Hi out there! It has been a long time since I have posted in this blog, although I have much enjoyed reading the blogs of others. I opted to leave the blog behind when a series of events occurred.
We made the ninety mile trip to see my husband’s parents weekly or biweekly for many years, as we were managing their care once they needed it. My husband’s mother then passed away, and we were managing the care for his father, who passed away in 2018, the same year that my mother, who lived in Washington state, had a serious fall and was hospitalized and then had to go into assisted living along with my bonus dad. We made trips to Washington to get them settled and eventually to pack up their home and sell it. We sold our home the next year and worked on getting settled in a new place. We put in new flooring and a patio, as the backyard was just dirt at that time. We each had surgery. The results of all that were good, and just recently, we moved my folks down to be in an assisted living facility just a few minutes from us.
About a year after we moved in, there was a fire. It looks closer than it really was, but it was a scare nonetheless.
My “writing custom” during these past few years has been to jot down ideas, images, and thoughts into a journal (or scraps of paper, whatever was handy), and then expand them into poems or stories when I was able to settle down and focus. My friend, Luanne Castle, over at https://writersite.org has nudged my poetry endeavors, kindly sending books and related materials. I can’t say enough about the value of encouragement!
More of my poems have been published than I expected, and I have really appreciated some of the letters from editors who take the time to mention why they liked a certain poem. It’s great if they just say “vivid” or “nice tone.”
In an earlier post, I mentioned seeing Dana Gioia, editor of many literature anthologies, poet, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and currently the California Poet Laureate. I was inspired by his talk and poetry reading, and later by his book of essays, Can Poetry Matter?
Gioia talks about the value of poetry readings as part of his larger goal of restoring the place of poetry in American culture, instead of hiding (burying it?) in academic zones. He suggests multiple ways that readings can be enlivened to interest general audiences. Poets should recite the work of others when giving public readings, celebrating poetry in general. They should mix poetry with other arts, such as music, visual art, and theatre arts. (18 – 20).
Cindy Rinne’s recent reading in Sierra Madre, California fulfilled Gioia’s goals. I have written about her before in another post. You can find her books, Spider With Wings, Speaking Through Sediment, Quiet Lantern, and Breathe in Daisy, Breathe Out Stones at Amazon. You can also see my review there of Quiet Lantern and Doll God by Luanne Castle.
Rinne’s setting in Sierra Madre, California, at the home of warm and wonderful people, Krishna and Eva Malhotra, was beautiful. The expansive terraced gardens provided an excellent atmosphere for the reading, attended by a host of poets, photographers, and visual artists.
We chatted around the table before the reading, sampling the appetizers, finger sandwiches, fruit, and pastries. The reading area was on a large landing between two staircases leading up to a large patio, and the grounds were part of the allure of the event, having lush greenery, extensive lawns, and a concrete stage area, prompting us to discuss future theatrical events that could be held there.
The dappled light added to the ambience as Cindy read from her several collections. A visual artist, Cindy also displayed her work with textiles, and you can see more of it at her website.
She used props, including three Vietnamese dresses she found at a thrift store; the find prompted her idea for Quiet Lantern, a novel in verse, about a Vietnamese family.
Rinne encouraged audience participation also, having a Spanish-speaking couple sing lullabies in Spanish at the appropriate junctures in specific poems, and passing out gifts of “ghost money,” her own handmade paper crafts; ghost money, as I discovered, is money offered for a good afterlife of a departed loved one or as burnt offerings in many Asian cultures.
Though I tend to get a little nervous, which Rinne does not, I love giving and attending poetry readings. Recently, Tim Greek and I participated in a reading sponsored by the Collaborative Arts Collective in Redlands, California. Instead of each of us reading our work solo, we decided to read one or two and then switch back and forth. We spent time orchestrating the progression of poems based on theme, imagery, and tone. It seemed to work out well.
Typically, though, my own have been the straightforward read-a-poem types of readings. I need to experiment with new things! If you are a poet, where do you do readings? How do you determine what you will read? The setting? Any props? Please comment on your experiences!
Gioia, Dana. Can Poetry Matter? Graywolf Press, 1992.
Rinne, Cindy. Breathe in Daisy, Breathe Out Stones. Future Cycle Press, 2017.
