Issue #247 | August 8, 2012
Through her poems, Margaret MacKinnon lets us enter the inner lives of writers and artists from other ages—figures like Mary Shelly, Grant Wood, Walt Whitman, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Her rich imagination creates vivid, concrete scenes in which to set her “characters,” as well as persuasive inner landscapes that make distant and stately figures recognizably and empathetically human. More than a parlor trick, her ability to dwell so fully in other times, places, and minds becomes a way of enlarging the world, and of bringing us along for the journey as she pursues the connection between, in her words, “what is clear” and “what is mysterious.” From lives we know mainly through their artistic output, she draws the ordinary worries and joys of marriage, children, financial cares, old age, and loss. Rather than making these luminary figures less, she makes our own lives deeper and richer through the possibility of connection. Her poetic language is quietly musical, with a carefully executed use of form and line and a generous delight in the five senses. She paints a vibrant natural world of sensations and phenomena that constantly attracts and draws us on, and that keeps the spiritual, intellectual, and narrative dimensions of her work continually grounded in the physical world.
Read Margaret MacKinnon’s work in IMAGE issue 71 here.
Last week, IMAGE packed its bags and headed to the high desert for the 2012 Glen West Workshop: seven days of lectures, art presentations, afternoon thunderstorms, green-chile-flecked cuisine, and, of course, morning workshops with a star handful of today’s leading artists. It was, as we promised, a week that changed lives. But don’t take our word for it! Check out a video postcard from Glen songwriting student Elayna Boynton in which she talks about getting to know Karen Bergquist and Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine on a first-name basis. Or you can watch this postcard in which film critic Jeffrey Overstreet discusses Scott Cairns’s keynote address. In addition to Scott Cairns and Over the Rhine, our acclaimed faculty included novelists Bret Lott and Sara Zarr, poets Robert Cording and Betsy Sholl, nonfiction writer Susanne Antonetta, singer-songwriter Ashley Cleveland, visual artists Barry Moser, Wayne Forte, Kim Alexander, and Michael Wilson, and film director Scott Derrickson. Participants travelled to St. John’s College in Santa Fe from all over the US—and one participant even came all the way from Singapore! Highlights of the week included a reading by Bret Lott from his latest novel-in-progress; Scott Derrickson’s film presentation in which he discussed “transcendent darkness” on the silver screen; Barry Moser’s towering visage as he Skyped with the crowd in the Great Hall, telling everyone that “talent is as common as house dust and as useful as tits on a boar; the habit of hard work has value”; that special evening concert by Over the Rhine; and two wine and cheese receptions on the balcony overlooking the silhouetted Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And who could forget that raging dance party to cap it all off?
Stay tuned: next year’s faculty lineup will be announced (and registration for returners will be opened) in late September. Until then, we’ll keep dreaming of red rocks and blue skies.
To say that the poems in Daniel Bowman, Jr.’s debut collection of poetry, A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country, are rooted in a specific place would be inaccurate. These poems aren’t rooted at all. Instead, they wander and drift like restless ghosts, or clouds of fog in a valley. In this case the valley is that which surrounds the Mohawk River in upstate New York, where Bowman, a graduate of Seattle Pacific University’s MFA in Creative Writing program and professor at Taylor University in Indiana, was raised. Using sparse, image-heavy lines (it’s easy to recognize the influence of Eastern poetic traditions here—each of the four sections employs a haiku as epigraph), Bowman creates a portrait of the region and its inhabitants that is complex and haunting, yet familiar: “Mohawk bites the hills / like a river, / smokes like your kin / at the diner in the gorge.” Rochester, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Cincinatti, and even Seattle and northern Arkansas make appearances in the book, but its heart lies in Mohawk, “shocked valley / of pumps and furnaces raging.” These poems will speak to any reader who knows what it is to love a place and then leave it. Longing, a sense of displacement, and maybe even regret are palpable in “Late September, Rochester,” in which Bowman writes, “Mohawk! Tell me again, / is your moon still crisp on the river? / I left you, and here I am, away.” These minor notes are balanced, however, by joy and playfulness. The volume is shot through with music: jazz, blues, rowdy Russian patrons at a bar in New York City. Bowman extracts melody from the glorious cacophony of life, so that we believe him when he writes, “What scares me / is not ruin / but the absence of music and / the ways I can ignore it.” Like the plum tree of the title, these poems describe how beauty can, against reason, grow and thrive in an inhospitable land.
