Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Against (bad) theory

Monday, August 22nd, 2022

I don’t like literary theorists that take their thoughts more seriously than the integrity of the work under examination. Making a text dance to whatever tune you impose belongs among the Forbidden Curses. I remember some time ago telling Robert Coles I was considering dumping medicine and getting a PhD in literature. His apt response was decisive: “But I thought you LIKED books!”

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A Poem by Scott Cairns

Friday, August 6th, 2021

A poem for the Feast of the Transfiguration

As We See

“The transfiguration of our Lord, that is the radiance
in which he was bathed at the pinnacle of Mount Tabor
did not manifest a change in him, but a change
in those who saw him.”
-Isaac the Least

Suppose the Holy One Whose Face We Seek
is not so much invisible as we
are ill-equipped to apprehend His grave
proximity. Suppose our fixed attention
serves mostly to make evident the gap
dividing what is seen and what is here.

The Book there on the stand proves arduous
to open, entombed as it is in layers
of accretion, layers of gloss applied
to varied purposes, hardly any of them
laudable, so many, guarded ploys
to keep the terms quite still, predictable.

Which is why I’m drawn to — why I love — the way
the rabbis teach. I love the way they read —
opening The Book with reverence for what
they’ve found before, joy for what lies waiting.
I love the Word’s ability to rise again
from chronic homiletic burial.

Say the One is not so hidden as we
are kept by our own conjuncture blinking,
puzzled, leaning in without result. Let’s say
the meek, the poor, the merciful all
suspect his hand despite the evidence.
as for those rarest folk, the pure in heart?
Intent on what they touch, they see Him now.

-Scott Cairns

Hear the poem read by the author here.

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…)