Dancing with Words During National Poetry Month

Impressionistic painting of an expansive room with vaulted windows that open to the green of the outside. In the room, various dancers gathered by a bar or in the center of the room, practicing pointing their toes and stretching out their legs. They are wearing loose white and pale lavender tutus and leotards. In the left hand corner, an instructor in black sits and observes.Here’s your assignment. Choose a poem you’ve written (it could be any piece of writing, really, an email message, a shopping list, a complaint to a cable service provider, a toast for a wedding—you get the idea. If it’s a poem, chose only a few lines. If it’s another piece of writing, choose a portion of it. Then, translate those lines.

But here’s the thing. Don’t translate a word from one language into its equivalent word in another language. Instead, translate each letter of each word, in the order in which they appear, into an image, a concrete noun or active verb (“be” is an active verb, too!). What does the shape of each letter resemble? That “h”, is it a shovel? That “s”, is it snow or a leaf falling to the ground?

First do a raw translation, letter to word (or words), letter to word, letter to word. Now, using these words, arranging and adding words as needed to write complete sentences, write a poem. Or, if poetry isn’t for you, write a new shopping list! Or a letter to your senator! In this visual language, tell your senator to protect funding for the NEA! Or write a confession to God. [Read more…]

Mysteries Sherlock Holmes Can’t Solve

shot of a person writing in a journal with a pen. the journal is resting on the person's knees and they are sitting on a couch. you can't see their face.“No, you should definitely major in English,” I told our babysitter, a high-school senior from our church who is considering an English or Communications degree. “Fiction is just like faith,” I said, “it’s its own kind of knowledge that makes our lives richer.”

I really believe that, though I have to renew my conviction from time to time. I also believe faith is a kind of fiction. The kind that apprehends necessary truths. Not the truths we call science or philosophy, but the truths we call mysteries.

Growing up, mystery meant Sherlock Holmes and The Hardy Boys. It meant a problem of insufficient information, a puzzle of the material world that required careful reasoning and a little courage to sort out.

The Hardy Boys solved pretty ordinary problems, though. They were adventures as much as mysteries. In Sherlock Holmes, by contrast, mystery took on a cosmic significance.

Holmes’s ability to reason in linear fashion from observation to conclusion indicates his mastery of the basic machinations of the world. The largest mystery, in many ways, has been solved for him. He may have moments of reflection on the tragedy of misplaced love or foolish ambition, but he lives in a more or less mechanical world whose workings can be known and understood.

I used to love the clarity with which Holmes sees the world. I loved the precision with which a sign leads to an inevitable conclusion. A dirty hat means a problem with the wife. A man’s abnormal interest in geese means he’s a jewel thief.

This is a reassuring view of the world, and I was drawn to it because I never experienced the world as so certain, myself. I still do. The world is made, perhaps, for those who feel confident they understand it, and not so much for me. [Read more…]

On the Front Lines

classroom-by-chirstopher-sessums-on-flickrBy Paul Anderson

Seven months ago, I was teaching writing to high school seniors at a Christian school on the southwest side of Chicago, thirty minutes from my suburban hometown but essentially in another universe. I was three months away from finishing my MFA through Seattle Pacific University, and I wasn’t sure that I was going to make it—make it to the end of the MFA without succumbing to a mental collapse, or to the end of the teaching year without biting off a chunk of my tongue. There was no established curriculum for the class, so I created many of my lessons the night before, after I finished grading the students’ assignments from the same day.

While this won’t kill you, any education professional will tell you that it’s a recipe for disaster.

One night, between MFA and teaching work, I pulled out a copy of Image and flipped to Chris Hoke’s essay “Hearts Like Radios,” a piece that had jolted my numbed spiritual and creative nerves a few months earlier. [Read more…]

Stopping the Press

Image Journal

By Mary Kenagy Mitchell

This is the time of year when we work on Image’s annual budget. Here in the excruciatingly lean nonprofit sector, there’s a sort of elegant efficiency to having very little to spend—but it also means that when we need to make cuts, we cut close to the bone.

I’m a practical person, and so I sometimes think about the money we’d save if we stopped printing Image. That is, if we went to digital only, like Paste did in 2010 (though I recently learned they’re making a push to return to print). We’d still publish the same wonderful content—the poems and stories and essays and interviews. You’d be able to see all the same visual art. Actually you’d see more of it, because we wouldn’t be constrained by the expense of printing in color.

All pixels cost the same. [Read more…]

How Do You Write?

arthur-dove-leaf-forms-spaces-abstract-on-wikimediaDo you write with a pen?

Do you write with the wind?

Do you pray first? Do you pray when you are stuck? Do you pray after? Or are you praying the whole way through?

Do you wait for the singer on the beach or the sinner in the confession booth to finish before you begin? [Read more…]