About Peggy Rosenthal

Peggy Rosenthal is director of Poetry Retreats and writes widely on poetry as a spiritual resource. Her books include Praying through Poetry: Hope for Violent Times (Franciscan Media), and The Poets’ Jesus (Oxford). See Amazon for full list. She also teaches an online course, “Poetry as a Spiritual Practice,” through Image’s Glen Online program.

Heisenberg and the A-Bomb: Just Say No

I read through the article breathlessly, astonished at the moral implications of what I was learning. When I got to the end, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, trying to begin to take in the import of what I’d just read.

The article was “The Private Heisenberg and the Absent Bomb,” by Thomas Powers, in the December 22, 2016 issue of The New York Review of Books. I’d been drawn to the article because, during the 1980s, I’d studied and written about the development of the atomic bomb in the U.S. during World War II and the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union which followed the war.

The U.S. wartime project to develop an atomic bomb, supported by Britain and Canada, was named the Manhattan Project. Its Scientific Director at New Mexico’s Los Alamos Laboratory was physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The U.S. Army, intensely eager to create an atomic bomb before the Germans did, allocated immense resources of money and manpower to the project. [Read more…]

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Our Rumbling Nation 

This is an age of the world when nations are trembling and convulsed. A mighty influence is abroad, surging and heaving the world, as with an earthquake. And is America safe? Every nation that carries in its bosom great and un-redressed injustice has in it the elements of this last convulsion.

As I was reading these lines from the final page of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I couldn’t help thinking of the current rumbling earthquake in our country. Though not yet with physical violence—or not much so far—we seem to be experiencing a sort of civil war.

Or, more accurately, an uncivil war.

This isn’t why I pulled Uncle Tom’s Cabin off my shelf and began re-reading the yellowed pages of my 1981 paperback edition. I’ve been interrogating the hundreds of books on my shelves: am I going to read you again, or am I going to throw you out, or pass you on to my church’s second-hand sale?

I hadn’t read Stowe’s 1852 masterpiece for decades, so figured it was time to give it another try. Though sometimes sentimental or melodramatic, it does hold up: it paints a multi-faceted picture of the various forms of evil that the institution of slavery took.

It’s commonplace (though true) to say that our country is still living with the after-shocks of this evil.  How many of the people who voted for Donald Trump did so in the spirit of backlash of having to live for eight years under a Black president? Of course, people’s motivations for voting are too complex to single out one factor.

Yet in campaigning, Trump did play the racist card. And so far, as President, he has slapped much of the deck onto the table: Mexicans, Muslims with non-European ethnicity, Native Americans who are resisting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. [Read more…]

John Slater’s Lean

dying branch with tiny yellow leaves laid across a white table cloth in the afternoon.What is poetry, anyway? I found myself musing about this as I sat with John Slater’s stimulating new collection, Lean.

First I recalled what I’d once heard poet Li Young Lee say at a reading:

In poetry, language is not the only medium; silence is also a medium. This is a difference of poetry from prose. We might even say that, in poetry, the very purpose of the language is to inflect the silences. It’s like after church bells ring: the air resonates with their sound. In poetry, the silences are resonant, from the language that precedes them.

Slater’s poems are as full of silences as of words. First, the poems themselves are—as the book’s title suggests—lean. With one exception, each poem’s lines run from one to four words. So there’s an invited silence at the end of each brief line. Then another, longer reverberating silence: many of the poems present an image, followed by a space with a * in it, followed by another image stanza, then another spaced *… and so on.

Take the whole of the poem “Thaw”:

Freeze
thaw freeze
hollowing
pot-holes in
salty grey-
black asphalt

cracked
seam between
lanes
stitched
by faded
golden broken
line.
[Read more…]

Black Lives, Black Art

sedrick-huckaby-glory-to-glory

Sedrick Huckaby. From Glory to Glory, 2016. Oil on canvas on panel. 80 x 30 inches.

I happened to be re-reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin when the current issue of Image (#90) arrived in the mail. So I was especially interested in Joe Milazzo’s essay on the work of African American artist Sedrick Huckaby.

In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1851 novel, even the kindest and most compassionate white people refer to their slaves as “articles.” The less kind whites simply assume that “n*****s” are “property.” The sale of this property is big business, and “traders” (as they call their profession) separate husbands from wives, children from parents, without any more moral awareness than you’d have in separating perennials in your garden. [Read more…]

Meeting Islam in Interfaith Friendships

dining-table-by-rik-wouters-via-wikimediaIn 1993 my husband George Dardess began visiting our local Islamic Center: first to learn Arabic so that he could read the Qur’an, then cementing friendships with his teacher there and with the imam. So when the events of September 11, 2001 hit, George was in a position to join with members of the Center in presenting programs on Islam to the public.

Our Islamic Center’s brave response to 9/11 was to open itself to the larger community—to invite Christians and others to learn about Islam, to observe the communal prayers, to ask questions. At the programs George, as a Christian, would dialogue with a Muslim on a topic like Jesus in the Qur’an, or Mary in the Qur’an, or the real meaning of jihad.

I accompanied George to the programs, which were often preceded by a potluck dinner, and it’s there that I met my first Muslim friend, Yasmin. [Read more…]