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…]

Death and the Absurdity of Heaven

image02I remember, as an undergraduate, reading Spinoza for the first time. I came across the sentence, “The free man thinks of nothing less than death.” Spinoza meant, of course, that a free man never thinks about death.

But I managed to read the sentence in the opposite way. I took the phrase “nothing less” in the way you might say, “I want nothing less than the best cheesecake in the state.” I thought Spinoza was saying that the free man demanded the very best to think about. Death, obviously, tops that list.

I took it for granted that everyone thinks about death almost all of the time. On becoming a Catholic in my adulthood, I was excited by the prospect of joining the morbid parade of suffering souls trudging stolidly toward the grave, fingering our rosaries and muttering under our breath about the veil of tears.

[Read more…]

Epic Tales: an Interview with Amit Majmudar, part 2

Claude_Lorrain_024Guest post by Sarah Arthur

Continued from yesterday. 

SA:  In your essay “Me and the Monotheists,” you say that even though you are a Hindu, many Christians seem to warmly welcome your poetry (e.g., I’ve included your poem “Incarnation” in the anthology Light Upon Light). You say this is primarily about “aesthetic resonance”—particularly with imagery—but you also point to the English language itself as being encoded with biblical influence.

And yet not every contemporary English-speaking poet writes this way. Can you elaborate?

[Read more…]

Wiman and Words

At “Good Letters,” words are what we work with.

Of course, this is true of all blogs, all writing. Yet consciousness of the craft of writing is key to our posts. No matter what our declared subject, our undeclared subject—our subtext—is always what are my words doing here? What can words do—anywhere?

Words Made Flesh: it’s on our “Good Letters” logo.

That short phrase reverberates with many meanings. The Christian connotation, yes: the Incarnation. But that’s a singular Word. Singular, unique. Whereas we spin out many words. To make them flesh, we try to immerse them in our personal experience. Or we immerse ourselves in our experience and seek for words there. [Read more…]

Varieties of Quiet: Christian Wiman’s Pensées

So profound are Christian Wiman’s pensées in the current issue of Image  that I feel impertinent even engaging them. But they are so deeply engaging that I can’t refrain.

Pensées is my term to describe these reflections, not Wiman’s. He calls the essay “Varieties of Quiet.” When I first read the title, I thought it would be about meditation.

But no, it’s about what language can’t say, especially the language of faith—and even the language of poetry. I say “even” because Wiman is a poet, and editor of Poetry magazine.

Wiman comes down hard on the language of Christianity—because it doesn’t speak to his soul’s experience. He writes that church, with its language of communal worship, “is the last place in the world where [people] are going to find God.” [Read more…]