Poetry Friday: “Afternoon Swim”

green and blue water in some kind of reservoir, surrounded by dark sides. the water is lit up by the reflection of trees. The play of grammar has always lured me. I’ve wondered: why do English sentences take the shape they do? So when I reached line 4 of Lance Larsen’s “Afternoon Swim”—with its bold announcement that he was switching from second person to first—I was hooked. Play with grammar is this poem’s medium. I laughed out loud at the course of Larsen’s sentence about another sentence: “a sentence in a Victorian novel fallen against the belly // of a pregnant somebody dozing on shore, turning now / to devour a delicious direct object.” Yet soon—surprise!—the direct object being devoured is the loaves that Christ multiplied, and the poem’s play turns theological as well as grammatical. And metaphysical, too, by the poem’s end, as it moves into pondering why words have the meanings they do—and how our very self is constructed.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

To Run and Not Grow Weary, Part 2

eric-liddell-public-domain-via-wikimediaGuest Post

Maybe it was instinct that sent me back to relive the 1924 Olympic Games.

Yesterday you found me despairing, feeling a sudden collapse of my lifelong will to write. Slumped on the couch, I was watching, of all things, Chariots of Fire.

As a child, I loved this movie. But it wasn’t until college that I saw how it stands in stark contrast to so much evangelical entertainment, how it avoids a faith will make your dreams come true pep talk.

In fact, its most fervent evangelical figure, Eric Liddell’s sister, Jenny, is frustrated when her athletic brother postpones his missionary work in China in order to become an Olympic runner. Straightforward evangelism, Jenny believes, is the real work. If people are dying without hearing about Jesus, what is running but self-indulgence?

The tract-peddling, altar-calling culture in which I grew up would have loved Jenny.

And yet, Eric argues with her: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

His father supports him: “Eric, you can glorify God by peeling a potato if you peel it to perfection.”

And we still hear about Liddell’s faith today. Why? Because he ran. He ran like a holy fool. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Hail, Spirit” by Pattiann Rogers

22073811935_2de83c3999_zRecently, I have been reading The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle with my 16-month old daughter. In this story (which we have read many times now) the spider is diligent and focused, despite many distractions, and at the end of this very busy day she completes her masterful web. Spiders have always fascinated me, but I know that is not the case for everyone. In fact, according to a recent study by the National Institute for Mental Health, 30.5% of people in the U.S. are afraid of spiders. While some cultures revere the spider as a benevolent creature, they are more commonly perceived as dangerous pests. What is unique to the poetry of Pattiann Rogers is her ability to weave minute scientific details into gorgeous, moving imagery. Her poem “Hail, Spirit” not only celebrates the mechanical beauty of the spider and its web-making process, but it also delights in the spider as musician, artist and teacher. She writes, “We can never hear/ the music she makes as she plucks her silk/ strings with the toes and spurs and tarsal/ tufts of her eight legs at once. She performs the reading of her soul.” In an interview with Poets & Writers in 2008 Rogers said, “The life forms on our earth are amazing to children, and they remain amazing for many adults. The more we learn about them the more amazing and mysterious they become.” As a translator for the natural world, Pattiann Rogers reminds us that before we choose fear, perhaps we should try wonder. Then we can begin to innocently observe and learn from what is before us. After reading this poem I know I will never forget to admire the delicate craftsmanship and impermanence of a spider’s web again. I have been reminded, “The work is her heart strung on its tethers, ravenous, abiding.” [Read more…]

The Ghosts of Home

natalie-vestin-drive-imageWhen I visit my family in northern Minnesota, I find myself on the same roads I’ve known—back and forth—since I was a child. Often I ride with others because I can’t orient, even in my small town and the outskirts made of barely-there townships and roads that veer only toward themselves. I think of small pathways on Midway Road, and I look for the town hall, for the church, for the dilapidated gray house with scorch marks at the roof. The churning root beer float of the St. Louis River to the south.

I gave up my car last year, though I still love the way the air and light changes on a drive, the way that movement and change of scene feels like prayer. Like close prayer, as if God is in the ditch or the jack pines, a new side of God available when you move a certain way or enter a different terrain. [Read more…]

Interview with a Zombie

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Halloween costumes and decorations. If I’m a vampire, Pinterest is my garlic. Not only do I cut and paste at a first-grade level but tolerate little more than a basic jack-o-lantern or paper bat in my house.

But come September, neighborhood front yards become graveyards. Styrofoam headstones with epitaphs like “I.M. Dead” and “Bone Voyage” litter the leaf-strewn lawns. In the more high-achieving displays, bony hands, and sometimes even bright rubber intestines, work their way out of the soil.

Your more conservative Christian is often exhorted to avoid this kind of thing. Churches replace Halloween parties with “harvest festivals.” Some parents even forbid their kids from wearing costumes or trick-or-treating. I’m far from fundamentalist, but I tire of the two-month long (if you go by Wal-Mart’s shelves) celebration of death and decay. Last year I had to drive by all that tacky gore while my good friend was withering away to cancer. I resented the daily, macabre assault.

But there’s something different about Fright Fest at Six Flags Great America, the amusement park fifteen minutes from my home. Yes, the decorations push the icky limits, but the “scare-actors”–the zombies, clowns, and werewolves who roam the park from 6 p.m. to closing—have lurched their way into my heart. [Read more…]