On Literature, Place, and Abiding

One of the abiding narcissistic wounds of my time as a parent is that neither of my children particularly likes to read. Sixteen years into being a mother, I can still get teary thinking about it—as if, in some way incredibly important to me, I have failed.

A Window of New Feeling: Q&A with Paul J. Willis

Lately it has been the fashion to talk about “measurable learning outcomes.” I really can’t stand the idea of measurable learning outcomes! The pioneer Yosemite climber Yvon Chouinard has said that adventure is the uncertainty of outcome. I want anyone who reads this book to have an adventure. I can’t predict where that adventure will take them in their imagination.

One Thing and the Same

We arrive at the beach house in the dark, the ocean’s roar schooning over the dunes to meet us on the gravel path and ask: who are you? We get out of the car numb from the road and the nerves of a long drive just before the lockdown’s official lift, and we don’t answer.

Sorry, I Don’t Do Essays (But Jim Did)

Whether I’m reading or writing, the page is a good place for me—the place where I feel most at home. Like my nightly prayer, it’s a solitary courtyard, but one with a potentially social dimension.

I Keep Moving Toward That

First, before even coming
together—how ever many of them there were—before
saying one word, there was a wanting. Yet before
even putting that into words—see how far back
this goes?—there was a need. And that’s what’s driven me

to return to these desolate cliffs rising above
an ever-shifting bay.

The Subdivision

“Some guys came over while you were gone and threw rocks at your dog.” That’s what the new kid said one afternoon. He had golden hair and a perpetual, toothy grin, and he’d announced the day we met that his dad built rockets. He’d told us he had eight unreleased Star Wars sequels at home, that his dad got hold of them because of his rocket work.

Further up the Slope

I’ve been reading Cleanth Brooks’ 1947 classic The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry,one of the key works that in the post-World War II decades established “close reading” as the main pedagogical tool for understanding poetry as a unified whole (rather than an artfully coded record of attitudes requiring historical and biographical translation).

The Challenge of Remaining Faithful: Q&A with Valerie Sayers

I hope these stories shift our angles of vision by allowing us to experience characters and cultures who break their promises for complicated reasons, then struggle to set that right. The future looks better for some of them than for others, but each has given voice to the challenge of remaining faithful.

The 1918 Flu Pandemic: Different from Today?

Pale Horse, Pale Rider’s narrative center focuses on a woman as fully realized as we might imagine ourselves to be today—a bone-weary professional woman moving in a smoky newsroom, navigating challenges (co-workers, actors angry at bad reviews) that seem amazingly contemporary.

Toward: Q&A with Moira Linehan

“As the saying goes, If you want to see something new, walk where you walked yesterday. I most want the reader to see this speaker as grappling with what is so hard to put into words, what is beyond words.”

Assist One Another

The reference is, of course, to Auden’s famous poem September 1, 1939. That poem contains the well-known line “we must love one another or die.” I say a well-known line, but that doesn’t really capture it now, does it? The line is more than well-known—it verges into the realm of sacred writings of our time, a scrap of prophecy left to us from the 20th century.

Original Language

Adam and Eve didn’t need to be told not to eat from the Tree of Life. Until they ate the “forbidden fruit” of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they didn’t know. Didn’t know what? That they were mortal. Lacking that knowledge, what need would they have had for a shot at immortality, that is, a taste of the Tree of Life?

“That Writing Stands for Me!”

His mam’s face grew almost cruel with hidden feeling. She held the slate straight out in her hand and gazed unwinkingly at the letters.
“That writing stands for me!” she said. “I can’t get over it.” There was a power of pride and wonder in her voice.

The Way the Truth Gets In

Looking back, I realize that I was hungry too. But like Pilate, I wasn’t yet willing to face the hunger on its own terms. To be fed by a silence and a truth that won’t fit into my billfold, nor make a clever aphorism.

Indelibly Marked

I’m after accomplished poets who can’t stay away from those classic Catholic themes – suffering, death, sex, the pattern of sin and redemption – and habits – self-examination, ritual, memory, the honoring of community over self. Above all, there’s the centrality of the body as contested locus of power and punishment, pleasure and pain.

What is Truth?

I haven’t seen these notions of truth—both the old ideal of the “objective” one and the more current, perspectival one—mixed in a more arresting manner than in Susan Choi’s 2019, National Book Award-winning novel, Trust Exercise.

The Stuff of Grief

There was the burgundy glove: a tiny knit handprint, one of those Dollar Store gloves made to stretch and cinch like a cartoon spring. It roamed the house, appearing on the coffee table or the living room floor, or sometimes on Daniel’s hand.

“A Pity. We Were Such a Good Invention.”

I keep a few small stones—a couple from Israel, a couple from Whidbey Island, Washington—near my meditation bench in my study. Some days, when anxiety zig-zags around my nervous system, I pick up one of the stones, hoping that its weight in my palm will ground me, as in bring me to solid ground. A body doesn’t fret about work, family, friends, God. With the stone in my palm, whom should I fear?

Of Gods and Goats: Q&A with Morgan Meis

“More and more I find myself to be an old school Romantic. Writing happens to me, or through me, or something like that. Writing is the force, the writer is the vehicle of that force. At best. In the end, though, there is a sort of freedom in this experience of writing. Freedom from the self rather than freedom of the self. Provisional freedom. The self is pesky and hard to kill.”