Save the Economy: Read the Classics

booksI was reading Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si when I began an article called “What is Wrong with the West’s Economies?” Published in the August 13, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books, the article is by Edmund Phelps, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Director of Columbia’s Center on Capitalism and Society, and author of Mass Flourishing.

What surprised me was that sometimes I couldn’t tell which work I was reading.

“Many people have long felt the desire to do something with their lives besides consuming goods and having leisure. They desire to participate in a community in which they can interact and develop.”

“We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.” [Read more...]

The Harboring Silence, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

The following editorial statement from issue 86 of Image is adapted from a commencement address given at the Seattle Pacific University MFA in creative writing graduation in Santa Fe on August 8, 2015.

rainierDenise Levertov’s poems nearly always contain vivid reminders of the oral nature of poetry, of poetry as speech addressed to a hearer, and thus in some sense always a conversation. In her seminal poem “Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus,” Levertov chooses to honor the disciple of Jesus who, after the Resurrection, needed to place his hand inside Christ’s wound in order to believe.

“Didymus” means twin, and Levertov intends us to see that she is identifying herself as the other twin. Thomas will not be satisfied until he sticks his hand inside the emptiness in Christ’s flesh—the void or silence that will ultimately speak to him.

The poem, which is separated into the traditional parts of the Mass that are sung by a choir, begins with a Kyrie, a plea for mercy in the face of our terror at both our mortality and the potential destruction of the world itself. Here Levertov can only address a figure who is entirely “unknown.” [Read more...]

The Harboring Silence, Part 1

The following editorial statement from issue 86 of Image is adapted from a commencement address given at the Seattle Pacific University MFA in creative writing graduation in Santa Fe on August 8, 2015.


fog“The great poet does not completely fill out the space of his theme with his words. He leaves a space clear, into which another and higher poet can speak.”

—Max Picard, The World of Silence


Graduation marks the moment when you leave the community that has surrounded you for two years for the solitude of your writing life. That community will continue to exist and even expand over the years, and will include many reunions and gatherings, but the level of intensity and support you’ve experience in the program may never be matched.

Which means that it’s now down to you and your laptop—the blank screen and the blinking cursor. Or, if you’re the old-fashioned sort, the empty page and the poised pen.

Perhaps you’re ready, willing, and able to fill the screen, but perhaps you’re nervous about all those white pixels. Will you have words to fill the emptiness? Will you be able to speak into the silence? [Read more...]

Poets and Pope Embrace our Planet

5439014802_dc3b80295b_zPoets have no problem seeing the world evolving within God’s care.

Okay, that’s too general a statement. Let’s just take some of the poets in the special issue of Image (#85) on “Evolution and the Imago Dei.” (And since Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Sì came out nearly the same time as Image, I hear the Pope conversing with the poets.)

Poet Pattiann Rogers has for decades traced the minutiae of a natural world alive in unexpected ways. I reach for her collection Song of the World Becoming whenever I want to be drawn afresh into nature’s secret life. Here in Image, in “The Moss Method,” it’s the wondrous protective quality of mosses that Rogers burrows her language into. [Read more...]

Franz Wright: Solving the Problems of Poetry


Maybe all poets are unhinged. There is historical evidence for this going back to ancient days. The Roman poet Catullus opened one infamous poem (known as “Catullus16”) with the line, “Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo.” It’s among the more, shall we say, forthright responses to critics a poet has ever penned (“I will sodomize you and face-fuck you”).

Such behavior among the poets continues to this day. Franz Wright—who died in May—was known to take a Catullan stance where critics were concerned. He once threatened to thrash William Logan, the critic who was unkind about Wright’s poems in a review for The New Criterion.

Franz Wright struggled with alcohol and drugs his entire difficult life, so the bad behavior had its source. But I also think that, in Wright’s case, the personal suffering that led to his outlandish behavior is related to problems at the heart of modern poetry. [Read more...]