November 27, 2011

Students had to read MARY'S HOUSE, do a paper on it. (Doesn't shame me--anything I have to teach them is in that.) And there are always nice revelations when I do that: the good--what the poetry does, but also the complacency in some of the poems (though I'd hoped I'd gotten that out). No deal. In any case, I ask for help and will try to correct that as Debra Murphy (the editor and I) work through the next edition.

But what's weird here, too, is how Catholics always seem upset if their poets aren't saints. (I always get that vibe. . . . Priest, too, sometimes, early on, object that anyone else would preach the Gospel; though they get over that soon enough, delight in the fact.) It's why so many are suspicious of Merton. He wasn't a saint. No sh-t, Sherlock, as they used to say. But he's wonderful. Flat out. It's weird though, that expectation. Who weirds out if a priest isn't a saint? Or a plumber?

November 17, 2011

We finished reading John Hodgen, the last 8 poems in GRACE. Very funny, excellent stuff, though we noted in class that the last poem about slaves had perhaps the small undercurrent of New England moral superiority that only manumission can give them (at least until the great liberal abortionist--which made him an honorary New Englander--, Bill Clinton, declared his war on cigarettes).

It was a fine poem, and finally I don't think it fails on any level. I loved Hodgen's work very much, heartily recommend it. However, the Holy Spirit works in strange ways--because the next book we picked up was Levertov's THIS GREAT UNKNOWING. There the moral high ground routine reaches fitting proportions. (Great Northwest version . . . The Holy Spirit, It would have us know, swings with ease from coast to coast, from one false high ground to the next.)

But before that let me say that I found the poem "Patience" a work of genius. Brilliant use of metaphor, stunning, surprising, and deep as the earth itself. But the first seven poems fail for the same reason that her poem about hand-holding around a nuclear power plant in an earlier volume fails: a real lack of humility. Gnosis rules here: those who know just a little better, those who can only be so because of their large and very generous green hearts. Now I love plants as much as anyone; heck I used to talk to trees as a kid. But they are not as valuable as people. They cannot think or love. Her perspective made me grieve. She is a brilliant poet, but a fool.

Are we all fools? Yes, and that's largely the point. Jesus alone is good, is God; we cannot claim any higher ground. We can only claim Him, what He has given, who He is. Hodgen doesn't fall into that trap in GRACE, at least as far as I can remember. (And I think he's a pretty liberal guy--don't know him.)


We were reading Frost this morning in my Poetic Forms class. (The above were in Contemporary Christian Poetry.) And boy, is he a great poet. Such a wit, a comedian, but darker too. He can turn on a dime as far as tone goes, and you don't mind because you so trust the voice. (You go, man.) A master, no question. In "Birches" he break in with obtrusive metaphor, colloquial asides, metaphysical concerns, meta-poetry, absolutely stunning imagery, and yet the thing has such unity, that comic mastery.

Poetry! A place where you can breathe.

November 14, 2011

We've been reading Murray's BIPLANE HOUSES: a disapointment. He's writing poems because he's a poet, and this is what they do. To fill a book, to make some dough, to satisfy readers. It's a great question, how much poetry is too much? How much should an older poet write? (CONSCIOUS AND VERBAL was very powerful.)

We've been supplementing with John Hodgen's GRACE, a fun, good read.

On the brighter side, we had Mark Adderley and Elisabeth Kramp read this weak. Both were hugely attended. I've known Elisabeth for awhile, so I knew it would be great, a fine evening. And it was. But Mark knocked me over too. His heroic epic prose is like a clear mountain stream--an apt metaphor because he teaches at Wyoming Catholic. But it was fun too, because he's a real scholar, and I love the OE and ME periods. (Nice to get him to ramble there!) Anyone who did a diss on PIERS PLOWMAN has to be good, no?

Unpretentious, affable--those are the words that come to mind. Plus he was kind enough to introduce me to some of his home brew: Newcastle Nut Brown Ale.

Anyone who did a diss on PIERS PLOWMAN has to be good, no? . . . And it was great to see so many students there, with so much enthusiasm, good questions.

Thanks to both, their writing comes highly recommended.

November 7, 2011

Lots of fun doing Contemporary Christian poetry again. We loved them all Merton, Berrigan, Karr, Wright, Gioia, and now Murray, plus some side paths. Merton always hits for me, except maybe his very young stuff when the bad guy was out there somewhere. He's always got this huge infusion of monastery grace in the background, or so it seems. Loves Jesus, Mary, the Eucharist, the Church. What's not to like Berrigan was great, a Jesuit, much more of the world than Merton--a little denser. He only teeters a bit when he enters his hippy phase. Then it's he and his boys against the man.

Karr and Wright are a lot alike. Both gritty scrapers of the bottom, where the residue is pure. You can't argue with the voice because of that (usually), and so they are great truth-speakers, though Franz is always alone while Karr is after at least some sense of community. Both great reads.

Gioia is always Gatsby for me, though his bitterness is pure in INTERROGATIONS. Some poems seems to work a little better than others, but he's great. We start Murray today. He's got the gravel guts going too, though I miss more than I might were I to know more about his homeland. (Tennis: Rod Lavar, Newcombe; Australian rules football. . . . Did get to go to Sydney once, though.)

Mariani, Hodgen, Levertov coming up. Will try to sneak in Daniels, Everson, Sasanov, others--though the days dwindle. . .