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.

Poetry Friday: “Sometimes I Am Permitted”

trainOn my first reading of this poem, I felt disoriented by all the non sequiturs, all the disconnected images leaping here and there. But then I thought: isn’t this how my own attention works (or doesn’t work)? The poem skips in a breath from winter snow to the red line train to the speaker’s sins “of digression.” Later the speaker moves—in the space of a period—from the mirror in which “I cannot recollect / my face” to an artichoke and the spoon to eat it with. At the poem’s end we are back in the train… but then suddenly we’re observing “the glossy Tyvek.” Tyvek on what? We’re not told. The poem seems chaotic, intentionally so. It carefully crafts a vision of the world as wildly scattered pieces. We’re left longing for a grounding beneath it all—the grounding that, for me, would be God. 

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Why We Write

9301874154_2571798618_zWhat is it about words that so moves those of us who are writers? We take the most common of media—language—and can’t resist caressing it, playing with it, taking it apart and putting it together again in some new shape.

Why do I love to write, even need to write? I’ve been pondering this question for decades, in various ways, various words.

Today I’ll start the pondering with some personal history: how I discovered my passion for words.

I was in my early twenties and had just started graduate school in literature—which I chose just because I knew I loved reading. But I’d barely started grad school when my husband got a year’s job in London. So we moved there, and suddenly I had my days free while he went to work. One day I went to the University of London to ask about taking some literature courses there.

Strolling through the University campus, I noticed the library and walked into it—and instantly I felt an excited, giddy sensation. It actually affected my whole body: my heart beat faster, I felt tingly all over, with a rush of energy—as if I’d just gobbled my entire stash of Halloween candies. [Read more…]

Adam Zagajewski’s Trench Warfare

15221101821_df7492d443_z“Writing poems is a duel / that no one wins…” As I’m reading the poem that opens with these words, I think: this could be describing my life.

The poem is called “Writing Poems.” It’s by the superb contemporary Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, in his new collection, Unseen Hand. And in fact, nearly all the poems in this collection could be describing my life—because the “duel” that Zagajewski refers to is between opposites that battle each other, or sometimes balance each other, or sometimes swing back and forth between each other.

This is Zagajewski’s vision not only of writing poems but of living life. And it’s my own experience of living.

My husband has ongoing and seemingly interminable heart disease dis-ease, yet he delights in a phone call from our son and laughs heartily (hmmm, interesting pun) during a friend’s visit. His days are like Zagajewski’s poem-writing: [Read more…]

“Translation Back into Native Tongues” by Nicholas Samaras

fire - Poetry FridayThere’s a sub-genre of poetry in which the speaker’s persona is a long-ago figure or a fictional character. Here, in “Translation Back into Native Tongues,” the speaker is John of Patmos, purported author of the biblical Book of Revelation. His subject in this poem is language, languages: always a perfect subject for poetry, that prime crafting of language. I like how the speaker longs for his childhood language but also hears language in the natural world: the “keening” of Patmos’s “olive-green wind”; the remembered language of birds. He hears even Jerusalem itself as a language. I feel myself wafted through the poem’s lines evoking various languages—until suddenly in the final stanza, I’m brought to a full stop. Here is a contrast I must pause over, ponder. Why is “metaphor” for God, while humans get what seems lesser—“simile”? Might it be that metaphor is open-ended, while simile (X is like Y) offers only a single, bounded comparison?

—Peggy Rosenthal


Translation Back into Native Tongues by Nicholas Samaras

Sometimes, I miss the Aramaic of youth.
Then, the personal flame came over us

and we spoke to the numb nations—
until the nations winnowed and muted us,

but not breaking the spirit of our speech.
Now, I live in the breeze’s murmur,

the native tongues to which the soul responds,
a language that comforts us where we are.

Here on Patmos, the olive-green wind
is tethliménos—bereaved, keening its dialect

over the lee. Sometimes, I miss the Aramaic,
the Hebrew, the language of birds

in my father’s courtyard.
My permanent sadness and permanent joy.

There will be new countries, a clarity of experience
only when you step out of it.

A clarity of Jerusalem found only on Patmos.
It is a language of gesture and longing.

Metaphor is for God.
Simile, for the extent of humans.

 

Nicholas Samaras’s newest book is American Psalm, World Psalm (Ashland). The poems published here are part of a new manuscript of poems in the voices of John of Patmos and his scribe, Prochoros. He is currently completing a memoir of his childhood in nine different countries.

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Richard Wilbur’s Poetry Captures Our Days

Minolta x-370

Last night I read a poem that showed me in a flash why I save evening-time for listening to classical music while I knit, or browsing through an art book, or reading fine poems like this one.

I’ve said in a previous post that I keep a volume of poems by my bed for evening reading. But I hadn’t known why until, with Richard Wilbur’s New and Collected Poems the current volume, I opened last night to his poem “C Minor.”

The poem begins with Wilbur and (presumably) his wife having breakfast while the radio plays something of Beethoven’s. Something passionate and angst-ridden; something typical of the C minor tonality which was Beethoven’s favorite for expressing dark, turbulent moods.

The poet’s wife turns off the radio. He writes: “You are right to switch it off and let the day / Begin at hazard…”

What follows for most of the poem is an account of some typical “hazards”—that is, chance happenings of a day.

The morning’s newspaper will present “sad / Or fortunate news.” Then:

The day’s work will be disappointing or not,
Giving at least some pleasure in taking pains.
One of us, hoeing in the garden plot
(Unless, of course, it rains)
[Read more…]


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