Poetry Friday: “A Christmas Story”

oxford-snow-by-tejvan-pettinger-on-flickr

In “A Christmas Story,” Robert Cording evokes Aleksander Wat (1900-1967), a Polish poet that converted from Judaism to Christianity while imprisoned in the Soviet Union. During a brief moment out of prison walls, the poem explains that Wat was awestruck by a simple street scene: a beautiful women in a green dress, the “bell of a bicycle,” blue sky. “It was all thrilling, achingly alive, a feast/ happening right there on the street between / the prison and the government office/ nothing else mattering.” Interestingly, the Christmas story in this is poem is, in fact, the retelling of this moment at a dinner party to a know-it-all, “young professor whose field of expertise / seemed to be ironic distance.” While the weight of Wat’s revelation is amusingly lost on the guest, as a reader we are reminded to stay open to surprise. During this season of expectant waiting, I always seem to experience objects and sensations more intensely. The pearly, full moon rising, frost laden branches, the smell of wood smoke, trumpeter swans flapping overhead. For me, Advent ushers in a new kind of awareness that is both felt and known, surprising and familiar. Similar to Wat’s experience, the practice for the season is to be awake and grateful enough to receive.

—Jessica Gigot

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Poetry Friday: “Advent” by Bruce Bond

Gerard van Honthorst Adoration of the Shepherds via wikimedia public domainI’ve heard many people say we’ve never needed poetry more than we do now, but “Advent,” by Bruce Bond, reminds me that poetry has always been vital. The poem begins with a bombing in the Yellow Sea and smoke so thick “you cannot  see your hands,” which sets the reader up for a domino effect of disorientation. This disorientation is reinforced by clever line breaks and images that seem to lean into one another—the earth’s tilt on its axis becomes a man lost in thought, folks sleepily sitting by the fire become “cows in the crèche,” yesterday becomes tomorrow: “the farther back you go/the more it dims into a future.” A holy day becomes ordinary: “so long past / it could have been most any season.” Another dimension of this disorientation comes from lines that seem to have been written just yesterday, although the poem was published five years ago. Consider: “talk that turns bitter as it grows more national in scope.” When the swirling, otherworldly tone of the poem introduces images of Advent (“A child is born / crowned in blood”), the reader encounters an Advent story more frightening and more alluring than the one usually on display in this month of ubiquitous manger scenes. “Advent” highlights the strange beauty of this season, and reminds us that we have always, and will always, need poetry—to shake the dust off our stories and help beauty “bloom through the wound.”

—Christina Lee

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Beauty

fons-heijnsbroek-abstract-sescape-and-diagonal-on-flickrI have beauty on the mind. No doubt a result of my ongoing debate with Gregory Wolfe (running into its fourth iteration now). We’ve been chatting, lo these many weeks, about the relevance of the religious voice to contemporary debates on aesthetical matters.

When you’re talking about aesthetics, the question of beauty tends to rear its head sooner or later. This can be a scary moment. That’s because it’s hard to talk about beauty—hard, even, to define in any satisfying way what beauty is. Give it a go yourself if you don’t believe me. Define beauty. [Read more…]

The Debate About Beauty

Kazimir_Malevich,_1915,_Black_Suprematic_Square,_oil_on_linen_canvas,_79.5_x_79.5_cm,_Tretyakov_Gallery,_Moscow I’ve been engaged in an ongoing wrangle with Gregory Wolfe about the status of Christian intellectuals in the public sphere. We got a bit stuck on the question of T.S. Eliot and the worthiness of New Criticism. Mr. Wolfe has helped to un-stick the conversation with a rather devastating reply to my last post.

Pointing out that Eliot wrote his earlier critical works before he’d become a practicing Christian, Wolfe noted that by the time of Four Quartets “Eliot’s perspective had changed a great deal.”

His own childhood, family history, and other personal experiences become central to the poem’s meaning—indeed, become the names of the four sections. Eliot is incarnate in this poem but more importantly, his shift in 4Q, perhaps influenced by Maritain or in tandem with Maritain, signaled a growing awareness by mid-century Christian intellectuals that the modern “self” could not simply be ditched.

I acknowledge defeat. I was trying to fit Eliot into a tight box of anti-incarnational thinking in order to make my greater point, which was that Eliot is responsible for the intellectual and theological failures of New Criticism. In fact, Eliot—both as thinker and as poet—is too complex and rich a figure to be diminished and stuffed into such a restrictive box. [Read more…]

Glorying in Flawless Skin and God’s Love

by nerissas ring on flickrDriving in the car recently, my daughter pulled down the visor in front of her and opened the mirror. Her hair was in a side ponytail draped over her right shoulder. She wore a black and white plaid beret.

“I really like this hat and hair thing I have going on today.”

“Yes, very cute,” I said.

She’s twelve, the age of fashion daring; young enough to have some really crazy ideas of what might work, and unaffected enough to pull it off.

She looked and smiled at herself a couple times. The car is such a good place to primp. The natural light illuminates every stray hair, every irregular pore, the butter shade of your front teeth contrasting with the toffee shade of your incisors.

But stranded in a car with only passing cornfields and a forty-year-old mother for views, I feared she may become captive of her own reflection.

“I have pretty good skin,” she said. “No zits yet at all.”

Her genealogy doesn’t bode well for clear skin through adolescence. “Don’t get too attached,” I said. [Read more…]