—. Quiet Lantern. Turning Point Books, 2016.
—. Speaking Through Sediment. (With Michael Cooper) ELJ Editions, 2015.
—. Spider With Wings. Jamii Publishing, 2015.
Interested in the habits of other writers, I usually ask those who write about their methods and practices. I like thinking of the many ways that writers practice their craft, the environments they create in which to write, the types of materials they use, and their routines for getting started. I carry the images with me when I sit down to write, and it helps me to realize again how we find our way through the process in so many different ways.
Timothy Greek is a long-time close friend of ours (he and my husband have been friends since their high school years participating in theatre performances), who has had the same writing practice throughout his lifetime. A poet, now in his sixties, he has always carried around several 3 x 5 cards on which he jots down the lines to poems as he thinks of them. I recall him in his twenties, usually carrying a science fiction novel that had 3 x 5 colored index cards tucked away in between the pages. You can imagine how many cards he must have now.
It may take some time before they emerge in typed form on a regular sized page, and when they do, the result is as distinctive as his method. Here is a poem from our reading in Redlands, California with Luanne Castle over at Writer Site after her first collection, Doll God, came out:
The wine of Jesus had legs.
Though in his day,
They would say
It would float on water
Like a healing oil
At that osmotic line
Between heavenly fruit and earthly salt.
Only his feet could crush
The two into one.
You can see that he enjoys word-play. Here’s another:
So far, comme ci, as above
So good, comme ça, so below
Hear the confluence of listening
Sans the clutter of contiguous ubiquity’s froth
Swells clarity’s pulse,
The wealth of the heart that is open.
The rhythm of above and the beat below.
So far, comme ci, as above
So good, comme ça, so below
Choosing swine and judging pearls
Ah the whetting stone, used to guide the edge,
not thrown or hurled.
Intent, unlike the truth-bearing blade, is whole
Undivided by dichotomy.
So far, comme ci, as above
So good, comme ça, so below.
A regular at Starbucks, Tim is an almost daily customer. Even in our twenties, we met at coffee shops to discuss poetry and literature, and if I could recall the “enfoldments,” Emily Dickinson’s term for epiphanies, that we had during our conversations, I would record them in a book. Actually, I remember many of his comments as I used to jot them down. One of them comes to mind now: “It is short, aggression, but creativity is long and beautiful.” Coffee plays a large role in his regular process, though in the main, it is his original mind that perpetuates such interesting poems. Recently retired, he will be writing more frequently now that he has the rich gift of an abundance of time.
Here we are at a party, toasting to poets throughout time! Feel free to post your habits, practices, customs.
So much of my work emerges from an interior place, an inner knowing, a sense that yes, now I should write this story, or yes, right now this poem is forming in my thoughts. No matter how many lists or outlines I make of what I want to write, I find that I cannot keep to them because something else is rumbling within.
I am learning to pay attention to the interior world first. As the new year approached, I somehow knew that this would be the year that I would search for a publisher for my first collection of poetry. I am only now, as spring begins, delving in to the list to see which one might be a good fit for my work (or more importantly which one would accept my work).
On a side note, I have a poem called “The Northern Lights” in the most recent publication of the Schuylkill Valley Journal (I have no idea how to pronounce the name).
In the meantime, Luanne Castle, my office mate in graduate school and still my dear friend twenty-four years later, has published her second collection of poems, a chapbook called Kin Types (Finishing Line Press, 2017), which comes out June 23. She has been generous with encouragement and suggestions, and I am always inspired by her work.
Luanne’s first collection, Doll God, won the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award.
You can read my review of Doll God by clicking here. You can order it by clicking here.
Kin Types is a remarkable collection of works that contains sketches of late family members in both poetry and prose. Luanne’s strong interest in genealogy has enabled her to amass a large collection of stories and photographs of her ancestors. She has told many of their stories in this collection, which is unique in its approach and content. The poems struck me as being “elegaic,” and in the broadest sense, they are elegies for the members of her family represented in the poems.
I already ordered mine! You can order pre-order a copy by clicking here.
Inland Empire writers will know of Cindy Rinne, who is so active in the area that I think she has clones appearing for her in all places at once. Cindy has an eclectic set of talents, as you can see if you visit her website, http://www.fiberverse.com/.
