The Milton Center Postgraduate Fellowship: Call for Applications
If you've glanced over the last several issues of ImageUpdate, then you already know from our reminders that the Milton Center, a literary and educational program dedicated to excellence in creative writing by Christians, has moved from Newman University in Wichita, Kansas to join Image here at Seattle Pacific University. What you may not have noticed is that the application deadline for the MC postgraduate fellowships is coming up quite soon: March 15. The value of the program speaks for itself: the Center aims to aid writers whose passion is to animate the Christian imagination, promote intellectual integrity, and explore the human condition with honesty and compassion. Through the postgraduate fellowship, emerging writers of Christian commitment are invited to Seattle for an academic year to complete their first book-length manuscript in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. Each fellow is assigned to a writing mentor on a local or more long-distance basis. In the past, mentors have included such poets and novelists as Scott Cairns, Diane Glancy, and Brenda Hillman. Fellows will also enjoy the perks of interacting with the editorial staff at Image and the English faculty at SPU and participating in a weekly writers workshop involving some of the best writers in the Seattle area. Fellows will also be asked to contribute to the community by teaching some English courses at the university. A year in Seattle, a $15,000 stipend for living expenses, and-sweetest of all-the space and time to write from within a supportive community set the Milton Center apart as a sanctuary for the creation of (and dialogue about) literature that seeks to redeem and transform the time.
If you have an MFA in creative writing or an MA in the humanities and wish to participate in the 2004-2005 program, send an application our way. Applications are due March 15. To get one, or to learn more about the Milton Center, click here.
The Virgin of Bennington
by Kathleen Norris
Many of us have already walked The Cloister Walk with Kathleen Norris. We've explored the spiritual geography of Dakota and examined the significance of religious vocabulary in Amazing Grace. But in The Virgin of Bennington, Norris gives us a new perspective on her life, telling the nitty-gritty of her early years in New York City as a young woman and an aspiring poet. The inscription that opens the book is telling-she quotes Augustine's Confessions: "But 'salvation is far from sinners,' and such was I at that time. Yet little by little I was drawing closer to you, although I did not know it." In this memoir, Norris candidly relates details from her past, ranging from sexual escapades to experimentation with drugs. Though confessional in nature, her tone is matter-of-fact, neither glorifying her past and nor shying from it. She is vulnerable in these pages, confiding in her readers her many misguided relationships, for instance, and her awkward first encounter with her own fame as a published poet. Throughout the book, she recognizes moments of grace and connection that she experienced in the most unlikely places. One of those places turned out to be the Academy of American Poets, where she worked after graduating from Bennington College. There she met Betty Kray, who ran the academy and became a mentor for Norris, teaching her the value of balancing the imagination with the ordinary. In many ways, the book is a tribute to Kray, a person you leave the book wishing you had known. But the story is primarily an account of Kathleen Norris coming into her own, of her development as a poet, as a human being, and, eventually, as a person of faith. It is a walk far from the cloister, full of loneliness and fear and doubt. And, for the same reasons, it shares a kinship with the rest of Norris's spiritual writing. One believes in the progression from New York to South Dakota , and finds Norris's spiritual writing richer because of her willingness to share her whole self.
For a website on Kathleen Norris and her books, click here.
Style and Faith
by Geoffrey Hill
There are some people who believe that Geoffrey Hill may be the greatest living poet writing in English. And they just may be right. But before we go any further, we've got to warn you that Hill is difficult, in a rich, enigmatic, densely allusive way. Some readers just don't have the patience to weigh, study, and sift through language this thick, but for others each reading is repaid many times over. He writes prose even less frequently than poetry, and it too can be clotted. But we think that you should at least be aware of Hill, who is still far from well known. In Style and Faith, his third collection of essays, he tackles the relationship between poetic language and spiritual authority, particularly in the poetry of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He singles out Donne, Herbert, Milton, and Hopkins for praise and writes on his ambivalent feeling about T.S. Eliot. There is a gravitas to Hill's moral and spiritual vision that is sadly lacking in so many of the leading theorists and critics of our time: it can be intimidating, but this gravity can help us hold down truths that are in danger of floating off into the postmodern breeze.
An excellent website, the Geoffrey Hill Study Center, can be found here.
Though Massachusetts is not known as a hotbed for bluegrass music, two recent anomalies are welcome: Northern Lights, fronted by Taylor Armerding, and, more recently, son Jake Armerding, who is presently enjoying a burgeoning solo career. Jake Armerding grew up in Massachusetts , and by the age of four was taking violin lessons. At the age of thirteen he won the bluegrass category of the Lowell Fiddle Competition, and the following year joined Northern Lights. Accomplished on acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, violin, and fiddle, Armerding recorded his debut album before entering college. Caged Bird was a self-released success, highlighting a pure tenor voice, consummate bluegrass skill, and wondrous fiddling tracks such as "Nevermind." Armerding sold copies from the trunk of his car after each gig, completing a busy tenure of touring by winning the "Best New Artist" award from Boston 's influential radio station, 91.9 FM WUMB. While completing a degree in English from Wheaton College, Armerding spent time touring with Judith Edelman, played shows with David Wilcox, and continued honing his skills as a songwriter. Armerding moved to Nashville after graduation; it was a time spent learning, and, in his own words, meeting "lots of singer/songwriters." He soon moved back to Boston and began working on a new album. Released in April 2003, Jake Armerding (Compass Records) is a strong sophomore effort. The album explores genres as diverse as country, jazz, and swing, and showcases a full set of songs written by Jake. Guests on the album include Armerding's father on high lonesome harmonies, Dobro player Andrew Hall, and Greg Liszt on banjo. The Musician's Atlas has recently nominated Armerding's "Little Boy Blue" as a finalist for the "Third Annual Independent Music Awards" in the bluegrass category. Judges for this year's competition include Lou Reed, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Amy Ray. Armerding will kick off a West Coast tour on Saturday, January 17, 2004, 8 p.m., at Regent College, Vancouver, B.C. Dates in Seattle and Oregon will follow.
For tour itinerary and general information, visit Jake Armerding's website.
Philokalia: New and Selected Poems
by Scott Cairns
Reading Scott Cairns' poetry always feels like stepping into a deceptively simple dance. From measured, even steps, it gathers into a sweeping waltz of language that leaves one quite breathless. In his most recent book of new and selected poems, Philokalia (2002), Cairns' pacing-somehow both restrained and uninhibited-is just the first indication of a lyrical expression that reaches deep into the finely wrought foundations of classical poetry and ancient theology, casting them in a new mold of contemporary metaphysical wit. Allusions to mythology, lessons in New Testament Greek, and the many foibles of the encounter between God and the dazed and confused-but still sensate-communicant fill these poems. Cairns is at once elegant, curt, humorous, and colloquial, shunting the reader into moments of intense, often uncomfortable, epiphany. His carefully tuned diction can be ornate as scrimshaw, carving out complex images of the interface of flesh and Spirit. In "Possible Answers to Prayer," he evaluates the penitent: "Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly/ righteous indignation toward the many/ whose habits and sympathies offend you-/ these must burn away before you'll apprehend/ how near I am, with what fervor I adore/ precisely these, the several who arouse your passions." Without fail, Cairns' poetry unites the sensual and cerebral, reminding one at every turn in a wry, ironic, sometimes sharp but never petty voice, that the source of life, of grief, of error and salvation, is the body. Translations from the land of the spirit by a poet of consistently keen perception, Philokalia lives in language and is worth having as a map to the unseen, a country one might begin to posit long after one closes the book.
For more on Scott Cairns and his work, see Image issues #5, 21, 25, 31, and 32, or for an excellent profile, click here.