My Brightest Diamond:
Born the granddaughter of a guitar-playing, traveling evangelist, Shara Worden grew up in a musical household—her father was a national accordion champion, her mother a classical organist. Worden attended the University of North Texas where she studied the songs of classical composers such as Debussy and Purcell. Upon the completion of her degree, Worden moved to New York, formed a band called AwRY, and continued to study opera. Desiring to move beyond the confines of classical music, Worden soon formed her second band, My Brightest Diamond. Performing in New York’s club scene, the band’s shows became renowned amalgamations of the popular and classical. In 2004—still lacking a debut album—MBD set to work on two recording projects—Bring Me the Workhorse and the forthcoming A Thousand Shark’s Teeth. A few years later, Worden met Sufjan Stevens. This encounter led to a sabbatical from her own work so as to support his Illinois album tour as “head cheerleader.” MBD’s debut, Bring Me the Workhorse, was released in August and has received both critical and popular acclaim. Bearing some comparison to Bjork and Fiona Apple, Worden floats her voice, as it were, from scene to scene. As in opera, Worden’s finely crafted songs detail succinct, theatrical moments of urgency: a phone call, a dragonfly caught in a spider’s web, or a moment containing a terrifying revelation, as in the album’s opening track, “Something of an End”: “When you came jumpin' down the stairs / Screamin' bloody awful / You woke up God & everyone / Screamin' bloody awful… It was something of an end / Of a lovely & a wild thing.” But urgency does not necessarily denote tragedy. On “Golden Star,” a track that reveals Worden’s affinity for PJ Harvey, the song’s narrator passionately voices her love: “Though everything has come undone / The distance between us closes / And everything is suddenly / Exploding (tonight we are full).” With Worden’s mesmerizing voice, songs of varying tempos, and a miscellany of instruments, the album is truly a production; its conclusion feels a bit like the dropping of a curtain. Along with Worden, the album features, among others, Earl Havin (drums), Chris Bruce (bass), and Worden’s father on accordion. Possessing a voice Jeff Buckley once claimed “could make angels cry,” Worden and her band finally seem poised to receive the wide exposure they deserve. Worden and MBD are currently on tour with Sufjan Stevens
Visit My Brightest Diamond online.
Dark Alphabet by Jennifer Maier
Jennifer Maier is hilarious. The imagination at work behind the poetry in her first collection, Dark Alphabet, is voracious and supple. It expands the world from the tiniest points into a universe bright and dark with meaning. It yields sly-eyed, delightful images that burn in the mind long after the poem is gone. And, as a bonus, her imagination tickles and teases with the agility of a truly consummate poet. On moving on from an old love: “Will April lay down her xylophone / and pick up the cello? / Or December go gravely in his mourning coat / without his white gloves, his diamond tiara?” And the poet’s answer to a friend who asks why she is not a novelist: “although / I have combed the Gulf Coast towns / of my childhood, seeking the snowy egrets / of great short fiction, it is only the poetry birds / who land on me.” Maier possesses the sort of wit that steals the familiar object out from under your nose, rendering it to you again, either inside out or in a different color, say, chartreuse. It’s then, with a jolt of recognition, that you see what has been overlooked: the lake as a “murmuring woman” under the moon, like the woman oppressed by the memory of her drowned son but kept from falling through the earth by the atoms that “push back / bound in their electric need.” Or the earnestness of the young undergraduate asking her professor if she believes in soul mates, her “eyes two sharpened spades / turning the loam of her future.” These poems move nimbly between the commonplace and the resonant, fired by the poet’s deep reverence for language and a fascination with the way our minds enter our own experience and that of others, often through unexpected doors: a hymn to a saint, a cherry cordial given to a child by a black-sheep uncle, the thread of a cashmere sweater winding through the lives of generations of women. Compassion, stripped of sentimentality, moves behind each word, giving flight to Maier’s poetry birds that form “a dark alphabet against the sky.”
Jennifer Maier is an associate editor for Image. Find her poetry in Image #33.
Buy Dark Alphabet here.