In addition to her recently published novel in verse, Quiet Lantern, published by Turning Point Books, 2016, which you can order by clicking here (see my review here), Rinne has a new chapbook coming out, Listen to the Codex, a remarkable collection of poems that sent me to the edge of my imagination. Listen to the Codex is part of the Native Blossoms Chapbook Series edited by Anne Yale at Yak Press. You can find out more about that series by clicking here.
So creativity abounds, and we are all the better for it. Have you put together a collection? What was your method? What governed your decisions? Feel free to post your ideas.
I have been busy with a new online jewelry business at magicbeadstore.com, featuring gemstone jewelry handmade by my artist sister-in-law, Kitty. Here is my brief commercial!
Now that the site is up and running, I have a little more time, and I know a lot more (not enough though) about social media with its many possibilities.
In the meantime, I have had five poems accepted. The first two, “Weather” and “Walking,” appear in the recent issue of The Atlanta Review.
Two more will appear in Alembic sometime soon, and the fifth, which is about my dear eight-year old friend, Eleanore (see her photo below), will be in the Broad River Review later this year. Also, of the many rejection notices, I received a few “redemptive” ones that had compliments or encouragement from the editors (see earlier blog post about redemptive rejections by clicking here.)
I am still thinking about the elegy as a poetic form. Prone to hero worship, I become enamored of writers who articulate things that I feel but have not been able to say. It is not unusual then that I am in love with Roland Barthes, who died in Paris in 1980, and who was gay, so I’m 0 for 2, no chance of reciprocity. But I am in love with the writing persona who engages me with thoughts that provoke and transcend my own. In my youth (college), I was beguiled by James Joyce. When my husband and I were dating, he was interested in Samuel Beckett, to whom Joyce dictated much of Finnegan’s Wake. We stayed up late at his house, sometimes all night, discussing the two of them, though my mother never believed that was what we were really doing. All three of them enchanted me: Joyce, Beckett, and my future husband.
I have been pondering why the ideas of Barthes are illuminated in my imagination, and the answer has something to do with photographs and the elegy.
Photo: Cultural Services of the French Embassy
Photography interests me, though mainly its psychoanalytic components. To be the one photographed provides interesting psychological dilemmas. As Barthes points out regarding the predicament of being photographed, we want the photo to align with our “profound” self, and yet, he says, the opposite is true (12).We feel ourselves being “observed by the lens,” and then “everything changes.” We go into the process of “posing,” and then derive a different identity based on the “caprices” of the resulting photograph (10-11). He writes:
In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, and the one he [the photographer] makes use of to exhibit his art. In other words, a strange action: I do not stop imitating myself, and because of this, each time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer from a sensation of inauthenticity . . . I then experience a micro-version of death (13-14).
Also, when we view photographs, we face new complications. While photographs offer a “presence,” they at the same time reveal an absence of the same presence. That sunlight no longer falls in just that way on the rose. The face of grandfather when he was young is not the face of the grandfather I knew, and grandfather is altogether gone, both the young one and the older one. The photo of St. Peter’s Square just after the rain reminds me that I am no longer there, and so on. When I view photographs of anything or anyone I have known, I feel an instant grief, even if it is in the background of what I consciously apprehend in the moment.
Of course, the opposite can also be true: the lost presence can be momentarily captured by the photograph, bringing joy, feelings of love, and fond remembrances.
I think most people viewing photos of loved ones try to put those feelings in the prominent interior place. Still, the sense of loss is inescapable, even in those moments, for the awareness of something being re-captured is evident. The photograph manipulates our sense of attachment to the person or place or object.
While photographs produce feelings of grief for me, the elegy brings a sense of relief and resolution. I sometimes feel that nearly all of my poems are elegaic in tone. Those that are deliberate elegies attempt to reconcile the more profound losses in distinct ways. The photographic image creates a wound, partially healed by the elegy. The attempt to capture an essence in words as well as the outcome of the attempt bring the desired resolution, though, of course, not a permanent end to the grieving process.
Poetry is an apt vehicle for thoughts and perspectives about death, and I wrote about this as a guest blogger at writersite.org, writer Luanne Castle’s blog site. You can find it by clicking here.
