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Poetry Friday: “The Key”

I love this poem for its exuberance. The fat bee, “big as a blackberry,” bumping heavily against the pane. The impossibility of an acorn’s power. The very idea of “infant waterfalls.” Each vivid, particular thing of beauty from the natural world that Friman presents to us bears itself simply and humbly– yet appears remarkable when dressed in Friman’s carefully chosen verbs. There are few poems about happiness that demand my attention in quite this way (Malena Morling’s “Happiness” is one), and I think the secret is in those verbs and images, how they strike against the page like bells. I also love how the quiet, hopeful little word “happy” is tucked away in the middle of the poem, as if the speaker is a little embarrassed to even mention this desire, so certain that the ability to be happy should just come naturally. Should not even be thought of as an ability, in fact, but ought to be her way of being in the world. “To wake/ each day having to slog through scales.” Is there any better description of what it means to be human? So much a part of the natural world, and altogether something else, too. 

—Melissa Poulin [Read more…]

A Conversation with Van Gessel

By Mary Kenagy Mitchell
Van Gessel has been Shusaku Endo’s primary English translator since the 1970s. He has translated eight of his novels and worked as a consultant on Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Silence. I asked him about the previously untranslated Endo story in Image issue 92, and about what Endo’s work has to say to the West.

Image: Can you tell us a little about the history of the story “Hymn to the Blessed Mother”? How did you first come across it?

Van Gessel: After I translated Endo’s 1980 novel, The Samurai, into English, I was waiting for him to complete his next major novel, which turned out to be Scandal (1986). But I wanted to keep making new translations available to his growing reading public, so I came up with the idea of putting together a collection of his short stories. In consultation with Endo, I drew stories from the 1960s and 1970s, and in one collection of his stories I found this one.

I loved it when I read it, but some of the stories already chosen for translation were similarly framed, with the present echoing the past, so we decided not to include it. But I’ve used the story in some of my Japanese classes for many years, and when Image contacted me about including a yet-untranslated Endo story, I thought immediately of this one, both because it is such a rich story and because one of my students, Aaron Cooley, did a fine translation of it for my class.

Like “Mothers” in the Stained Glass Elegies collection, the story shows Endo questioning the strength of his own religious faith.

Image: Our feeling is that Martin Scorsese’s Silence was an extraordinary film that never quite found its audience here in the US. Do you have any theories about why that was? (And do you know anything about how it’s been received in Japan, if at all?) [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “The Spirit of Promise”

image of an individual in a church looking upwards and maybe taking a photo; her back is to the camera.Memories can make good material for poetry. In “The Spirit of Promise,” Daniel Donaghy is remembering his Catholic childhood in the particular church that he’s now re-visiting. At first the poet’s memories are negative: “my grade-school nuns shaking // their heads at me”; the priest “putting down his Chesterfield / to tell me how many decades // of the rosary I’d need to say.” Then he recalls his parents in church: a softer memory, which however ends in their deaths from smoking. The remainder of the poem turns to his interlocutor, who had asked “what church was.” I love the poet’s multifaceted answer. “Church is a building, // or a service, or a group of Christians.” But then it’s even more: “something / you can give, so I’ll give it here”—and this something is “a blessing.” To think of “church” as a “blessing” is very moving to me. And the blessing given carries out the “Spirit of Promise” of the poem’s title: it’s “a blessing to a young woman / at the start of something or, /  like you, the start of everything.”

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Tweeting my Theology

When I went to seminary, there was concern. Friends whispered. Had I gone rogue? Or worse: been “saved”? Would I suddenly start dropping things like washed in the blood into regular conversation?

Admittedly, the calling to serve the church was sudden and powerful, like lightning. I had always considered myself a Christian, even if I didn’t attend worship. But the closest thing I got to church during those years in North Carolina was dating the daughter of an Assemblies of God pastor. And he didn’t like me.

In the fifteen years that have passed, I’ve grown into the role of theologian. That word—theologian—still isn’t easy to type. To be a theologian sounds laughably grand for a guy like me. That’s the stuff of Tillich and Barth, of thousand page tomes. I write novels about kids who work in grocery stores and talk about professional wrestling.

But if I’ve learned anything it’s this: don’t wrestle the stranger. All you’re going to get is a limp.

So I talk about God online. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Rain”

rain on the window of a car with yellow and purple light from the cars illuminating the droplets.The emotional landscape of motherhood can often be hard to describe and is underrepresented in genres such as poetry. As a poet and mother of a two-year old with a new baby on the way, I appreciated “Rain” by Tara Bray and found it very instructive on several levels. In this candid poem, a “family of flight” rests at a truck stop. The mother, still awake, observes her sleeping husband and daughter and affectionately compares them to birds, husband as “flycatcher, scrub jay, kingfisher” and daughter as “little chickadee.” While the family is placeless and neither here nor there, Bray’s devotional voice both grounds and comforts me. She writes, “There’s only night and rain, husband, babe, sleep, / this black string of small good things.” Amidst uncertainty and the obscurity of a dark, rainy night Bray celebrates her tribe, her “two glimpses / of the afterlife.” She is enlivened, versus saddened, by the sound of the rain and her hope, as well as her honesty, are stirringly contagious.

—Jessica Gigot [Read more…]