The Jesuits and the Arts
Ignatius of Loyola may have been one of the saints now known as the “athletes of prayer”—among other things, he designed a thirty day retreat!—but he was also a man of his time, the Renaissance. The Catholic order of priests he founded, the Company of Jesus or the “Jesuits,” was grounded in the Christian humanism of the Renaissance/Reformation era: for Ignatius and his followers, faith had to be made incarnate in culture. Indeed, culture itself took on new significance in the order as a means not only to understand the history of the Church and the West, but to form bridges to other cultures. Some of the most powerful achievements of the Jesuits came in the form of their missions—to China and Latin America, for example. What set their missionary work apart from that of so many others was their willingness to honor the local culture and find ways for the Christian vision to be communicated within the terms of that culture. So it should be no surprise that the Jesuits have had a long and resonant history influencing the arts. Now comes a fabulous, hefty art book—The Jesuits and the Arts: 1540-1773—to provide a feast for the heart and mind. The book is not only crammed full of color reproductions but contains a series of well-written chapters, covering such subjects as Baroque painting, architecture, music, and the art generated by the Jesuit missions. This 500-page oversized volume has been priced very reasonably at just $70. The first edition of the book sold out quickly, but it has gone through a second printing and is now available once again.
To learn more about this book, go to St. Joseph’s University Press.
The Fragrance of God by Vigen Guroian
One of the richest of all biblical metaphors, the garden, is associated with images of life and death, growth and resurrection, fragrance and beauty. These analogies inform and ripen theologian Viven Guroian’s personal account of gardening in his new book, The Fragrance of God. But for Guroian, gardening is more than a metaphor; it is also a sacrament. That is, tending a garden can be both a physical way of communing with God and a practice that, prayerfully undertaken, has the power to make us more like the Master Gardener. “True gardeners are both iconographers and theologians insofar as these activities are the fruit of prayer ‘without ceasing.’” he writes. In this dense meditation, Guroian explores the sacramental nature of gardening from a theological standpoint and through stories from his own background of planting, tending, and enjoying gardens. The Fragrance of God affirms the goodness of creation as we experience it sensually: “In the pearly petals of the star of Bethlehem, the mockingbird’s evening song, the pomegranate’s sanguine seed, the lilac’s perfume scent, and the eggplant’s silky skin, Paradise shows itself to holy senses,” he says. “Through sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch, God meets us in the Garden.” And because of this sacramental meeting, a transformative work takes place when we spend time tending the earth. Because we have little control over our gardens, the acts of planting, watering, and waiting encourage humility and hope. And tending the earth cultivates a sense of respect for the creation that God called good—or beautiful, as Guroian interprets the Hebrew word, tov, which literally translated means “pleasing to the eye and enjoyable.” The sense of pleasure and enjoyment present in Genesis is essential to our relationship with the earth. “Paradise is truly present even in this fallen Creation, even in my humble garden,” Guroian writes. And as human beings we are meant to actively participate in the cultivation of the land, not only out of the ethical responsibility to take care of it, but because we are blessed when we deliberately enjoy its beauty with our senses. We can learn from gardeners, and from gardener-theologians like Guroian, whose careful tending of and delight in their gardens are not so much hobbies as spiritual practices.
Click here to purchase The Fragrance of God.
Watch a Richard Rodriguez Interview Online
Richard Rodriguez is one of America’s most gifted writers and thinkers: consistently original in thought, calmly independent of the stereotypes and expectations that others would apply to him, provocative in the very best sense of the word. He is the author of three exquisite books: Hunger of Memory, Days of Obligation, and Brown, is a frequent contributor of visual essays to The News Hour, and is a newspaper columnist. He is a Hispanic American who has opposed bilingual education. He is also a gay man who remains a devout Catholic. Whether you agree with him or not, an encounter with Rodriguez’s prose or physical presence will change you: he has that sort of intensity and insight. And you can now have such an encounter right on your computer screen: he was recently interviewed on a PBS program hosted by Bill Moyers called “Faith and Reason.” In this wide-ranging, half-hour interview—which can be viewed as a streaming video file on the Web—Rodriguez speaks of his recent brush with death (he was diagnosed with renal cancer), the meaning and experience of prayer, Christianity as a religion of “losers,” the “Desert God” that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam worship, American individualism, and much more. The interview, while it never drags, actually seems more like an hour’s worth of thought and reflection. Rodriguez’s ability as a phrase-maker is evident as he describes America as “the nation of the wounded,” individuals who cling to freedom, suffer loneliness, and long for community. He expresses disagreement with his Church and yet he remains a fervent participant in its sacramental life. Of all the things you can do on the Internet for half an hour, we can guarantee that you will find little to equal the spiritual insight in this interview. Even better, watching it may induce you to surf over to another website and order Rodriguez’s books.
To watch the interview, click here.
To order issue #34 of Image, which contains Gregory Wolfe’s interview with Richard Rodriguez, click here.