Poets and Pope Embrace our Planet

5439014802_dc3b80295b_zPoets have no problem seeing the world evolving within God’s care.

Okay, that’s too general a statement. Let’s just take some of the poets in the special issue of Image (#85) on “Evolution and the Imago Dei.” (And since Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Sì came out nearly the same time as Image, I hear the Pope conversing with the poets.)

Poet Pattiann Rogers has for decades traced the minutiae of a natural world alive in unexpected ways. I reach for her collection Song of the World Becoming whenever I want to be drawn afresh into nature’s secret life. Here in Image, in “The Moss Method,” it’s the wondrous protective quality of mosses that Rogers burrows her language into. [Read more...]

My Evolving Identity

 

10901090303_16118622bb_zI’ve just read a thirty-page article called “Whitman Music: The Problem of Adaptation.” A critical analysis of musical settings of Whitman’s poetry, the article was published in the 1965 issue of Books at Brown, a journal devoted to materials in the Special Collections of Brown University’s library. The author is Peggy Z. Rosenthal.

I turn to the contributors list at the back of the journal to learn more about this author. I see that her article is “based on the honor thesis which Mrs. Rosenthal [this is so long ago that "Ms." hadn't yet been born] contributed to The American Civilization program. Mrs. Rosenthal graduated magna cum laude from Pembroke College in June 1964.”

What the contributors’ bio omits is that Mrs. Rosenthal, as Peggy Zierler, studied music composition all through elementary and high school, while writing poetry for the high school literary magazine. Hence her interest, for her college honors thesis, in musical settings of poetry. (It was her thesis advisor who suggested basing her thesis on the Brown library’s unusual collection of musical settings of Whitman.)

Nor does the bio mention that Peggy Zierler married Mr. Rosenthal just before her senior year of college, commuting to Brown from their apartment at MIT, where he was doing graduate work. In order to get married as a Pembroke student, she needed a permission letter from the Pembroke Dean. The letter also stipulated that Mrs. Rosenthal would not be allowed to spend the night in the Pembroke dorms; her experience as a married woman would not be a good influence on her (supposedly) virginal peers.

After Brown, Mrs. Rosenthal went on for a doctorate in literature, where parts of her dissertation on Whitman’s poetry were published in scholarly journals in the early 1970s, under the name of P. Z. Rosenthal. She chose the initialed name in order to disguise her gender. Women in academia were still few, and considered intellectually inferior by the male majority, so she strategized that a non-gendered name would be more likely to gain acceptance by journal editors. [Read more...]

Wanted: God—Dead or Alive?

305880083_7cf2d7bf10_mIf you practice a religion faithfully—faith-fully—, why do you do this? And why is it this particular religion that you practice?

“The embarrassing fact is that most religious people seem to believe in a religion for no better reason than that their parents believed in it.” So states poet and literary critic Adam Kirsch in his review-essay “Is Reason Enough?” in The New York Review of Books (April 23, 2015). [Read more...]

What Cannot Be Fixed

Fixed1I remember the time when “entropy” was all the rage. It must have been in the late twentieth century, that dark era when the world seemed in inexorable decline.

Everyone was talking about “entropy,” how everything was inevitably caught in a process of deterioration, disorder, decay. There was sound physics behind the concept—in the theory of thermodynamics. But as popularly used, “entropy” was not a technical term but a loose vision of the crumbling of culture, of the unavoidable disintegration of our lives and of all meaning. [Read more...]

Las Madres: Art and Death in the Arizona Desert

pic“The artist is a beggar because she is empty, waiting to be filled. But the artist is also… someone who is driven to go out to the margins of society in order to learn what the margins can teach those at the center.”

When I’d read these words in Greg Wolfe’s editorial in the current issue of Image (#84), I immediately thought of fiber artist Valarie James. Living in the desert of southern Arizona, James hasn’t had to go far to get to society’s margins. When she walks her dog near her home, she finds objects left behind by Central American migrants who have risked their lives—and often lost them—as they traverse the harsh desert mountains seeking safety and the dignity of work in the United States. [Read more...]


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