Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Where your treasure is…

Wednesday, June 30th, 2021

It’s been more than fifty years since der Kniefall von Warschau, Willy Brandt’s spontaneous embodiment of German remorse and responsibility for the annihilation of Poland’s Jews. When asked after the event why he knelt, he said, “Unter der Last der jüngsten Geschichte tat ich, was Menschen tun, wenn die Worte versagen. So gedachte ich Millionen Ermordeter.” (“Under the burden of recent history, I did what people do if words fail. That is how I remembered (the) murdered millions.”) Guy Raz recently recalled the moment on a Facebook post, placing it in a contemporary American context. I quote it here in full:

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A World Transfigured

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

A fragment of an unpublished poem on the Solemnity of the Transfiguration:

Wholly Mystery, whom I dare approach,
and in nearing nearly apprehend
not you so much as the gulf between,
suffer these, my poor petitions,
my tepid desires, as a mother
abides her child’s tedious requests
for one more story, a cup of water
to stave the coming of sleep.

Though what I ask is far less dear
than your presence, doubting
as I do what fullness lies beyond
the unmapped oceans of my ignorance,
hear in my halting words the longing
I long to feel more fully, empty
my heart of all that is not you,
open my eyes to a world transfigured.

Image Credit: 15th Century Ikon of the Transfiguration by Theophanes the Greek

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…)