Archive for March, 2013

Kenosis and Liberation

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

For Pesach and Holy Week, an older poem of mine, engaging the great festivals in a slantwise way:

Francis and the Leper
(for Richard Rohr)

They both stank (it was not
a time obsessed with odorlessness).
Doubtless both were frightened:
the God-besotted penitent

embracing what he most loathed,
his rotting confessor shrinking
from unaccustomed intimacy,
which could only bring new shame.

Afterward, the leper vanished,
his role over, the news delivered.
I, though, still see him incarnately
embraced, midwife to a saint’s

liberation. So, my body tells me,
Francis sees, too; the first wounds
of crucifixion invisibly gracing him
in that awkward kiss. I wonder,

did the merchant’s son,
drawing back at last, gaze
astonished at the fading shimmer
where his parting lips had pressed

beneath those startled, milky eyes
and honey-crusted sores?
Was it there he discovered
an escape from long captivity,

scanned the unfurling
wilderness of his wandering,
and glimpsed, as from a mountain,
the perilous land of promise?

Beauty and Suffering

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

I learned today, via the UK’s Telegraph, that I share with newly-elected Pope Francis a favorite painting: Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion. We also share an appreciation for the film, Babette’s Feast, his favorite, though I’d place Gabriel Axel’s masterpiece just behind Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and Roland Joffe’s The Mission in my personal cinema trifecta. All of them stand at the intersection of beauty and suffering, and while Babette’s suffering – and that of her two patronesses – may be subtler than others, we nevertheless feel it through the medium of art.

Pope Francis and I may find meaning in these works for very different reasons, I don’t know. Perhaps one day, after the fuss, scrutiny, demands, and accusations now directed his way grow routine, if not necessarily manageable, he’ll share some thoughts on art and film. I, for one, am interested in the aesthetics of this highly educated son of an immigrant railway worker, a bishop from the global South who cast aside trappings of power for simplicity and solidarity with the poor. (more…)

An experiment in accountability

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Consider this website an experiment. If it keeps me accountable to the work, it will have been successful. If it merely calls attention to me, it’s an exercise in vanity. It’s the work that counts.

The work is writing. It’s bracing to tell people, “I’m a writer,” not merely someone who wants to have written. It makes public a practice done largely in private. It’s a commitment to let go of one’s babies before they’re perfect, which they were never going to be anyway. Like exchanging marriage vows before witnesses, it entrusts friends with the task of holding you to your word through dry spells and trying times. It surrenders the narcotizing reassurance that, if you fail to write, no one but you will notice.

I make writing harder than it needs to be, another way in which writing is like marriage. But like marriage, its makes no sense without love.


Good news

Friday, March 1st, 2013

My wife, Jill, will tell you that I keep my successes to myself and downplay them when made public. It’s another vanity, a fantasy about being discovered without appearing to peddle my wares, a refusal to share the small victories of a life. It’s a habit I should lose, however queasy it makes me feel.

My first poetry collection is tentatively accepted for publication, pending some edits and the addition of several illustrations by my brother, John Volck. Those of you in the writing business know how much can go wrong between an editor’s “yes” and the physical reality of a book in the hand, but this is good news worth sharing. Some of the poems are more than ten years old, others quite recent. Most have been tinkered with longer than necessary. It’s time to let them go.

The working title is Flesh Becomes Word. I’ll say more as things progress. In the meantime, do yourself and a small press like Cincinnati’s Dos Madres a favor: buy some poetry. Your life can do with a little more beauty.