January 17, 2012 § Leave a Comment
One winter night, Benedict’s sister, Scholastica, was awakened by a song bird. How can this be, she thought, and she looked out the window of her cell. Three naked men were dancing in the monastery garden by the light of the moon. One whistled like a bird and made her laugh. The men were fair to look at, Scholastica thought, but she knew she needed more rest before the first prayers of the day.
Kneeling by her bed, she closed her eyes and sleepily said a prayer for the men – if they were men – that they might find shelter, clothing, and rest for their dancing feet, and if (as she suspected) they were demons, that they might return to from whence they came.
When she awoke, her cell was filled with the scent of roses. Where the men had been dancing, a rose bush had sprung up and was blooming in the snow. It bloomed all that winter, and it blooms to this day.
–Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk
November 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Really, I could title this, Being Pretentious, or Trying To Be A Tastemaker – either would apply. But when it comes down to it, being wrong, staking out something that was partially untrue or not wholly true or not even partly true or wholly untrue, that’s the awful consequence.
See, for some reason, I thought growing up and maturing meant that I would continue to narrow my tastes and my opinions, that eventually I would have more figured out than I have un-figured out. I thought I would get the sense of Me, and that hand-in-hand with that sense is acquiring a thought-through, developed philosophy so that whenever News Event X or Album Y is presented, I could decide pretty quickly if it’s Good or Bad, Right or Wrong, and what my critical stance is. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 26, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The church I’ve been attending the last two weeks is about to start a series on the Book of Habakkuk, which is somewhat exciting for me since I 1) don’t remember hearing a sermon on it in my life and 2) really love this book. Re-familiarizing myself reminded me that I worked on a sonnet about the book sometime in the Spring of this year that tried to use the interesting ambiguity of Habakkuk’s name, which scholars think could mean “The Embracer,” or “The Wrestler.”
Let the Earth Keep Silence
I found out you were gone today. The morning
had loosened itself into the sun as I read
the minor prophets rage in terror and mourning,
in the anger that comes from love for Zion, for the dead,
for the spears shivered into the evil men
from God on high. Who can escape the justice
of the Lord, lifting his hammer above both heathen
and Jew, all who have yet to fall into the bloodless
ether of whatever is next? In Habakuk
the prophet sees his people kneel and taste
the sandals of their conquerors and, struck,
cries out, We shall not die. I learned his name
means wrestle, or it can also mean embrace –
either to keep the world in its place.
August 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked on four or five essay length posts, the kind I typically write that circle like buzzards and rarely hit on anything long-lasting, but that still circle something I have a taste for. I’ve tried to get down thoughts about the monastic idea of accedie, or doubt and questions on a spiritual level, or my changing views of what value is. But nothing is sticking, nothing feels right.
This matches my overall summer, where I’ve written one poem, and revised one poem. Other than those two poems, I haven’t so much as a line. No story outlines, no attempts at the morass of my half-built novel. I still set out time for writing, but mostly this has me staring at the page in front of me, doodling on the margins, and eventually composing a letter to someone. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 15, 2011 § Leave a Comment
And then everyone fell silent, and the major put on the “Tosca” record and, as it was about to start, said mournfully: “Once I wanted to marry Geraldine Farrar.” Then her voice came through the horn, out into the room, and this woman’s voice that all these drunken men where marveling at seemed to step into a lift, and the next instant the lift was flashing away up to the top with her, arriving nowhere, coming down again, bouncing in the air. Her skirts billowed out with the movement, with this up and down, this long lying close to, clinging tightly to, one note, and again there was the rise and fall, and with it all this streaming away as if for ever, and yet again and yet again and again this being seized by yet another spasm, and again a streaming out: a voluptuous ecstasy. He felt it was that naked voluptuousness which is distributed throughout all the things there are in cities, a lust no longer distinguishable from manslaughter, or jealousy, or business, or motor-car racing – ah, it was no longer lust, it was a craving for adventure – no, it was not a craving for adventure either, it was a knife slashing down out of the sky, a destroying angel, angelic madness – the war?