That post emphasizes the number of poems about death in a commonly used academic anthology of poetry. Perhaps poetry reconciles us to an inner world that we cannot locate easily without it, due to its nuanced expression, its dreamlike quality, its connection to deeper interior places. Poetry gives me the feeling of being at a core place of being and feeling.
For more than these reasons, I connect photographs with the elegy, both conceptually and experientially. If photos remind me of losses, elegies give me hope in their attempt to, as Max Cavitch mentions, “apprehend the ultimate, most unknowable condition . . .” He goes on: “Elegy is a genre that enables fantasies about worlds we cannot yet reach . . .” (1).
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated
by Richard Howard, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981.
Cavitch, Max. American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning From the Puritans to Whitman. University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
So, I have been reading Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, again, probably for the seventh time. Also, Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal. A daily glance at the Lutheran Book of Prayer. Usually a few poems by somebody. I have also been looking at a lot of photographs. And I am thinking of the elegy, the poetic form that features mourning and remembrance as its subject.
Our church, St. Mark’s Episcopal Parish, has a Blue Christmas service, designed to bless those who have lost a loved one, a home, a pet, or anything significant in their lives. Essentially, it is a liturgical elegaic event. I first attended the service after my father died in 2009, and it is what helped us to decide upon St. Mark’s as a home church.
The ambivalent feelings we have during the holidays when we are grieving are addressed in the service, which also points us to God’s grace and love. Before we had to undertake new responsibilities due to my husband’s aging parents, I was also enjoying being on the Altar Guild and loved setting up the items for the service.
Though it was not a major loss to have to cease working with the Altar Guild, I did feel great sadness at leaving it. I am pondering these and other kinds of losses.
Underneath our experience of the “daily,” the routines and habits that create the collage of our personal identity, beyond our social personas, and even in our solitary internal musings, we are performing a kind of work, an exertion of unconscious energy related to the losses that are embedded in our existence. We are enjoying things, yes, interacting with people, working, imagining, resting, and planning. We are also grieving, often subliminally. The more solemn losses serve to draw out the lesser known ones, blending them with our experience of mourning. Latent grief emerges uninvited sometimes.
I recently atttended a memorial for my dear cousin, Tina Jane Moad, who passed away on October 2 of this year. We were given, as parting gifts, small packets of seeds to plant in her memory. A lovely gift. The symbolism is inherent in our knowledge of seeds. Death, then a kind of rebirth. But looking at the photos of her as a child, a young woman, a mother, then a grandmother, I felt the reality of her absence. Her family is in the deep grief now, and it is painful. We long for our absent loved ones. We cannot have them back.
I also gave the eulogy at the service for my beloved English teacher, Bobby George Rowell. I have written about him before in another blog post. Thankfully, his wife requested a eulogy in the form of an elegaic poem, and although I didn’t make it through without tears, I was honored to offer it for the man who introduced me to so much poetry when I was just sixteen years old. More about that in a future post.
Back to Barthes. His philosophical treatise about photography brings out what we all know without articulation: every photograph brings about “the return of the dead.” That is to say, what was happening at the time of the photograph, is not happening in the present moment. It calls to mind the fact of death: the death of the person in the photograph, perhaps, but always the death of that moment in which the photograph was taken.
I do not see an escape from this element of mourning that occurs each time I look at photographs. As Barthes points out, it is “Sisyphean labor”: we try to capture the essence of the person, the day, the memory, “straining toward the essence,” and we inevitably confront its absence, so we begin again with the same effort. Because the photo is not the real thing, the real moment or person, we cannot ever capture the essence we seek. The photograph “carries its referent with itself,” giving it a kind of “funereal immobility.”
Enough for today. I end with two things. From Martin Luther’s expositon of John 16:23, written in 1537: “By our prayer we seek and find what we are to receive.” And O’Connor’s prayer: Oh Lord . . . make me a mystic, immediately.”
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (Hill and Wang), 1980. O’Connor, Flannery, A Prayer Journal. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013. Lutheran Book of Prayer. Concordia Publishing House, Revised Edition, 2005.
