A few years ago, my school brought a young man named Liam Robinson to America. He hails from Lincolnshire, England, and makes his way by teaching English longsword dancing and performing folk songs he's gathered from his home country and from every country in which he's found a home in song.Read More
Today, I sit on the bed, looking at the piles of laundry. There is a pile on my right. There is a pile on my left, and there is a pile on the bed. Afternoon happens to be when I am at my weakest. The pain is like a splinter I can’t get out of my thumb, but in this case, that splinter is wedged deep in the space between my condyles and my skull. The diagnosis I’ve been given is idiopathic condylar resorption—in other words, my jaw joint is disintegrating, along with the condyles. “Idiopathic” simply means no one knows why.Read More
“A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.”
I grew up in the suburbs. Those places where you could only see distance if you looked up, because the houses and yards and hedges of your neighbors and their neighbors became the extent of your horizon. These views were vastly different from the ones that inspired Coleridge and Wordsworth on their walking tour through moorland and woodland, and along the coast of Bristol Channel. They weren’t like Emily Dickinson’s views at the Homestead, where she wandered through orchard and gardens, tending the flowers that thrived in her poetry. And they’re not the English countryside Tolkien knew as a child that charmed his Hobbits’ Shire.Read More
For a long while—years—an exceedingly good friend pestered me to read Graham Greene, specifically The Power and The Glory. When I finally made the right choice, I had a sense of loss—grief that had I read the work earlier, I may have been a more replete and insightful person. I now personally know why he has been called one of the better writers (and a Catholic to boot) of the century.Read More
“I like the poem ‘Purity’ by Billy Collins as a way to think about writing poetry,” a poetry student wrote to me recently. She also had some profound questions about the poem, beginning with, “As Christians, while writing poetry, are we still Christians after we’ve stripped ourselves pure as Billy Collins says?”Read More
When little, bed-bound Rusky Lionheart realizes he is going to die, he talks with his beloved older brother Jonathan, and Jonathan comforts Rusky with strange, magnificent words: “It’s only your shell that lies there, you know? You yourself fly away somewhere quite different.”Read More
We are driving. My three year old daughter says cute things in the car. She says she is dreaming about brownies and milk. I want to kiss her cheeks every time she pipes up. I love her strangely and fiercely for the cute things she says at three.Read More
I’ve been mentoring a student in a senior project on poetics. Recently we read this wrenching instance of the sestina, a form that calls for the same six words, in differing orders, to end the lines of six consecutive stanzas, then for the sudden yoking of those words into a three-line envoy.Read More
While writing on such a grandiose personage, it’s hard to not aspire to touch on a great many magnificent things. And what numerous numbers there are! Ashamedly, I have not read much Coleridge before. I knew of him historically speaking, and what he was known for and with whom he hob-knobbed, but I had read little past “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and a few others. Then I landed his Aids to Reflection.Read More
George Moses Horton wrote poems, and for a very long time he attempted to sell these poems to purchase his freedom from slavery.Read More
My mother died on a snowless January morning high in a hospital room from whose window one could see pretty much into forever. Sudden failings in her body’s systems had taken hold—imbalances of blood and bone and lung. Frailty won the day. Fresh in our shock we gathered, reeling from the cruel slap of this impossibility.Read More
I am not here for my own inner peace.
