The Confessions of X: An Interview with Suzanne M. Wolfe, Part 2

By Gregory Wolfe and Suzanne M. Wolfe

Continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here.

Suzanne M. WolfeGW: One of the most interesting aspects of The Confessions of X is the way that X herself responds to Augustine’s intellectual passions, from his Manichean phase to Platonism. She’s not an intellectual but she’s no pushover and she instinctively challenges Augustine…

SMW: The last thing I wanted this novel to be was either a hagiographical account of the Great Man, Augustine, by the little woman or an intellectual debate about theology. And when I reached deeply into who X was and what her life experience was and how that had shaped her, I realized a couple of things:

1) That only a remarkable woman in her own right would fall in love with a man as fiercely intelligent as Augustine, so she would be no dummy;

2) Lacking a formal education, her grasp of intellectual and theological issues would be through her experience and her instinct. At one point in the novel she says, “I think better in pictures.” This is true to her experience with a father who was a mosaic layer. But it also reveals a more sacramental understanding of the world, a type of understanding in which women, I believe, excel. She and Augustine complement one another. More than that, X provides a necessary check to his tendency towards abstraction both as a Manichean and as a Platonist.

GW: In a sense, she’s a natural incarnationalist, even though you depict her as living in a space between her childhood pagan upbringing and Augustine’s Christianity…

SMW: Not only her experience with art through her father but her own experience of motherhood make her an incarnationalist. For her, beauty has a form; love has a form. She says: “Grace, for me, is flesh and blood, bones and sinew, someone whom my mouth can name.” [Read more...]

Where to Hang Your Grief

Ross Laycock MemoryMy daughters Lydia and Becca, ages 12 and 10, are thoroughly delighted by the contemporary art collection at the Milwaukee Art Museum. They hurry to the Warhol soup cans and Lichtenstein comics they recognize from art class, a large sculpture made entirely of clear plastic buttons, and plenty of outrageously “simple” pieces they insist they can paint themselves and henceforth make millions of dollars.

During our last visit this December, however, we encountered a work we’d never seen. On the floor sat a large stack of sheets approximately two by three feet in size. Terrified that my kids would touch the art, I half-dove in front of them as a bodyguard of sorts. Then a ponytailed security woman stepped over.

“You may take one if you like,” she said.

I stared at her for a moment. “Like, to keep?”

“Yes. That’s what this art is for.”

Still only partly believing her, my girls and I each lifted a sheet printed with gray scale light seeping through clouds and a small silhouette of a flying bird. [Read more...]

Poetry Friday: “Annunciation” by Katharine Coles


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Each Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

Of all Gospel passages, I think the Annunciation is the scene most represented by poets over the centuries. So I’m always amazed when a new poet has the confidence and vision to re-imagine the scene for us afresh. And that’s exactly what Katharine Coles does in “Annunciation.” I’m taken first by her daring doubling in the opening line: “what occurs occurs…” The mirror imaging of the words expands into the mirroring of the angel and the virgin: neither of them, astonishingly, “matters.” The poem then moves into what does matter: images of light, scissors, openings catch my breath as I realize that the Incarnation is what is being figured here. Then, “we” enter the poem; and, disturbingly, we don’t behave in the self-forgetting way that the angel and virgin do. The poem is dotted with particular questions (“Of? Or to?”); yet really the whole poem hangs in the air as a question: where do “we” fit into the Incarnation? Can we even comprehend it as along as “we can’t forget ourselves”?

—Peggy Rosenthal

 


 

Annunciation by Katharine Coles

What matters is what occurs occurs
Between them, not to them. It’s only that
The angel doesn’t matter, nor the virgin.
A blade of light scissors the air [Read more...]

When It Comes to Love, We’re Beginners

MV5BMjAyNDcxNTk3NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjk4MDU2NA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_By Jeffrey Overstreet

During a lecture last March [2011], I spoke fondly of a friend whom I had recently lost to cancer. Halfway through the anecdote, I suddenly recognized his wife, the mother of his two young children, in the audience, listening in rapt attention. She was far from home, a surprise visitor. I almost choked. And I suddenly began weighing my words with much greater care. Had I represented her husband well?

Loss makes artists out of all of us. We become storytellers, portrait painters, recreating the departed.

During grief’s early days, we break heavy silences to recall the scenes we want to remember. For strangers, we’ll sketch an outline, fill in some details. We simplify, generalize, organize.

We consider questions that will never be answered, dreams never realized. And we might carefully acknowledge their rougher edges, the ways they tested our patience—but we’ll wince if anyone blurts out words of criticism or judgment.

It’s a challenge, to keep someone’s memory alive with honesty and honor. It’s a responsibility, a delicate art. [Read more...]

His Murderer and His Keeper

326044514_cedf60b870_mSome days I can’t remember: Am I Abel or Cain?

Blackberry soda in the afternoon sun. I talk with a friend who recounts her anger and, before she meets with those who aroused it, it’s softening. Blue heart of flame, her eyes purify the avenue, its commerce, its air. I am alive. I must be Cain.

Once, I was a shepherd. Now I am reduced to this: a symbol. My brother discovered his black heart when he heard me in the field, singing, offering the best of my flock. God loves my poetry. In response, my brother stoned me. Because back then no one knew when the soul leaves the body, he pummeled me beyond necessity. Even to this hour he continues, pelting me with rubble, rockets—whatever’s at hand. An innocent man, dead. I must be Abel. [Read more...]


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