The long intermission from my blog due to sickness (first mine, then my husband’s), was followed by a medical crisis for my father-in-law, which resulted in surgery for a pacemaker. Now that he is stable and in the aftermath, we are visiting my mom and my bonus dad (“stepfather”) in Washington, and the trip up on the train was a magical transition. I love riding the Coast Starlight (Photo from Amtrak website).I had just received a notice from Glimmer Train Press that my story, “Thirteen Memories,” received honorable mention in their MAR/APR 2016 Very Short Fiction Contest. Since Glimmer Train is one of my favorite literary journals, I am overjoyed. Here is the link, if you want to affirm my claim (Logo Photo from Glimmer Train Site): Honorable Mentions.
Train rides provide some quality contemplation time (if you get a sleeper), and I often seem to get some writing done on the trip up here, a two-day and one night excursion. I like the freedom the train provides as opposed to the responsibilities of driving. And I love train stations. Our first stop was the Metrolink Station in Upland where we had an early morning cup of coffee on our way to Union Station, a favorite spot. We were the only people there at first, but were eventually joined by two other passengers.
At Union Station, I indulged, buying a small bag of warm pretzels to go with a second cup of coffee. Since we had a sleeper car, we waited in the main lobby for a time but then removed to the special area where we would be transported by cart with our luggage to the train. Here is my husband, making sure his dad is doing well.Once settled on the train and when we were north of Los Angeles, we began to relax more than we had in a couple of weeks (hospital trips, errands, doctor calls). I became aware that the views from the sleeper car and the Pacific Parlour Car were offering me a sweep of moods. While I love the Central Coast of California, parts of it are hauntingly melancholy and lonely. I went from aching sadness to exuberant glee over and over again, depending on the view. The glimpses of the Pacific Ocean were the most valued moments, the pleasures afforded to the eyes and the soul.Once here with other family members in much cooler weather, we are noticing the moods of this area. Joyful, just energetic enough, beautiful, peaceful. Here is a photo of lovely downtown Gig Harbor, Washington.Our morning walk took us to the charming downtown area and the harbor.I also got a few rejections, but in the mix, an acceptance for a poem I was hoping an editor would like. And the two driving poems have now appeared in Vending Machine Press. (For some reason, the link doesn’t show up when I preview this entry, so here it is if you want to cut and paste it: https://vendingmachinepress.com/2016/05/29/two-poems-by-carla-mcgill/). If interested, you can listen to me read them by clicking on the link. I have about a dozen or so driving poems, and one day perhaps they can be included in a collection. For now, I’m glad they have found a home. I am also having some wonderful time with my amazing mother, also a writer and an genealogy aficionado. My bonus dad is always entertaining, and he and my husband love hanging out together.
Here’s to family, poetry, glimmers from the train, Glimmer Train, and of course, blog readers. Ciao!
My friend, Luanne, over at WriterSite has inspired me by writing what she calls a “catchall” post. That’s what this one is. Thanks Luanne!
I’m recovering from what felt like an unusually long sickness, so I’ve had lots of time to think about this and that. Since it is Memorial Day weekend, I am recalling so many of my uncles who fought in WWII, as well as my father, who was in the Coast Guard. My uncle Reuben Peterson was a corporal in the paratroops. Uncle Carlo Peterson, an army veteran, had been on the front lines in Germany. Uncle Art Peterson was a Marine, and Uncle Arvo Peterson was in the Navy. My Uncle Dwight Henderson also served in the Marines. They are all gone now, and their stories with them, aside from the ones we have heard and remembered. My mom is writing a memoir about her life as the youngest of a large family who had all four oldest brothers in the war at the same time. My dad has been gone for almost seven years. I miss him and my uncles and aunts, now gone.
My doctor’s office has a nice view, one I have seen three times in recent weeks while trying to kick a persistent sickness as well as my first ever case of conjunctivitis, which he tells me was provoked by the sickness. After two rounds of antibiotics, some eye drops, and a few other home remedies, I am finally emerging from what has felt like a dark and lonely place. Thankfully, my husband has completed his academic year and has been home to keep things going. I feel as if I have been in a strong current, I told him, and your hand gripping mine has been keeping me from being swept away. Before I got sick, I was having a great time. We went to Disneyland for the launch of a project that my brother has been working on, an android creation named Jake.