Three years ago we reviewed in this newsletter a wonderful book by Stratford Caldecott entitled Beauty for Truth’s Sake. While that volume was not specifically about literature and the arts, it did get at something we feel strongly about at IMAGE: beauty and the fundamental role it plays in educating the heart. The focus of that book was the medieval concept of education known as the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music) and specifically the ways that our forebears understood beauty as intimately related to design and purpose in the universe. In this follow-up work, Beauty in the Word, Caldecott turns to the other aspect of medieval educational practice: the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, dialectic). Once again, Caldecott provides a lucid, humane introduction to a topic that can seem musty to contemporary readers. In this era of concern about our educational system, many parents are turning to home schooling and the “classical education” movement to recover the traditions about which Caldecott writes. But many of us are rightly concerned about this trend: often it seems to be accompanied by a kind of temptation to fundamentalism and rigidity. This is precisely why Caldecott’s is such an important voice. Time and again he demonstrates the wisdom and capaciousness of these ancient methods of learning. For example, he says in his introduction: “We need to pay some attention to the visual and other arts.... Too often we have not been educating our humanity. We have been educating ourselves for doing rather than for being.” To accomplish this, Caldecott sets up a series of “trinities”: grammar is about being, dialectic is about thinking, and rhetoric is about speaking. While the author writes out of his Catholic tradition, his approach has broad ecumenical application and his vision is hospitable and wise. If you’ve ever been tempted to acquaint yourself with this educational tradition, consider reading these two books. Together they offer introductions to a neglected form of education that are accessible, relevant, and profoundly encouraging.
Buy the book here and being reading today!
The Last Sacred Place in North America by Steven Haven
Steven Haven’s latest book, The Last Sacred Place in North America, is rich with poems firmly rooted in a place—in China, Ohio, the moon, a graveyard. Constantly aware of his surroundings, Haven draws connections across vast geographic and emotional plains. Along the way he raises questions of journey: how do we navigate the landscapes in which we’re placed? If “it is never quite enough to be on this Earth,” Haven asks us who, or what, we should consent to be, immersed as we are in a crowded world. This is a book seeking a sacred place, a home, amidst a collision of disparate cultures, places, and people. With the death of a loved one, however, Haven’s global vision condenses to focus on a single grieving family. He explores tragedy with unflinching honesty and compassion, honoring the lost individual’s place in relation to the whole: “when you died the universe spread out more fully.” From China to the moon, Haven shows places and people resonating. His is at times a bleak, stripped voice conveying the horrors of suicide and bombings: “In an instant the Belgrade Chinese Embassy / morphed to bric-a-brac and air.” Yet ultimately, Haven finds hope in quiet clear moments, in the sight of a hand out a car window, “floating on air / for the sheer joy of it.” The Last Sacred Place is a deeply human foray into the distances that separate us and the humanity that binds us together.
Buy your copy of The Last Sacred Place in North America today!
Scott Burnett's The Raggedness of Light at Inscape Gallery
Through September 28, Washington Seminary's Inscape Gallery in Redmond will host The Raggedness of Light by artist Scott Burnett. For Burnett, painting became a bracketed space of meditation and soul-care after years of specializing in music. It was his means of escaping everyday stresses and frustrations without disconnecting from his family, since he painted in the living room. He started researching and experimenting with acrylic paints, paint brushes, palette knives, glazing media, etc. He claims that the discovery inherent in the process is among his favorite facets of art-making. At the prompting of his wife, Burnett went public with his paintings in May 2011, and his paintings since then have sold at a regular clip. This is a viewing experience not to be missed for the depth and richness of seeing the soul of an artist expressed in the raggedness of light that sweeps across his canvases. For more information, click here.
Fare Forward Recently Launched
This summer six recent college graduates launched Fare Forward, a journal of Christian thought for the next generation, which takes its name from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. As undergraduates, Fare Forward's editors all worked on The Dartmouth Apologia, a Christian magazine at Dartmouth College. The success of Apologia and like-minded publications at other elite universities inspired the editors to create this new journal. Fare Forward's founders are aiming to reach their peers, a demographic sociologists have called "emerging adults": young people who have graduated from college and face a period of transition and uncertainty as they enter post-educational settings. Fare Forward intends to be a space for emerging adults to engage with a thoughtful Christian worldview that integrates faith, reason, service, and vocation. As a critical review, Fare Forward will showcase dialogue between its Christian worldview and other intellectual and cultural trends influencing our national discussions. For more information, visit their website and Facebook.
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ImageUpdatePublisher: Gregory Wolfe
Managing Editor: Tyler McCabe
Layout: David Rither
Contributors: Sarah Grigg, Dyana Herron, Anna Johnson, Tyler McCabe, Mary Kenagy Mitchell, Taylor Olsen, and Gregory Wolfe.
ImageUpdate is the biweekly e-mail newsletter from Image, a quarterly print journal that explores the relationship between Judeo-Christian faith and art through contemporary fiction, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, film, music, and dance. Each issue also features interviews, memoirs, essays, and reviews.
ImageUpdate brings you news about books, CDs, organizations, websites, conferences, exhibitions, and tours--all of which inhabit the intersection between faith and imagination. ImageUpdate will also notify you whenever a new issue of Image is printed, an Image event is upcoming, or new content is posted to our website.
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