July 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I posted an excerpt from Thomas Merton’s journal, The Sign of Jonas, before, but I couldn’t resist posting this rather longer entry.
Yesterday Father Cellarer lent me the jeep. I did not ask for it, he just lent it to me out of the goodness of his heart, so that I would be able to go out to the woods on the other side of the knobs. I had never driven a car before. Once or twice at Saint Bonaventure’s I took lessons. Father Roman tried to teach me to drive a little broken-down Chevvie he had there. Yesterday I took the jeep and started off gaily all by myself to the woods. It had been raining heavily. All the roads were deep in mud. It took me some time to discover the front-wheel drive. I skidded into ditches and got out again, I went through creeks, I got stuck in the mud, I bumped into trees and once, when I was on the main road, I stalled trying to get out of the front-wheel drive and ended up sideways in the middle of the road with a car coming down the hill straight at me. Thank heaven I am still alive. At the moment I didn’t seem to care if I lived or died, I drove the jeep madly into the forest in a rosy fog of confusion and delight. We romped over trestles and I sang “O Mary I love you,” went splashing through puddles a foot deep, rushed madly into the underbrush and backed out again. Finally I got the thing back to the monastery covered with mud from stem to stern. I stood in choir at Vespers, dizzy with the thought: “I have been driving a jeep.”
Father Cellarer just made me a sign that I must never, never, under any circumstances, take the jeep out again.
July 23, 2011 § 4 Comments
The Economy of Words is one of the first, most important, and longest lasting lessons a writer learns when trying to figure out what it means to write, how to do it better, how to take it seriously, and how to make it Artistic. I was writing before I learned this helpful little phrase, and then I learned it and at once writing became challenging, difficult, and rewarding.
And yet, as I think about this heavily ingrained aspect of creative writing pedagogy – at least here, in America – I wonder how strong of an influence it has had in shaping aesthetic, and perhaps even broader actions like reading styles and attentions. I wonder if the emphasis on economizing words has preempted the true beginnings of creative writing, which could alternately be described (based on your disposition as more optimistically-inclined or pessimistically-) as long-suffering or pleasure. « Read the rest of this entry »
July 15, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Over the last year I have worked on this poem, off and on, and it is certainly still not finished. It’s an attempt to deal with something that I suppose has always been on my mind, or rather hidden behind my mind, but something I never until the last few years saw as consciously a part of me, which is a draw to land and open spaces and nature, and a sort of environmental/apocalyptic fear of the oncoming future. Poems about the environment can be pretty tough, though, because the line between seeking and preaching is more difficult to negotiate.
So, as always, feedback is only helpful. I can’t seem to get the poem embedded here, so click on the link above to get the full .pdf to appear, hopefully, as a tab/page on your browser.
July 5, 2011 § 3 Comments
I’ve been working on a longer essay of literary criticism lately, but I want to sketch out a few of its basic ideas here in the hopes of getting some comments and feedback. I suppose, to start, that calling it “literary criticism” is not too accurate: the essay is basically a compilation of fears and concerns that have made me skeptical about contemporary American poetry, and trying to at least blueprint a possible alternative path.
A number of assumptions sit in the center of the essay, and the first one is that poetry, to be important, meaningful, and truly Art, must remain fringe, difficult, and opposed to anything that tries to systematize it. This is more of a tautological point about Art as a whole: Art must remain Art, and to what Art is is always terrorizing, unsettling, thoughtful, questioning, and restless. And the assumption to this assumption is that we, as humans, live always along a stream of hidden prejudices and unconscious motivations, caught always in the middle of what we know we know, what we know we don’t know, what we don’t know we know, and what we don’t know we don’t know. This is my assumption of the human condition, and thus Art is meant in its highest to uncover and discover, to reveal, to lift up what we think we’ve got pinned down so we can stare into the abyss beneath the carpet. This assumption includes the idea that this is the exact task of religion and philosophy and psychology and every other social science, to a degree, but that none of them work the same way Art does, that where sciences operate logically and consciously, Art can operate above, behind, and underneath logic and consciousness, but also with them. « Read the rest of this entry »