Joel, my creative electrical-engineer brother, is an Imagineer in the Research and Development Department at Disney, and it was a thrill to see what he has been working on during his first year there. Jake emerged for view in the Star Wars Cantina area in Tomorrowland. He is quite adorable. Joel was there to observe the crowd and their reaction. The children followed Jake from place to place and seemed to understand that he was “scanning” things when his lights and the lights in the wall would blink.We spent the entire day there, seeing both parks and then having dinner followed by the World of Color fountain show in the California Adventure area. That was all before the fall. I also got to see my dear Aunt Betty, my late father’s only remaining sibling. It may have been a bad or a good thing that I watched so many murder mysteries on Acorn TV while I was recovering. Saw every episode of Poirot, Miss Marple, and Midsomer Murders. Also Vera, Blue Murder, and a few more. How many accents are there in the UK anyway? Love the countryside vistas and the quaint looking pubs. Have been to a few while in London and Oxford and look forward to going again.
Also before the fall, I went to a meeting to plan our upcoming 2017 high school reunion with some friends. Such a fun group, some of them friends since middle school, or what we then called junior high school.Then came the maelstrom. Sore throat, cough, congestion, doctor visits, Kleenex, eye drops, aspirin, Theraflu, antibiotics. I did enjoy the hot tea, hot soup, and murder mysteries. After getting well, we ordered my father-in-law a new chair to help him get up and down (he is ninety and has a sore back). So far, I think he likes it.Also got to see my pal and sister-in-law, Kitty, which always cheers me up.No writing to speak of during the sickness, but I did manage to get some poems sent out. Got about a dozen rejections this month, but I’m still smiling from the recently published poem by Caveat Lector, and you can listen to me reading it by clicking on the link. Two new poems, also with audio, also appear in the new issue of Vending Machine Press.
So things are looking up. Hope to hear news of your “catchall” experiences. Feel free to post them here!
Patriot Ace McGill
July 22, 2001 – October 22, 2015
We found you,
a white flame in the forest,
white hot and snow white,
fur like cream, like pearls,
like the luster of the great open,
like a wide heaven.
You were a shine, a gleam,
a luminous glow,
on this spinning planet,
a lyrical greeter at the end of the day,
the composure of the night.
Your own end,
your own last day,
was like the remaining lonely cloud,
disappearing beyond the twilight horizon.
We all think about suffering, and we have all suffered, are suffering, or will suffer to some degree, but leave it to Joseph Bentz to investigate the upside of pain, loss, and adversity. A professor of English at Azusa Pacific University, Bentz is also a novelist and writer of books related to the Christian experience. His latest book, Nothing is Wasted: How God Redeems What is Broken (Beacon Hill Press in Kansas City, 2016) explores the idea that redemptive elements are all around us and are even within the worst circumstances.
I was in a prayer group with Joe for a few years (the group is still running, but I have not attended in a long time), along with a few other professors in the Azusa Pacific University community, and I found him to be encouraging and persuasive. The group was formed to encourage one another for creative projects and endeavors, and to pray for one another as the struggles ensued. My husband and I plan to return to this remarkable group when more time has opened up for us, but I can say here that it is made up of gentle, uplifting individuals who are humble, productive, and inspirational. They have certainly known disappointments, struggles, and suffering, but they quietly persist in their efforts, their faith, and their kindness.
Joseph Bentz has written ten books, including five novels and five books related to Christian life. We met last week at Starbucks near the campus so that I could interview him about Nothing is Wasted.
Joe does not hesitate to confront the most difficult issues that Christians face, and yet his personal demeanor is calm, thoughtful, and gentle. Not opinionated, he nonetheless has some resolute ideas about our walk with God, our awareness of the overall context of our faith in Christ, and our choices as believers in the God of redemption and hope. His books include subjects that some of us prefer to avoid: God’s silence when we want him to speak to us (Silent God), the delay we experience when waiting for God to act, (When God Takes Too Long), and now the reality of suffering and God’s redemptive “song” in the midst of our troubles in Nothing is Wasted.