No, I am at this for the inner pockets of my wallet. My boss walks into the office, which is separated from the studio by an opening in the wall and turns off the light, leaving me to sit alone in the darkness.Read More
“My fate is to live among varied and confusing storms.” — Petrarch
We all have them, dark times of struggle. Whether they last an intense day or long years, whether they’re about money, health, or relationships, they settle on us like night. They create tunnel vision, and can blind us to what lies beyond their shadows.Read More
I am not the first, nor will I be the last to quake and quiver at the rather odd, inexplicable mixture of symptoms to which artists will point for their embryonic work—that most baffling conundrum otherwise known as “the creative process.” It is a rather stupefying concoction of mysteries perhaps best left to psychologists, philosophers, and theologians. When it arrives at one’s door, it does so unbidden and with an inconvenient sense of either timing or manners.Read More
In the winter of 1959, Richard Wilbur was told that a word in a poem he'd submitted to The New Yorker had to be changed. It possessed the "wrong connotation" for the magazine, the interim poetry editor wrote, relaying the wishes of editors higher up on the masthead, including, presumably, William Shawn himself.Read More
The best reason for a revival of philosophy is that unless a man has a philosophy certain horrible things will happen to him. He will be practical; he will be progressive; he will cultivate efficiency. — G.K. Chesterton
Any reader of Chesterton knows that he is quite quotable; however, sometimes his quotidian nature can also stump and confound. Take the above for instance: while we can appreciate the need for good philosophy [think C.S. Lewis] what are we to do with the “horrible things” that Chesterton stands against? After all, in our culture isn’t practicality a good thing? And that goes for being progressive and efficient too, not?
We want practical money managers; progressive medical technology; and surely, efficient cars and refrigerators.
But it is not these things that Chesterton warns about.
G.K’s primary concern is that these traits become ends in and of themselves without reflection on their potential consequences. Take for instance his gripe about “a practical man.” For Chesterton, the practical man cares only about the final results of an endeavour (whether that be in business or politics or whatever) and not what took place in the interim (the steps which were taken to achieve the end result: an example would be the food industry using GMO food without considering the potential consequence). Chesterton posits, “When will people see the simple fact that practicality is a question of means, not of ends?”
For Chesterton, being practical is linked to being progressive. So back to the example of GMO: a perfect example of progress. Progressives look ahead to solve current problems without doing the hard work of fixing something now. A good example might be the average power consumer being unwilling to lower their power outage by 15%, instead trusting that the power companies will, with scientific aid, be able to simply reduce the amount of pollution that is created. Or, the desire to increase crop production through GMO – instead of tackling the uglier and slightly more work intensive trouble of consumer waste (stats proclaim that we waste between 30-40% of our food). Chesterton doesn’t approve of putting one’s trust in the future when we could take action now.
Lastly, efficiency itself is value neutral; as a tool it can be employed for either good or bad. Further, once turned into a process, it can be easily used for control. Most of us know that the Nazi death camps were pristinely efficient. It was this very efficiency which palpably made the death camps so heinous. Euthanasia is efficient as were the desired outcomes of eugenic programs. Less nasty examples were the assembly line productions which turned workers into automatons. Efficiency is a means, but it is not an end in itself. It’s a handy tool that can make our lives better, but it must be placed in its proper hierarchy—i.e. below us. Ultimately, Chesterton wants us to ascertain, whenever efficiency is employed, what is the end game? And whom does it ultimately serve?
We’re driving home from shopping, two 40-something parents and their three teen and tweens. It’s January. Call us old-fashioned—we listen to the radio, Rick Dees. It’s not just the Weekly Top Forty; it’s a countdown of #1s. A list of a list. We click around but the kids insist—“Go back to Rick Dees!”This pop culture is ruining them, I think, ruining us all, a proud tradition of pop culture ruin for every generation—Rick Dees, Casey Kasem, Dick Clark.Read More
Here's a game for wordophiles where earth, breath and sheet are three words you can spell with the letters in the word heartbeats. Setter, rate, and bra are three more. Steep, if your rules let the “b” swing around. Strafe if you let one “t” grow a canopy. Tree is there. There, too. And three. And others spring from the page if you string multiples:Read More
As I step into the new territory of 2017, I’d like Grandma Moses to be a guide. Her paintings teach me lessons that I want to realize, to intend and deliberate, as I go about the days of this new year.Read More
Fast advice to new writers who bemoan the intensity of the discipline sometimes includes throwing around that Hemingway quote about the typewriter and the bleeding. It’s pithy and ironic and makes the more seasoned writer quoting it sound like they know something Hemingway did. It also inspires hilarious imagery: to each writer, his or her own brand of macabre.Read More