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: “The Embrace”

piano-by-Ralf-Nolte-on-flickrPoetry can recall us to the sensuousness of ordinary experience. Elizabeth Smither does this in “The Embrace” through the pointed choice of particular details. We are invited into a room in which almost nothing is happening, yet the room fills with sumptuously imaged life: two pianos which seem to be playing (though literally they’re not); two people leaning joyously into each other; a meal appearing in all its lusciously itemized dishes. All of this takes place in only two sentences—for it’s in the dashes that Smither makes the poem work. Each pair of dashes holds within it an instant of event, while holding still the surrounding objects. What these dashes manage to do, I’d say, is hold aloft the simultaneity of music and meal and human embrace. The poem leaves me feeling richer, yet also wondering what rich details I’m missing in each moment of my own experience.

-Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Recovery”

sunflowers by Nick Page on flickrWhat I like about this poem is how it slides almost unnoticeably from a simple, upbeat view of life into increasing complexities and ambiguities. The title and opening stanza announce that this will be an unequivocally optimistic poem. But something a bit unnerving happens in the second stanza: that glorious golden sunflower’s head seems to start choking (“grasping / its cowled neck”)—because, the following single line stanza tells us, its head is “outweighing its stalk.” It’s an image of discomfort, distress, almost of disease. The next stanza “recovers” the poem’s opening optimism, with the sunflower now “full bonneted” and turning toward “absolute light.” The “light” is the sun, of course, but it also hints (in “absolute”) at the divine; and, further, it seems to counterbalance the heaviness of that head outweighing its stalk. “What wonders are these,” the poet continues; and we think we’re back in full recovery mode. But no: the “wonders” are a “struggling” and a confusion of contradictions. Those birds’ chirps: are they joy or sorrow? They “could be” either; we just can’t know. Then in the final three lines, the poet pulls back from nature’s phenomena to “this world,” where ambiguity reigns. In this world of ours, the weak get stronger—or maybe not: maybe gradually, painfully, inexorably (“a day at a time”) they drag to a snail’s pace, drying out till they “crack.” I’m amazed at how, in so few short lines, Judith Harris has imaged with such nuance the push and pull, the downs and ups, of being alive.

-Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Fit for Immortality?

4290784933_312dfbb2ed_z-2“How’s your health?” my long-time friend asked me with concern.

“The leukemia is creeping toward trouble zone,” I answered, “and I’m not sleeping much, so sometimes I’m pretty wiped. I don’t deal well with physical discomfort.” Then I added, laughing but serious, “I feel ready for eternal life.” [Read more…]

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…]


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