I was eager to ask him a few questions after I finished the book. A believer in Christ, I have nonetheless had a crisis of faith more than once, during a prolonged period of chronic pain due to a car accident neck injury, a series of disappointments, and cataclysmic church issues that threatened to derail my faith.
Me: When did you start writing this book, and what inspired it?
Joe: I started the book in 2013 and finished it in 2015. I was interested in the ways that “redemption” was scattered in unexpected places. I met many people at writers’ conferences who had suffered great pain and who were writing about their experiences. I met a woman at one of the conferences who had been hit by a car, and yet she talked about it as a life-changing, positive experience. I wondered what the perspective of others was about the painful things that had happened to them.
Me: What kind of research did you do for the book?
Joe: I read articles and books written by people who had experienced painful events, and I also spent time with others that I met who had suffered great losses. They gave me permission to tell their stories, as they wanted them to be told. They also wanted to help others who might be experiencing the same thing.
Me: It almost seems as if you are writing in response to St. John of the Cross and the Dark Night of the Soul.
Joe: That would be more prominent in Silent God and the issues I write about in that book. For this book, I had observed that many writers had dealt with great emotional pain and difficult circumstances, and I wanted to find out how it affected them. Were they bitter? Did they blame God? How did they deal with the effects of the tragedy or difficulty?
Me: I have struggled with the idea of what we can expect from God. Will he protect us? Does he prevent some tragedies? What can we look for in our ongoing walk as people of faith?
Joe: We can look for hints, echoes, and traces of redemption. Somehow, God will bring good out of the pain, both for ourselves and for others. The pain of our losses may never subside, and yet we can observe that good comes out of them in a variety of ways.
It is a theme song in the universe, according to Bentz. We are in a world of tragedy, disasters, and death, and yet despite the nature of the world, we will find the traces of redemption eventually, if we are open to them. We don’t have to find them, says Bentz. We can ignore them, succumb to bitterness and anger, abandon our faith. Or, we can celebrate the echoes, hints, and traces of good that we find, even in the worst of situations.
It might be tempting to enlarge upon the severity of the suffering that see in the world, and yet Joe Bentz can provide both a presence and an argument that challenges us to look beyond the suffering to God’s redemptive plan, which eventually culminates in eternity with him, although we have little knowledge about what that will look like.
This book is an invitation to see the best instead of the worst, a call to look up into heaven instead of down into the circumstances, and it is also a subtle, yet persuasive, call to redemption as well as a full-on confrontation with the worst that can happen. Here’s to Joseph Bentz for looking into the darkness and finding flashes of light.
The day has been meditative, quiet, and productive. The study seems like a living presence to me right now, and I have enjoyed the view, watching the birds come and go, the leaves swirl and tumble, the sky change. After last’s week line up of events and tasks, driving here and there, seeing many people, battling disorder with papers and files, this week begins in silence, reading, and thinking. The weather, though, was a background spectacle. First, sunshine and clear skies. Then clouds collected to the north by the mountains, became dark. Chilly gusts of wind swept the leaves around on the patio now and then, ushering in a moderate rain for about fifteen minutes. After that, a rainbow, faint on one half of the arc, brighter on the other. Sharp rays coming through the darkening skies onto the ornamental pear trees, and then clear skies above the mountains just before twilight. I had a lot to do, so I settled into a comfortable pace. First task: open emails. Two rejections, one acceptance. Wait a minute. Really? Two poems out of four sent, and a request for recordings of both of them. Happy surprise! That called for a cup of hot tea with milk. Second task: send out more poems. That took almost all day. Each journal seems to want different things: no name on page, all information on first page, information on separate page, line count, word count, no bio, short first person bio, third person bio. It took some time to create all of the necessary documents, but I love working on that kind of a project. All the while surrounded by books. My eyes landed on a recent highly-valued gift from my amazing stepfather, Eric Peavy (we both hate the terms “stepdaughter” and “stepfather” but haven’t found replacement words yet). An artist and all around interesting person, he at one time illustrated an old copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that he had bought at a yard sale, and then hand-bound it. He first recited this passage to me when I was just sixteen years old:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it. (verse LXXI)I also spotted a book of poems by Larry Kramer, a mentor and teacher I had so many years ago, a lover of thrift-store browsing where “the things of the dead/for pennies are given away” (“Junk Store” p. 20). He is gone now, but I can hear his strong voice, almost frightening in its resonance, as soon as I open the book, called Brilliant Windows. On my desk, another highly prized gift from my friend, Stephanie, a strong supporter and encourager, the Fisher Space Pen. I love it.
