Evil and Grace: Q&A with Daniel Taylor

One trigger for this particular novel was coming across the King James Bible phrase “the mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess 2:7-9). I found it a very intriguing phrase, one always relevant but no more so than today. (Modern translations lean toward rendering this “the spirit of lawlessness,” which certainly seems loose in the world today in many ways both overt and subtle.) What is evil? Why do we participate in it?

Pilgrims on the Way

When the lockdown began in March of 2020, schools closed, traffic came to a halt, and the great buzzing marketplace that had always sustained us fell silent. Though it was frightening—those blurry photos of ghostly Covid patients on ven-tilators in packed intensive care wards—it was also weirdly thrilling. There was an emergency on, and we’d suddenly become explorers in new, dangerous territory.

My Mother Says No

My mother is withdrawing from the world. The tires of her car know only short distances now and just a few turns: right on Brick Road, left on 73, left into the supermarket parking lot; right on Brick, cross 73, right into the shopping plaza where she gets her nails done. A few minutes out, a few minutes back.

Your Witness; Your Word

This overwhelming self-referentiality is exceptionally ironic given the emphasis of current mainstream discourse on marginalized communities and their importance of “inclusion.” I’m all for Inclusion, but in my own experience, the inclusion that seems to be on offer is the mere gathering of difference—not its dynamic melding. We are a basketful of sullen turtles, pulled into our shells, I guess.

Lucille Clifton: Paring Down Poetry

Recently I pulled some of Lucille Clifton’s poetry off my shelf, because I hadn’t read it for a while—not even since her death in 2010. Opening her books now and browsing in them felt like re-connecting with an old friend. The first thing that always strikes me about Clifton’s poetry is what’s missing: capitalization, punctuation, long and plentiful lines.

Henry David Thoreau, Biblical Man

Henry David Thoreau was a profoundly religious man. He is called a Transcendentalist, and the term is taken to mean a kind of hippie or New Age guru, perhaps something like the founders of the Deep Ecology movement. That’s nonsense. Thoreau was a Yankee, the near descendent of (the grossly misunderstood) Puritans, and he comported himself as such in his life and thought.

We Should All be Wearing Crash Helmets

Both Morgan Meis and Annie Dillard are trying, through the force of literary style, to peel through the layers of complacency with which we wrap, hide, and protect ourselves from the naked truth of our existence as created beings. For Dillard, the style is directed primarily at created things in nature. For Meis, the style is directed at created things mostly in museums: at paintings, to be exact.

Rabbi Jerry

I remember the American Poetry Review, March, 1977, page 26, cows and bald hills of Tennessee and rabbis of Brooklyn, their foreheads “wrinkled” as their “gigantic lips moved / through the five books of ecstasy, grief, and anger.” That’s from “Psalms,” one of twelve poems by Gerald Stern, whose photo on the cover showed his own gigantic, Jewish lips.

Bearing the Marks of Exile

Roger Kamenetz has published nine volumes of poetry. Each builds on his prior work, often revisiting, reconsidering, and reimagining previous poems in the Jewish tradition of midrash. As one critic observes, Kamenetz “recovers Jewishness as a field for discourse, not sentimentalized imagery. In direct and imaginative address, he puts the question of Jewishness under discussion with large parts of honesty and humor.”

Our Sunday Best: The Vastness of the Dark

A local DJ is spinning polkas on the radio. It’s Sunday morning. His name is Johnny Kotrick, and the radio station is WNCC in Barnesboro, Pennsylvania. This place is called Coal Country because its very life depends on the black mineral. The pocket of small towns here exists because of coal, and in the mid-1970s, it thrives because of coal.

On “Brendan” by Frederick Buechner

Legend, the Google definition states, is a “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.” Brendan, the 1987 historical novel by theologian Frederick Buechner, uses this term to its advantage. St. Brendan of Clonfert (c. AD 484 – c. AD 577), or Brendan the Navigator in Catholic tradition, is the novel’s subject

Depression and the Castle

I always feel warmly toward Mark Fisher. I keep coming back to things he wrote in Ghosts of My Life: Writings On Depression, Hauntology, and Lost Futures. Sadly, Fisher did not always feel so warmly toward himself. Or perhaps it wasn’t himself so much as what was going on inside. He discusses depression frequently in his writings.

The Evening of Time

I have been a reader of Hölderlin for many years. I took down his collected poems and read his hymns to the Virgin Mary and Patmos, his elegy “Bread and Wine” and his river poems (on the Main, the Neckar, the Rhine, the Ister).… They are fraught, paradoxical poems that display majestic architecture, and they brought me some peace.

Opening Sentences

So here it is: a quiz game for Close Reading readers. Below are fifteen famous first lines from famous literary works. The sources (the answers) are given below the line of asterisks after the final quote. But DON’T PEEK; it’ll spoil your fun.

Jack Kerouac: The Aching Reach for Illumination

I got my first copy of On the Road when I was fourteen or fifteen. I’d purchased it on a whim when Jack’s name showed up in a biography of Jim Morrison. The Doors were never really my thing, but when I was fifteen, I spent a lot of time educating myself about the finer points of rock and roll. Kerouac’s book, when I found it, was a revelation.

Shards and Brokenness: Q&A with Nance Van Winckel

During the years I was writing the pages of Sister Zero, I was also teaching myself to do mosaic tiling. With each little project—covering a wooden box, a mirror frame, a clay pot—I learned from small successes and big mistakes. (Plus, smashing china plates can be very cathartic!)

Who Knows

You slept with my best friend?, I screamed then threw the phone at my bedroom wall. Mother and father were downstairs. A few days later, when she was out, my girlfriend of nearly three years, I entered her house (I had a key), went into her closet, found the expensive dress I had bought for her at a trendy clothing store on South Street in Philly with my tips, and tore it to pieces.

Literary Citizens for a Literary Polis— Or, Why Slant Books Needs You

Ever more there’s the problem of a “missing middle” where—like the firefighters unable to find affordable housing in the metropolia where they work—writers struggle to get published, find an audience, and get paid, let alone have the longevity to let a creative vision root and grow and be pruned and strengthened by contrapuntal conversation with an audience.

A Litany for the Once and Future Queen

I heard of shy Caedmon, sneaking out of the feast before the harp was passed to him, for he could not sing, and he fell asleep in the barn by the animals he was charged to keep and dreamed of an angel who told him to sing, so sing he did, of the creation first and then of every other holy tale until no great thing God had done had failed to find its way into English.

Gained in Translation

The process of translating from one language to another is often called an art. The late Italian medievalist and novelist Umberto Eco, aware of translation’s inherent difficulties, called it, “the art of failure.” Every attempt is inexact and partial, getting some things spot on, whiffing at others. Translators are continually forced to compromise, choosing the least flawed option while rendering the original in the target language and—devotees of the King James version aside—no one translation proves definitive, once and for all.