Transcendence: A Tribute to William Christenberry (1936-2016)

house window light 800“The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” Elizabeth Bishop said, with irony. Still, it’s true that we mislay so many things over a lifetime that we become quite adept at bearing our deprivations. By the end, it’s a wonder that we have so much left to convey; the reading of wills should be bankrupt affairs, little more than legacies of good wishes and snatches of fair poetry.

But it’s not just carelessness that empties our pockets. Some things—many things—we simply let fall away. There is intent behind the release, and if not intent, recklessness. As in Bishop’s poem, among the things most commonly lost in this fashion are people. They have a habit of slipping out of our lives all too easily and much too regularly. [Read more…]

The Patron Saint of Losers, Part 2

vincent-van-gogh-enclosed-field-with-ploughman-on-wikimedia-public-domainThis post, which appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue 90, is continued from yesterday.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a contemporary of Shakespeare, knew his share of failure.

As a young man he went off to serve in the military—whether to escape arrest for wounding a man in a duel or for some other reason remains unclear. As a marine he participated in the fateful battle of Lepanto, in which the naval forces of the Ottoman Empire were decisively defeated. On another expedition he was captured by pirates and spent five years as a slave in Algiers before he was finally ransomed and came home.

His efforts to support himself with his pen met with little success. Neither did his petitions for compensation for his war service. He was imprisoned twice and only late in his life did the publication of Don Quixote ease his financial woes. He died soon after its second volume was brought out. [Read more…]

The Patron Saint of Losers, Part 1

honore_daumier_017_don_quixote-on-wikimediaThis post appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue 90.

One of the stranger conversations I’ve ever had took place during my senior year of college. I was attending a conference, and during one of the coffee breaks I was talking with a scholar who had taken a shine to me. He asked if I was considering doing a PhD, and if so, in what field. I told him that I was, probably in English literature. He frowned.

“No, there’s a glut in the market for that. You do want a teaching position ultimately, right?”

I said it was likely. He thought for a moment.

“I’d recommend Soviet Studies, but if the Soviet Union falls you’d be in trouble.”

He pondered a while. He may have rubbed his chin.

“I’ve got it,” he said brightly. “Egyptology.”

I looked to see if his tongue might be in his cheek, but he seemed cheerily sincere. I muttered that I’d think about it and went on my way. [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…]

Poetry Friday: “Poetry Is the Spirit of the Dead, Watching,” Part I, By Margaret Gibson

tree-light-by-florian-schwalsberger-on-flickrWhere do our words come from? And our lives: how do they connect with those (whether persons or words) now dead but perhaps living on—in ways we can almost touch, almost speak? These are the complex questions that Margaret Gibson raises and wraps her own language around in this remarkable poem. For all their complexity, the questions are explored by Gibson in a most accessible, inviting way. Beginning with her discovery of a poem written in her youth, she moves seamlessly into the present moment via the etymologies of words. “The roots of words send out their spirits,” she writes. And those spirits draw her thought into the spirits of the dead, with whom she sits comfortably till the poem’s end—where she enters the spirit of the preposition “with” so actively that it becomes a verb.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]