The study is full of wonderful things, and I end the day feeling grateful for books, pens, poetry editors, art, friends, guides, and counselors. What is it like to spend a day in your study?
Time to sleep now.
Kramer, Larry. “Junk Yard” in Brilliant Windows. 1998: Miami University Press.
Fitzgerald, Edward, translator. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. New York: Books, Inc.
After seeing Dana Gioia last Monday evening at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, I was pleased that I had not decided to stay home and clean the surfaces (see earlier post, Poetry and a Clean Surface).
Now that I think of it, the week presented several enriching moments, both trivial and significant. We had been at the Bonaventure in Los Angeles during the rain, which provided some wonderful moments, if you are someone who loves watching the weather change. It is always an uplift to be with the impressive and active teachers in the CTA organization (I am just a tag-along with my husband, but I get inspired when I hear some of them talk about their approaches to education — yay, teachers!).
The next day, after making no progress with my filing and paperwork at home, we headed for Pasadena. We had parked the car in a structure near the auditorium and then went in search of a restaurant. Because it was the first one we saw, we went into the Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts restaurant, Technique, on Colorado Boulevard. It was one of those magical nights when delightful surprises appear, unsolicited. We loved the minimalism of the decor, our warm-hearted waitress, a Brazilian student at the school, and the incredible and reasonably priced meal (I had the coq au vin, my husband had steak). We were a few minutes late to the event, and I blame the waitress who gave us a little extra wine, since it was so near the end of the bottle. We got our seats at the back of the auditorium, and though we didn’t have the best view as you can tell from the photo I took, Dana Gioia was a most engaging and spirited speaker.
I had seen his name for years on many of the anthologies I used while teaching American literature and Introduction to Literature courses, and even then I was amazed at how many he had edited (for just a few of them, see anthologies). He has also written books of poetry, was the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts for several years, and now he is the California Poet Laureate, appointed by Governor Brown in December.
The term “laureate” comes from the use of the bay laurel leaf, which was used to make a wreath or a crown for the winner of a competition, and though the tradition of having a national poet laureate dates back to the 14th century when Chaucer was given the designation along with (and you can apprehend my secondary theme here) an annual wine allowance (see citation below for Poets Laureate: A Brief History).
The responsibilities of the office include public readings in various state locations as well as a major cultural project. Gioia had already instituted a major poetry program as the NEA Chairman called Poetry Out Loud. In that program, managed by the California Arts Council, students learn poetry, recite it, and compete for prizes.
Gioia’s comments about art and poetry were impassioned and persuasive. He believes that we can change culture by using our gifts, especially our gift of language. You can “help create the society you want to live in,” he said; “Our gifts can change the world.” Art has the “power to awaken us to our own humanity,” he said. Poetry, he pointed out, plays an important role in education as it “educates our emotions.” He wants the vocabularies of students to grow, not diminish into being mainly comprised of trademarks and brand names. Poets show us more about the “subtleties of our existence.” Speaking to a Christian audience at Fuller Seminary, he mentioned sermon literature, the parables and poetry of the Bible, and the importance of having language skills with which to express one’s beliefs, joys, suffering, and experiences.
In 1991, his article, “Can Poetry Matter?” in the Atlantic Monthly became the locus of ongoing discussions about the value of poetry in culture. A lot has happened since then, including success with his other program, “Operation Homecoming,” a series of workshops in writing for returning soldiers. He certainly lives what he believes, and we are so fortunate that he is our state’s poet laureate.A man of many accomplishments, he is worthy of a book just about his own efforts to brighten up our world with his insights, writing, and influence. He mentioned the famous lines from the Keats poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty . . . .” We should work in the cause of truth, he said, and then followed it up with “I believe in beauty.” So here’s to truth, beauty, and also wine, the poet’s nectar. Speaking of wine, here is a photo my brother sent me of the winery known for making the best wine in the world, the Domaine Romanée-Conti in France.