so much of your poetry. To take one example, in “Crossing the Cascades,” you are “noticing the small / miracles of green, / the stabs of survival / in the most / improbable places. / … We pay passing attention / and our observation / turns it real.”

That’s a wonderful word, you know, attend. It comes from a Latin root, ad tendere, to reach into or to reach toward something else. My life practice has always been to pay attention to beauty—in relationships, in nature, in politics, in our church life. I look for significance in whatever I see.

Isn’t it amazing that that creation can lead us to an understanding of the Creator? The fingerprints of God are on the solar system.


“Monday. The Port of Bellingham posted a photo of a visitor along Bellingham Bay. Humpback whales are commonly the size of buses.”

The Bellingham Herald , March 24, 2022

O mighty one, you whose bulky vehicle visits
our islanded western Sounds in early spring,
who, breaching, lift your mass in opulent suspension
above the waves, its grand re-entry flinging wide
a rainbow spray. You, whose magnitude now courses
along the continent’s channel way, swimming
north to new, nutritious waters. You, leviathan,
astound us, a grandeur that causes godly fear
at your creation, and wonder at the deep sounding
of your uncanny songs. Whose fine baleen strains
from the waters a nutritious soup of krill,
the most minor of sea creatures nourishing the major.

May our fragmentary whispers of gratitude bless You,
the One among us who listens and, unearthly, speaks.

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God can speak through the size of the whale, but also through tiny fish, the krill, that nourish that huge creature.

How does prayer fit into this?

I value the Book of Common Prayer because it addresses every aspect of life. It gives us prayers, liturgies, the psalms. The psalmist had to deal with very similar struggles, I think, to the lives we live now. The context is different, but the human spirit is always the same.

The terminology for many of the Old Testament prophets was the “burden of vision.” How difficult it was, in the middle of an ordinary life, to be given a vision by God and to rise to the challenge of being a prophet.

Take Jeremiah. Even though he was speaking divine truth, he got punished for it. His listeners put him in a muddy pit.

I’m not a prophet in that sense. But I do hope to speak truth into life.

“The burden of vision.” So often we hope for a direct word from God. But are we really prepared for what that word would require of us?

God appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai. But he had to shelter himself behind a rock because his unshielded presence was overwhelming.

Let’s talk about a few other poems. One of my favorites is “New Leaf Restaurant.”

I have a dear friend who lives on one of the islands off the coast, a writer and philosopher. Every time I go and visit him, I get fresh insights into the life of the creative person. Sometimes, he’s the only person to whom I can honestly admit that I have doubts about my faith.

I wonder about how to live the authentic Christian life. I wonder about mystery; the Greek word is mystērion. It means “that which is hidden.” As a poet, I like to open things up, even trivial things, and examine them. That’s what’s happening here.


With the camera of my mind I try
to teach myself the view, anticipating
a destination before arrival, expecting

the benediction of weather, a warm sun
and a cool wind from the ocean, almost
believing my desire will bring it to pass.

Waiting has been always a discipline
alien to me.
Yet I try to teach myself what

I need to know, to respond with gratitude
to guidance, perhaps salutatory,
yet offered with great generosity.

Wanting, as I wait, the message in the air
to be true, that when I arrive I may receive
with gratitude a friend’s long-harvested
wisdom and discernment.

Impatience consumes me. Like a candle,
my dark wick of certainty burns down to
a lonely thumb of wax destined for snuffing,
its pale smoke drifting to the ceiling
like an angel’s scarf, before vanishing.

Though I’ve been lonely, shorn of trust
and certainty, feeling bald and plain,
a friend’s gracious green and gold
speech fills the untidy field of my belief
with new growth. Today all my living
spreads ahead of me, like a field in Fall
dank with wet, decorated with
wild flocks of white geese.

I love how, as I watch,
their congregation lifts and lowers
over the field, like a woman’s white
sheets on a backyard line
raising their wings
in praise of the wide air.

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When I didn’t have a clothes dryer, I had to hang up clothes in the backyard with clothespins. That experience gave me that wonderful image of the wind blowing through a sheet and filling it up, lifting it like a sail of a ship.

In spring the flocks of white geese settle on our plowed fields, which they like because the worms are available to them. I love movement: when the whole flock rises together, and then settles again, around all the fields.

It’s helpful to hear the story behind the poem. You go to the islands with concerns, and they’re addressed in several, fresh ways. There’s your friend, who can listen and respond with “wisdom and discernment.” And then there are the geese: speaking without language, somehow, and providing another kind of insight.

We learn in different ways—from literature, but also from observing the unpracticed beauty of nature. The trees don’t take lessons in looking beautiful. They just are.


A damp day, and walking the woods, we discover them,
sprouting like miniature lettuces, spreading their
minor mantles, hoary and moist, curling at the edges—
lichens green and fine as human hair, decorating the rotten
stumps and rocks of the woodland, charming us by their
frills and baroque contours. You can’t call them plants,
but they like to pretend. Claiming distant relationship
with fungi, macrolichens float into the air pale fibers
delicate as lace, a curious embroidery on the forests’ face.

Enchanted, we photograph a dozen examples, some
fine as hair, some frilled as flower petals, pale, green,
gray, orange, dotted with red micro-spores, ready to fly,
to catch any minor air for conveyance, for symbiosis,
for claiming some damp environs as habitation.

Summer, and some, surviving the season’s heat, creep
across bare rocks, enter granitic cracks, split
giant boulders by the persistent force of mere existence.

Today, on the path down to our creek, we saw them
dancing along the wooden handrail, balancing like

Variants of symbiosis, ambient, fanciful, buoyant, spotted,
flaunting, frilled, flirting, feeding on the rot of forest floors,
they decorate the underworld in gray-green, and gold.

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We have only a tiny fraction of understanding and knowledge, because we’re so limited and restricted as individuals. But, also, we have this calling, to go beyond the surface of the ordinary and to see significance in those ordinary things. It’s never a dead end. There are always open windows for us to lean out of and to see the larger world.

"Whale," “New Leaf Restaurant,” and “Dance of the Lichens” from Reversing Entropy by Luci Shaw. Copyright 2024 Luci Shaw. Used by permission of Paraclete Press.