Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Indelibly Marked

Thursday, May 28th, 2020

In which I review three poets writing in the Catholic vein.

Photo Credit: Luis Sánchez Saturno, The New Mexican

Science, Poetry, and the Imagination

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

In light of necessary COVID restrictions, the Glen Workshop, an annual gathering of writers, visual artists, musicians, and anyone interested in what happens at the intersection of art, faith, and mystery, will be held online this year (July 27-31) rather than on the campus of St. John’s College in Santa Fe. I’m delighted to be among the presenters this year, a faculty that includes some jaw-dropping names, who will also be presenting on IMAGE journal’s free Summer Stage series which begins next week .

I’m leading a seminar on science, poetry, and the imagination. In addition to reading and discussing some great poems and short prose pieces, we will be joined online by several distinguished guests from North America and the United Kingdom. Registration includes online access to the seminar, faculty presentations, and open microphone sessions. Registration fees have been reduced and scholarships are available. (The scholarship application deadline is June 1.) I’d love to have you join the conversation.

What Hasn’t Changed

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

Last month, in a post on gun violence and the growing understanding of Robert Kennedy, I mentioned the 1963 meeting between Kennedy, James Baldwin, and other civil rights leaders that went disastrously awry. The consequences of that gathering proved varied and contradictory. Then Attorney General Kennedy quickly instructed FBI Director J Edgar Hoover to increase surveillance on Baldwin to uncover information of “a derogatory nature.” On the other hand, it marked a turn in Kennedy’s evolving attitude regarding racial justice. Within a month, President John F Kennedy – at his brother’s urging – delivered his landmark Civil Right Address, from which the 1964 Civil Rights Act took form.

Another product of that evening, at once more immediate and less procedural, was a video recording of an interview Kenneth Clark conducted with Baldwin. In an attempt to ease Baldwin’s palpable post-meeting tension, Clark started by asking the writer about his childhood memories. What followed was an emotionally powerful and stunningly eloquent exploration of the American soul that only someone with Baldwin’s experience and verbal gifts could pull off. Clothing his indictment in his characteristic – if undeserved – compassion toward white Americans, he says, “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive,” and ties the future of America to whether or not its people can “face, and deal with, and embrace this stranger whom they’ve maligned so long.” He then challenges White America “to find in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a n—-r in the first place, because I’m not a n—-r. I’m a man. But if you think I’m a n—-r, it means you need it…And if you invented him, you have to find out why.” (more…)

On writing in a post-truth world

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

Some thoughts from those wiser than I: (more…)

The Fig

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

 

Here’s a recording of me reading from my 2013 poetry collection, Flesh Becomes Word, published by Dos Madres Press.

The accompanying image is shared here courtesy of John Volck, who happens to be my brother and a visual artist of breathtaking ability.

The Fig

My lover fills all things with love’s perfume,
but I, distracted, lose the scent in names:
words without sense, vacant experience. (more…)

Caring for Words, IV: Politics

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

The power of language can be directed toward many ends. One of these ends is yet another form of power: political control. In egregious cases, language is openly manipulated, degraded, and deformed. Politically-motivated language distortion, however, is rarely so transparent. More often, ugly realities are carefully obscured through strategic abstraction, while the indefensible is excused with distracting rhetorical flourishes. Many who’ve seen combat know all too well what the mind must do to rationalize killing another person. How often do we read or hear of lifelong racists who maintain cordial relations with one or two individuals of color? Political operatives can tell you how a well-chosen label frames an issue to their advantage. These sicken language in indirect and subtle ways, less likely to provoke resistance. Here’s the rub: the critical skills necessary for the “informed citizen” to tell rhetoric from reality depend on the language’s robust health. (more…)

Caring for Words, III: Worse than a Lie?

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

To call contemporary political discourse “a culture of lies” may be giving politicians, promoters, and pundits too much credit. When words, whether by choice or convention, are detached from shared experience or verifiable reality, speech devolves into amusing games and struggles for power. Wisdom yields to sophistry, knowledge to opinion, arguments prefer ad hominem to evidence. In this environment, to knowingly lie becomes, in a strange, inverted way, a moral achievement. (more…)

Caring for Words, II: Quantum Uncertainty

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

Words, like quantum particles, will not be pinned down. However meticulously you fix them in the arc of a sentence, they quiver and jump the moment you turn away. They’re fickle and unruly even when you care what – and how – they mean. It’s this quantum uncertainty that makes metaphor at once surprising and fitting, as long as one maintains, in the words of Wendell Berry, “…a humorous intelligence, always mindful of the exact limits in within which the comparison is meaningful.”[1] Those who imagine they can make a word mean whatever they choose, thinking it will caper to a tune like a trained monkey, are wounding the language and undermining their audience’s trust. However strange it may seem, for some that’s precisely the goal. (more…)

My Life With Dogs

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

                                                                                                                           

I read the following post at the Glen Workshop, on August 1, 2017. The essay originally appeared in the Good Letters blog associated with IMAGE magazine in June, 2010, under the title, “The Mutt and Me.”  “Jaeger,” the dog mentioned below, died unexpectedly in February of this year. He has been succeeded by “Samson,” (see photo) yet another mutt, who is slowly learning to curb his puppy energy and mischief, but my wife and I still miss the big galoot who preceded him. 

Humanity is readily divisible into two groups: those who divide humanity into groups and those who don’t. The wise—even those among the dividers—learn to hold their tongue among the former. More than matters of taste, the position one takes in intractable arguments reveals something of one’s interior life. Realist or Nominalist, PC or Mac, Whitman or Dickinson—such disputations are endless, fascinating, and deeply personal.

When it comes to the debate over cats and dogs, some humans fight like…humans. Many of us living in our planet’s rich and leisurely North have some stake in the matter, preferring one or the other species, though some don’t care, some can’t abide either, and others truly love both.

Here’s my confession: I’m a dog person. (more…)

Here Comes Everybody

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

“And here comes everybody-
The closet renegades
The weary, hungry soldiers
From the children’s lost crusade
Here comes the restitution
We’d all but given up
This evening we’re content believing
That love will be enough”

  • Joe Henry, “Love is Enough”

 

I can’t say whether James Joyce had, as some people claim, the Catholic Church in mind when he spun the phrase, “Here Comes Everybody,’’ in Finnegan’s Wake. You’d have to ask Joe Henry what he meant when he used it in a song on his luminous CD, Civilians. I know this – it gets to the heart of last weekend’s conference at Notre Dame: “Trying to Say ‘God’: Re-enchanting the Catholic Literary Imagination.” Latino bishops and queer poets, Jesuit astronomers and everyday mystics, recovering alcoholics and college deans, all gathered in auditoriums, classrooms, and hallways, their conversations pulsing with creativity and generosity. Oh, yes – and love, too – the kind that changes lives. What better time and place to out yourself as a wretched Papist in a world that insists you keep such things to yourself.

 

Thanks upon thanks to Jessica Mesman Griffith, Jonathan Ryan, and Ken Garcia for planning and pulling off a first-time, unqualified success of a conference.

 

Some personal highlights:

 

Talking to Brother Guy Conosolmago, Director of the Vatican Observatory, about “big-idea” science fiction and the unaccountable explanatory power of mathematics in a mysterious universe. (more…)