Poetry Friday: “Prayer”

I used to collect poems that are prayers, so Sharon Cumberland’s “Prayer” immediately leapt out at me from the pages if Image. Leapt out—but then instantly grabbed me uncomfortably in the opening line: “Ignore, O Mystery, this thing You made.” The speaker’s plea to God is not for connection but for separation. Why? Because, as the next lines explain, the speaker feels merely a “thing”—so utterly different from God that she fears even “to conjure You with prayer.” So this will be a prayer about the terrors of praying. Further along, with the line “Hold me, O Mystery,” we think that the relation has changed, that the speaker now longs for connection with God—until the following line (“in your sidelong view”) brutally cuts off any connection in that startling “sidelong view.” The plea to “hold me,” it turns out, is a plea not for physical warmth but for a chilling separation. The poem closes by returning to its opening prayer, but with a difference: the line-breaks now put the speaker as “thing” and a trembling “me” at lines’ ends—until the final, still distant, terrifying “You.”

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “The Last Supper”

photo of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. A long white table sits in a large, well lit hall. In the center of the table, Jesus stands, leaning over the table. Around him crowd his disciples, spread and talking amongst each other.This poem is a meditation on Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, “The Last Supper.” But the meditation moves in an unexpected direction. The first stanza stays with the painting, though with a comical interpretation of “torn bread” scattered on the tablecloth. In stanza two, the poet moves to the wine—“or seeming / lack of it.” In the painting, no chalice is visible—nothing “bigger than a shot glass.” It’s from this image of a shot glass that the poem’s speaker takes off in stanza three. He seems to be pondering its meaning, as he twice says “that makes sense.” What makes sense now to the speaker is that a single shot of liquor suffices: it reveals “the power” that a bartender serves (as Jesus serves God?); it is sufficient for lingering camaraderie. From here, the speaker reflects on other smallnesses that are sufficient in life: “Only a heartbeat /of belief is necessary.” And “by small increments we learn to taste.” To taste what? The poem doesn’t say, but in the context of the de Vinci painting, I recall a song that we often sing during Communion in my Catholic parish: “Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.”

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

I Am an American

Shot of three buildings taken looking upward. Behind them, you can see the blue sky with a few clouds. The building in the forefront is to the left of the screen, tan, and has large windows. On a pole strung from the side is an American flag. The flag hangs limply. To the right of the frame, a tall metallic looking building with cross-cross panels of light and dark fills the sky. Behind the flag, in the background, is a tiered building that has a turret and tower at the top.I refresh the page, I refresh the page, I turn away for a few minutes, I teach a class for seventy-five minutes, I sit in a meeting for sixty minutes, and on the way to the meeting, on the way back to my office from the class, with my iPhone in my palm, at the computer on my desk, I refresh the page, I refresh the page, looking for the latest news, hopping over to Facebook for reactions to the morning’s tweets, back to the Times for an update on the latest leak and his response to the leak, looking for the next lie, on alert for the latest outrageously offensive remark.

These are my days now, my nights.

Work is an interruption. A chat with a friend is a partial interruption—for it’s impossible to get through even a short chat without a sigh, without alarm, without reference to what he’s doing and who he’s doing it to now. Picking up my prescription, reading what I’ve assigned my class (Joy Harjo! The Buddha’s Brain!), FaceTime with my grandson—these are interruptions, distractions.

I am a citizen now. I turn my attention back to the news.

What am I doing? What am I doing with you, news, what are you doing with me, news, not the full range of news:  Travel, Arts & Leisure, Sunday Styles, but the single-pointed concentration on news and opinion pieces on that man? [Read more…]

You Tell ’Em, Duke Porn Star

Like everyone else with a lick of moral sense, I was shamed and saddened by the news out of Duke University last February that a freshman student was paying her tuition bills by doing porn. Belle Knox, as she called herself in print, felt no shame when she was publicly exposed by a male classmate, who recognized her while—you guessed it—watching porn. (He wasn’t ashamed either.) Doing porn, Knox told the Duke student newspaper, is “liberating. It’s probably the most empowered I have ever felt.”

The expected moral outrage never developed. If sermons were preached against the degradation of pornography, they did not penetrate the church walls; if a scarlet letter appeared in the night sky, no one reported it. Instead, Knox very quickly became a victim. The sin against her? An outrage called “slut-shaming.” Facebook postings and Twitter messages ridiculed her; girls on campus glared at her, boys yelled, “You’re the porn star!” “There were stares and whispers in the dining hall,” Knox complained to the Huffington Post. “After I was outed, every single day waking up was like a nightmare.”

Defenders leaped to her side. “This country is in a trillion dollar student loan debt,” the website College Candy reasoned, “Duke is $60,000 a year, so if someone has to make a few porno movies to get a good education, who is anyone to judge?”

We must be non-judgmental toward one another, because moral judgment is so yesterday. “To suggest—as many Duke students have on various message boards—that [Knox] is somehow deserving of harassment or abuse because she works in adult films sets us back about five decades, if not five centuries,” a libertarian blogger explained.

[Read more…]

The United Cinematic States of America

Guest post by Gareth Higgins

“You have to be a stranger to the landscape to regard it as a view.” — Geoff Dyer

“I wish I had your passion, Ray, misdirected as it may be. But it is still a passion.” — Terrence Mann to Ray Kinsella, in Field of Dreams

Author’s note: I’m delighted to be participating in the Glen Workshop this coming June, and would love you to join me to explore the personal (and American) dream narratives in cinema. The journey I took into this subject changed my life, and I hope we can have a similar impact in exploring the same questions together.

My new book Cinematic States takes a look at American myths in one of their most powerful forms. Looking at one movie from each of the fifty states of my adopted homeland I’m asking whether a Kansas yellow brick road really does lead to the end of the rainbow, and does it first have to pass through Colorado’s Overlook Hotel? Amidst the multipurpose woodchippers, friendly exorcists and faulty motel showers, resurrected baseball players and miracle-working gardeners, what do the stories we tell reveal about ourselves, and how can we reimagine who we are?

It was a fascinating experience to research the book, and I discovered immense wells of rich variety in this country that is so easily dismissed by many for its errors, real and perceived.

[Read more…]